Daniel Joseph Wiley and Sharee Harrison
Orange, New Jersey
This interview was conducted by Renée Mazurek on August 3, 2023. Press play to listen and find the full audio transcript below the audio player.
00:00:01 Renée Mazurek
Hi, and welcome to River Network’s Meet your Network: hearing from our network members and their own voice. River Network envisions a powerful and inclusive movement that ensures abundant clean water for all people and nature to thrive. We believe joy and hope for our planet flows through our rivers.
My name is Renée Mazurek, the Resilient Communities Manager at River Network. I use she/her pronouns, and I live at work in Asheville, NC on the traditional lands of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Learn more about the lands you live and work on at native-land.ca.
As part of River Network’s Resilient Communities team, my work intersects with several projects across our network, and today we’re talking about one of them. Flow Funding, an exploration of trust-based philanthropy to support efforts of climate justice.
From the support of a generous donor, River Network launched the Climate Justice Flow Fund Circle in 2021. Our team invited four flow funders to determine and provide financial support to recipients in their communities to promote climate justice and water equity. For the last two years, these four flow funders have chosen individuals and organizations who have received a cumulative total of $200,000.
The distributions were given without an application, without a selection process or any additional requirements outside a general agreement that encourages the recipient to leverage this gift and to network and build relationships with others in the Flow Fund Circle.
I had the opportunity in early August of 2023 to talk with one of our flow funders, Daniel Joseph Wiley and his 2022-23 recipient, Sharee Harrison. And while I know Daniel is just that, you will hear Sharee refer to him throughout our interview as DJ.
Originally from Newark, NJ, Daniel is the Managing Director of the Orange HUUB, that’s H-U-U-B, a community hub centered in Unitarian Universalist values fighting for social justice and serving the community. Sharee is a native of Orange, NJ rooted in her community with deep ties to organizations and small businesses.
I loved spending time and having this conversation with them. You can hear the emotion coming through as we talk about things like successes, challenges, trust, and joy. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did and maybe smile along with us.
Here we go. Let’s launch in.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel once before for the Urban Waters Learning Network, when he was the Housing Justice Program and Policy Manager for the Ironbound Community Corporation. But his role has shifted since then. So, I would like to ask you, Daniel, to please introduce yourself to the River Network and also your role at the Orange HUUB where you are now.
00:03:16 Daniel Wiley
Thank you, Renée. So, hello River Network world. My name is Daniel Joseph Wiley. I’m the Managing Director at the Orange HUUB for the last two years now. It should be two years, August 21st of this year, so a little cause for celebration in a couple of weeks.
My role at the HUUB as Managing Director is mostly oversight of what happens on our campus. Some of the things that happen on our campus…the programming that we have going on. So, making sure that the day-to-day stuff goes smoothly, and then everything else that comes with a director position.
My passion—and a lot of stuff that I do focus on at the HUUB right now—is still related to the work that I’ve been doing for the last 10 years, which is…housing and tenant advocacy and housing advocacy in general…and now also bringing in that environmental justice [EJ] lens, because Orange is one of those overburdened cities that we’re realizing the conversations about EJ work don’t happen a lot. We want to make sure that we’re bringing awareness to that.
00:04:24 Renée Mazurek
I’d like to follow up just a little bit. So, you were involved with the Urban Waters Learning Network and now with River Network, you are a part of our Climate Justice Flow Fund Circle. I’m just wondering if you could speak a little bit about your experience with the Flow fund circle; and then we’ll shift to Sharee and talk about how she’s been involved in that work as well.
00:04:48 Daniel Wiley
Yeah, sure. The last few years have been great, being involved with other great advocates for social justice and EJ work on a national level. For us in Orange, last year—or 2021 I’m going into 2022—we had the opportunity to help fund an initiative which was called Orange Patches, which turned into us having more of a concentration on EJ work as an organization, in the HUUB, because of the person that we were able to fund, the relationship that we had with them, which was Haile Bennett.
And then, 2022 into 2023, the same thing. Being able to fund someone like Sharee, who is an Orange native and someone who’s just so connected to not just Orange, but also, what we call the Oranges: West Orange, South Orange, East Orange…And being able to work on what is called Trail Mix, bringing awareness to accessibility for Black and brown communities and natural space and preserving land and things of that nature.
