Making an impact with Nia McAllister

Nia McAllister tells us the story of how she has made an impact through environmental activism

Nia McAllister grew up struggling to advocate for herself as a shy child, but through encouragement and drive for environmental activism, the poet found her own voice in giving others a place to share their own. 

After starting out in the visitor experience department and bookstore of the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco, McAllister was promoted to public programs manager and has since taken charge of creating an open mic series hosting international and local poets alike. 

The program has grown to see individuals from South America, the Caribbean, the continent of Africa and all over Europe, said Demetri Broxton, the senior director of education at MoAD. He added that McAllister created a space where participants could feel a sense of belonging and community. 

McAllister, a Redwood City native, always knew her life’s purpose would be to make an impact in the lives of those she meets. Her focus has always been to create space for the visibility of Black people and people of color. And, as a bookstore clerk, she wanted to make sure museum visitors could see themselves reflected in the book selection at MoAD.

“I haven’t been able to… fully do environmental work in my job at the museum but I’m still connecting the different communities that I care about,” she said. 

Poetry has acted a connector to her job at the museum, her personal life and her current projects. McAllister has seen herself published with the museum and featured as a poet and an editorial lead with Radicle Magazine, a project by Earth In Color — a multimedia creative studio organization meant to connect black people to the environment.

“There’s just an energy to everything that she does that just adds some depth to anything that we’re putting out… She just was like the perfect contributor for the team,” said Derel Scott, founder of Earth In Color. 

McAllister’s close friend knew others could find value in her words, said Aldair Arriola, a college friend. Sharing led to the much longer process of opening up to grow her poetic voice at Pomona College.

“I see her power translated [into] words so much and in… different types of expression,” said Isabelle Khoo-Miller, a poet and close friend of McAllister.

Much of McAllister’s poetry reflects her one true drive in life: environmental justice, a passion she developed alongside her poetry at Pomona College. 

It started with an environmental analysis class she had applied to on a whim. Noting that she was undecided when enrolling in college, McAllister said these classes opened her up to the multitude of issues that Black people were facing, in addition to other minority groups.

“And so I’m always trying to find ways to… advocate for my communities and advocate for the spaces that we live in. And I think environmental justice speaks [to that],” McAllister said.

Realizing there was a field of study where people could discuss the intersections of social, racial and environmental justice and could actively engage with the students to come up with solutions to larger problems was a deciding factor in throwing herself into the field the next semester.

“I think I’m always trying to be optimistic and thinking about how we can make change through collective power through organizing, through building new infrastructures outside of whatever we may have been given,” McAllister said.

With these ideas in mind, she decided to apply them to her work in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, while studying abroad. This experience allowed her to interview community organizers documenting human rights violations as a part of an internship with Catalytic Communities.

“I think I’m just lucky to be alongside so many friends that I’ve made, who we’ve been able to connect through our unique experiences, but also in that like mindedness, that curiosity about the world, and how we can make it in some ways a better place for all of us,” McAllister said.

McAllister recognizes and has lived through the difficulty that Black women face on a day-to-day basis in environments that are not set up or their success. 

“But being able to choose how I dedicate my energy towards advocating for myself is critical,” she said.

She is recognized by her loved ones as a balancing force— bringing emotional balance and peace in her daily interactions. 

“I reflect on all of the crossroads I’ve had in my life so far, and how the decisions I’ve made have led me to my current position now. While the journey has been one of uncertainty at many points, I know I am where I am meant to be now. And that new doors will be opening in my future,” McAllister said.

By Karla O

Karla Orellana is a Creative Writing major and Journalism minor at San Francisco State University

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