Beven Byrnes, Volunteer Spokesperson, Portland North Harbor Neighbors

Volunteer Spoke Neighborhood Group Spokesperson Coordinator, Portland Clean Air

Strategy: linking communities affected by air toxics to build strength in numbers.

The next time you meet someone who wants to see change happen in their community but says they don’t have the time, you may want to mention Beven Byrnes. A mother of four daughters and the Executive Director and Principal of Bridges Middle School, which primarily serves children with learning differences, Beven is also the lead spokesperson for Portland Clean Air [PCA], a non-profit that works with communities to empower them to fight air pollution in their neighborhoods. 

“You don’t need to understand this. You don’t need a degree. You just need to tell your story. The data will say why.”

Much of the fight for air quality happens in isolation; one neighborhood fights their fight, unaware that the next one over is also. So Beven sees part of her role, and the role of PCA, as a convener of communities to share information and provide a platform for others to tell their story. It’s building power in numbers, then giving people what they need to use that power for change. If just one person from one group can talk to another on a regular basis, then that power grows exponentially. Cleaner air, she says, is in everyone’s best interest, including polluting industries. So it’s a matter of making clean air an irresistible choice for polluters.  

— by Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer

Originally published in Summer, 2018