This is all a part of what we talk about with fundraising, right? And how small organizations like us having to do the same leg work that big organizations have to do and have the capacity to do, maybe having someone who’s dedicated to grant writing, or someone who’s dedicated to large scale fundraising. For us smaller organizations to be able to be fiscal agents for some of these initiatives is super important because we have so many people in our community that have great ideas, have passion for their community, have passion for their work. But where a lot of folks hit that wall is when it comes to funding projects or ideas that they have.
I think the Funding Circle is something that I wasn’t aware of before River Network brought it to our attention, but now that it’s here, I think honestly, I hope this turns into the only way of fundraising moving forward. The no questions asked kind of model of, “hey, like we trust what you’re going to do or trust what a person is going to do with these funds” …it’s super important for communities that we work.
00:07:17 Renée Mazurek
Thank you, Daniel. And we’ve loved having you as part of the circle. That’s for certain. Now I would like to shift to you Sharee.
Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your project, the Trail Mix?
00:07:32 Sharee Harrison
Hello, my name is Sharee Harrison. I am an Orange native, born and raised in the city of Orange. I currently live in the Township of West Orange. I’m the owner of Treasure’s Island Promotions, which is a company that promotes and assists with coordination of fairs, festivals, and events with the city, organizations, nonprofits I work with. So that’s what DJ says, I have a nice outreach…resource. That is why. Because I work with a lot of organizations on their street fairs, collaborating with them, working with small businesses, vendors, bringing them out to events and setting up. So that’s my passion…working with the small businesses and the communities and bringing them to the forefront of festivals and events.
Working with the HUUB, I’m able to shift a lot of my community work with them as well as gardening work. I am in the garden world now. So, doing Trail Mix gives me the opportunity to be outdoors and to bring my community outdoors, which is the City of Orange and, as DJ stated, surrounding communities I work with as well.
Trail Mix has given me the opportunity to explore the green nature lands that we have surrounding our community, which a lot of the people and residents have no idea…[people] that’s been living within the city for all their life and have no idea that 15 minutes away you can go canoeing down the Passaic River. So, having the opportunity with this grant to be able to bring out our community members and give them the opportunities to be part of nature is awesome.
I was able to link up with a good friend, Mike Brick. Mike Brick is a West Orange resident. Me and him have collaborated. I’ve been living in West Orange for the past seven years, and I have been involved with a lot of the different organizations within the Township. So, me and Mike Brick met on the Downtown West Orange Alliance, which I’m able to work with the small businesses and businesses within West Orange.
Working with him, I have been able to collaborate to bring my friends from the HUUB up to the Eagle Rock Reservation, as well as the South Mountain Reservation, which is the water reservation for the City of Orange. We have active water wells up here. Our water is sent down to the city. So, we knew about it, but for him to research and actually take us on tours up there to see our actual water wells, was everything.
He is a well-known advocate for the reservation. He’s the director on the board of the Environmental [Commission]. So, he was able to link me with the Environmental Center and different other organizations that were able to open up free doors for us to be able to bring individuals to the Environmental Center for free to do the canoeing, the walking, the Fairy Trail, and visit the waterfall. We just had kids, a bunch of kids, up to the waterfall and it was hot out, so they got to actually go in the waterfall and the water and splash. Knowing that they went back as a family—they took their whole family back to see it—that was something that was good. They sent me pictures of them all up there. Those are things that I’m getting joy from.
Those are some of the areas we have been; and the Fairy Trail is one of our favorites. That’s in Millburn, and that’s where it has little fairy houses that have been made historically. Some of these houses have been up here for years. The kids get to go. It’s a myth that these fairies live in these houses, and they protect the forests. And so, we get to take the kids up there, and we get to show them the Fairy Trail. And we leave candy, we leave pennies, and the kids are just amazed by the houses, how they’re built, the shapes. Everything is built from materials from the woods. So, that is something. And then we incorporate it for next year to work with the kids to make our own little fairy houses and put in my garden—the Ben Jones Garden. So, I’m excited about that.
I’m glad to be able to do it again. I have an inbox full of organizations that are looking to take advantage of what we’re doing for next year. So, that I am excited about, and I’m just grateful and thankful for the HUUB, that we do have a hub in our community that is open and always trying to look for different opportunities to be able to advance us and educate the community.
00:12:26 Renée Mazurek
Oh my gosh. There’s just so much joy in your voice when you’re talking about this, and I see…Y’all, you can’t see the video of these two when they’re talking, but Daniel’s face is very happy as well.
Daniel, have you gotten to take some of these hikes as well? And what are your reflections there?
00:12:44 Daniel Wiley
Yeah… one thing that piqued my interest for the project was… Sharee volunteers with the HUUB in our gardens and also was leading a program of ours, on payroll, for our vaccination project last year. As part of the HUUB family, one thing we wanted to do was have a retreat for folks; and Sharee, her relationship with Mike Brick… she was like, “hey, we should go on up to the South Mountain Reservation. I know this person that does these hikes.”
We went there, and I was blown away. Here’s this person who’s been in the area for so long. [He] has so much historical context of not just Orange and the Oranges, but Essex County in general, which is the county seat and where our major city, Newark, rests in.
Him giving us historical facts about how the reservation and all of the natural things within the reservation helped basically build the surrounding communities…Everything from the type of stone they used in the sidewalks coming from there, the type of trees that were cut down to create homes in that area…And actually, that the other natural resources in the area that were used to build the surrounding cities and townships came from there. Afterwards, you know, I asked him, I said, “how do you how do you fund these things?”
He said, “I do it volunteer-wise, as a volunteer.” He gets calls every now and then, and Sharee being one of those persons that that asks him to do it… And as always, Renée, you usually give me a call when I’m thinking of an opportunity. And you’re like, “hey, does this sound good to you?” It was around that same time, and I brought it to Sharee’s attention. I was like, “hey, we have $25,000 that can go towards a community project.”
Sharee jumped on it, and within two weeks, her and Mike were working on this thing. So, to answer your question: I was there from its inception. Since the program started, I’ve been on one [hike].
One day we had… a community event and part of the community event was Trail Mix. Seeing Sharee and Mike in motion and being there and seeing all the work that they’ve put in for the last seven months… Being able to participate in the Fairy Trail and finally experiencing that…Being someone who lived in Newark and Essex County my whole life and never been there, it was super cool to see the waterfall. When we went on our retreat last year, it was during a drought, so we didn’t get to see any rolling waters and what the area does naturally. So, seeing that and—Sharee talked about the family that was there—seeing families participate…
Other folks that were on the trail with us saying, “I didn’t even know this existed.” And these are people that live literally, I think it’s like 3.5 miles away. It’s kind of like, alright, this is great. And, like Sharee said, every month she’s saying, “oh, well, I’m taking these people up there. I’m taking these folks up there. I’m taking these folks up there…” This is perfect. This is what it’s all about.
And…it’s not just for one group of people. This is reaching everyone. This is reaching the Spanish speaking community—or I should say our non-English speaking community. It’s reaching folks from all different types of demographics, and it’s just a great thing.
So, to answer your question, yes, I have been on the trails and also, I’ve enjoyed it very much. Put it that way.
00:16:35 Renée Mazurek
Well, thank you for sharing. I guess I am going to shift gears a little bit. I know that you two have also been able to leverage these flow funds and start some different things. The local river in Orange [is] the Rahway River. So, you’ve been able to do some work there as well.
Can you tell me a little bit more about that or any other way that you’ve been able to leverage some of these funds to do more work in your community?
00:17:01 Daniel Wiley
So, Sharee…within two weeks of us actually talking about putting the program together…Sharee and Mike sat down… two weeks later they’re like, “hey, we leveraged…” What was it? “$5000 to $10,000 for a Rahway River cleanup…” And, I was like, “Whoa, that’s crazy.”
Then, I don’t know what the number went up to after that, but I remember you telling me there’s more money going into it, and this was something that was happening pretty fast. She took this opportunity and ran with it, and this all happened so fast. And I’m saying this with a smile on my face because it tells you the type of character Sharee is when she has an idea, she runs with it, and she makes so many things happen in such a short amount of time. I just want to say shout out to you, Sharee.
00:17:55 Sharee Harrison
Thank you. The Rahway River is a river that flows through the city of Orange. It comes from Millburn, South Orange and it’s something that’s followed by tourists…and there’s a whole association wrapped around it [See the Rahway River Watershed Association]. So, it does flow through the city of Orange. We did do a blowout, meaning we blew out a street, a bridge, to be able to open it up to one of the areas in Orange. We have two areas where it flows. One is behind what’s called Metcalf Park, which we’ll be working on to beautify in the future. And the second one…which we blew out…runs between Orange and West Orange. So Orange and West Orange share this beautiful experience.
So, I’m working with both communities to be able to make sure that this area is beautiful as well. [See The Fight to Restore the Rahway River] Because when construction took place, it was left, and it was forgotten about. So, we had this blown out beautiful river flowing through, with so much gook, dirt, and junk in it, that if someone was to come and visit Milburn and see how beautiful…South Orange, see how beautiful… And they come to Orange and are like, “What happened?” …and then go to West Orange like “oh”…and then you go up to the mountain…and then that’s where it comes out into the waterfall.
So that’s what really didn’t sit right with me, to know that once it gets to our city that it is not pretty, it’s not something nice to see. So, working with the City of Orange, but I’m mostly working with the city of West Orange, the mayor, because she has a really good connection with the property owners of the buildings that have took initiative to put in resources out of their pocket to be able to beautify this area, which was awesome. Right now, we have had meetings with engineers, with the different architects as well as property owners in West Orange to come up with some type of agreement for keeping it flowing nicely… to ripping it up.
They have ripped it up, and they have cleaned it. So now they’re in the process of laying down…you know, I’m not good with the wording…but just laying down protective measurements so that it won’t overflow, it won’t degrade. And once they start…the Master Gardeners—which I’m a master gardener now—will be coming and planting and keeping an eye on it, and making sure that everything is staying and worked on, so it won’t be forgotten again.
So, we’re in the process now of getting whatever filters need to be laid down. So, they’re in discussions of that, and it was supposed to have been finished end of July. But due to the different tactics that they want to take, it’s taking a little longer. They don’t want to just throw down anything and then it’s flooding. This is considered a flood zone. So, we do have to be careful when we are reconstructing and doing anything with it.
But it is in the process, and I’m hoping by the end of the summer that we can get together, have a little event and bring both cities together to do a community event and open it up and welcome communities to come by and enjoy it.
00:21:13 Renée Mazurek
That’s amazing. Yeah, congratulations.
00:21:16 Sharee Harrison
It’s a work in process, and when we first started, I’m like “This is not…” And then all the money they were saying that could possibly need to be done… I’m like, “They’re not going to…” But you know what? When you get to talking to the right people and you know, just laying everything out and being transparent, I think it all comes together and it really is working itself out. It wasn’t as fast as I wanted, but it is making its way to progress. So, I’m happy about that.
00:21:49 Renée Mazurek
Great. You’ve talked about some memories and some fun things. I’m wondering: Is there a challenge that you’ve learned from in doing this work together? And what is it that you’ve learned that you could share with other people?
00:22:04 Daniel Wiley
The challenge is… I think the challenge was: “Is this going to work?” The challenge was…getting one foot forward and having faith in it all working out. Is this year going to work? Are we going to be able to have something that’s sustainable and can work out? I think the word challenge… Yeah, there is a challenge there… But also, it is one of those things to say, as somebody who is funding a project, the person that was leading the project was perfect for it.
00:22:41 Sharee Harrison
I think some of my challenges was… when I was inviting residents and community, to give them a vision… making everyone else see what it is that I’m trying to do. So, this template this year was really good, because I got to work with different organizations that spread the word. That’s like, “Oh my God, we wanna do this too. We wanna do this too.”
So that was the biggest challenge. But now that we’re on a roll, and we do have a template, and we do have interest, I think this is going to be something that’s going to take off and be really, really nice for the future.
00:23:20 Renée Mazurek
Thank you for sharing… You know, if we don’t have challenges sometimes, I think, I don’t know what we’re doing in life, right? We learn so much from the things that challenge us, and it’s often the best things that we do.
00:23:37 Sharee Harrison
There’s no fun without a challenge, I think…
00:23:43 Renée Mazurek
That’s right… I just have one last question… What keeps you motivated to continue doing this work?
00:23:49 Sharee Harrison
DJ know. Every other day, I’m calling him like, “I quit… I’m not doing this anymore.”
He keeps me motivated, the HUUB. But I think what really keeps me motivated is growing up in the urban community and not having a lot of the opportunities given to me…and being in a box. I can say when I became a mother, I knew that I wanted my kids to see the world. I wanted my kids to know that there is more than these cities around us. There’s something out there, and I want them to explore it, I want them to live it. Because when you become in an urban community, that’s what you just become. Bricks, buildings and parks. So, there’s not a lot that the kids get to branch out to see. So, my whole goal to continue moving is to show the communities and surrounding communities that there is a huge world out there… and what I did was, I went out into it, I grabbed the knowledge, and I brought it back to my community to feed it to them so they can continue in generations going on. That’s what keeps me going.
What keeps me going… knowing that I’m going to be able to bring these kids out to these environments and then they’re gonna be able to bring other kids. And then before I know it, my urban communities know about canoeing, and they’ve been to different countries, and they’ve helped out different organizations…and just not left in our own little community that we call home. So that’s what keeps me going…wanting to bring the next generations and open them up to the world that we have. So, when I complain and say, “I’m gonna stop, DJ, I quit. I’m not coming back.”
I know…. And then I call him, like, “I want to take somebody to Africa.” That’s a true story.
He’s like, “I thought you quit.”
“Yeah, I want to take the kids to Africa.”
So that’s what keeps me going when I do get discouraged. I do get down… I have a whole team that keeps me focused and keeps breathing life into me. So that’s a blessing I have too.
00:26:08 Daniel Wiley
I think Sharee hit the nail on the head, right. It’s…lived and shared experiences and knowing what our communities are going through, being able to empathize with what folks are going through… I think when you’re finally in a position to say like, “hey, I want to work towards a better future” and you start seeing results from that work, I think that’s what keeps me going.
Because like Sharee, there’s not a day that goes by where I’m not exhausted. And I’m just like, “I can’t do this anymore. There’s gotta be something out there that’s not gonna make me feel like this on a day-to-day basis.”
It’s a lot of weight on your shoulders—people of color and communities like ours, where you know the expectancy is just super heavy. We talk about resiliency a lot, and the other part of resiliency is that it’s exhausting, you know? So, I think that folks like Sharee, folks that I’ve been able to organize within the city of Newark, and folks that we’re able to organize with in the city of Orange definitely keep me going. Because at the end of the day, you’re not the only person that’s going through this.
When you live in a city of, whether it’s 32,000 or 350,000, what you’re experiencing, your neighbor is definitely experiencing. It might be different levels to it, but you’re definitely all going through the same thing collectively. And I think you have to fight collectively as well to make sure change does come. This isn’t something that we’re just doing for right now. We’re doing this for our neighbors. We’re doing this for the next generation. We’re doing this for neighboring towns. We’re doing this for however far it can spread. And usually, from my experience, a lot of what we’re doing in Orange translates to what’s being done in any small-town USA at this point. So, it’s a lot of work, but somebody’s got to do it.
00:27:57 Sharee Harrison
And that’s why I add festivals and fairs and fun stuff so I can have fun while I’m doing it. That’s my key. I always have fun. If I’m not having fun, something ain’t right.
00:28:08 Daniel Wiley
Thank you for saying that because it makes me realize, like, yeah, there’s another part of this that we don’t talk about a lot, which is the opportunity and not just the issues that we try to fight.
00:28:18 Renée Mazurek
I love that. And yeah, including joy in this work is so essential and taking care of ourselves too. I wish that for both of you in this work: that you have the time and find the time to do that.
In the last couple of minutes we have here, do have any other parting words, anything you’d like to share or say? I leave the floor open.
00:28:41 Sharee Harrison
I just want to thank the River Network… having the opportunity to hang out with everybody in New Orleans this past, what March I think it was, was everything… and just the opportunity that they’re giving us. …To hear and know the work that they’re doing in their towns and communities was breathtaking. I just want to give a big shout out to the River Network for the work that they’re doing and the opportunity that they’re giving us.
00:29:10 Daniel Wiley
I’ll of course echo that…thank you River Network. Also, Renée, thank you so much for always being just a champion for the work that we’re doing in Jersey. Being so far away, you’re always willing to add resources and be support.
But also, I’d just say this. Every town, every city, everywhere has a Sharee. As somebody who usually, you know, puts the horns on and wants to do things by myself, I’m glad that I have some folks that are able to pull me to the side and be like, “Yeah, we gotta do this together.”
So, just keep that in mind. Can’t do things by yourself. You gotta have folks that work with you.
Thank you all so much for this opportunity to share. I appreciate it.
00:29:51 Renée Mazurek
Big thanks to Daniel and Sharee for joining me in this conversation. Their insights and experiences are invaluable. I think you can hear both the realism and the enthusiasm in their voices to keep moving forward with the work that they’re doing. You can find out more about Daniel and Sharee on our website’s flow funding page and about the Orange HUUB at www.orangehuub.org. Follow River network at www.rivernetwork.org. Become a member and join the over 2000 individuals representing more than 800 organizations working to protect and restore rivers and drinking water. Thanks for listening in and we look forward to connecting with you again soon. Be well.