South Carolina’s Coastal Conservation League, one of the state’s preeminent advocacy organizations, has a new leader – a Mount Pleasant native and Harvard-trained lawyer who has seen how unbridled growth and development changed the Lowcountry landscape.

Faith Rivers James, 57, is the league’s new executive director, a position vacated late last year when the nonprofit’s second director, Laura Cantral, moved to Atlanta for family reasons after four years at the helm. James, who will begin her duties Aug. 15, was tapped for the role after a national search involving the board of directors and community stakeholders, according to a news release made public today.

In an interview this morning, James, who currently is a faculty leader at The Citadel, said her new role would open another life chapter.

“I feel that to whom much is given, much is required,” she said.  “I’m very passionate about having communities prevent the expansive growth like in the community I grew up.  I grew up in the Four Mile neighborhood [in Mount Pleasant] and all of my old neighbors are gone.”

James added that stepping away from academia isn’t much of a stretch because she’s long been an advocate in various roles, including as a volunteer leader at the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation.  

“I have missed that diverse interaction,” she said of community advocacy.  “I’ve taught what I did in practice so I’ve never strayed far from these topics in my scholarship.”  

James said she looked forward to applying leadership experiences from her past “to the challenges of protecting the environment, sustaining our rural landscapes, and preserving our local communities. As a native, I am honored to carry on the Conservation League’s legacy of advocating for our beautiful Lowcountry.”

James currently serves at The Citadel as assistant provost for leadership and head of its Department of Leadership Studies. She is a 1983 graduate of Porter-Gaud and holds college degrees from Dartmouth College (1986) and Harvard Law School (1990), according to LinkedIn.  

Today’s announcement added, “Within four years of launching her law career in Washington, D.C., she was negotiating the federal budget as senior counsel to the House Majority Leader. Soon thereafter, she returned to the Lowcountry and served as executive director of the South Carolina Bar Foundation, where she cut her teeth in public service by overseeing programs enhancing access to justice, and where she was instrumental in launching the Heirs’ Property Preservation Project.”

For two years starting in 2005, James taught on the environmental law faculty of Vermont Law School and then served for 11 years on the faculty at Elon University School of law as a professor and associate dean at Elon University School of Law. In January 2018, she joined The Citadel faculty.

Gets things done

The league emphasized James’s local roots in this morning’s announcement: “Whether by writing and producing a landmark video to educate heirs’ property landowners in how to secure title to their land, or by successfully representing her congregation, Olive Branch AME [African Methodist Episcopal Church], in negotiations with the S.C. Department of Transportation over a Highway 17 widening project, she has demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how to get things done. She knows how to effectively advocate for communities — both human and natural — that are too often disenfranchised and disempowered.”

The league’s conservation leaders are enthusiastic about James’s appointment.

Ceara Donnelley, chair of the Conservation League’s board, said James was uniquely positioned to head the organization “as a property law scholar and land use expert, nonprofit executive and legislative attorney, seasoned administrator and teacher of leadership, and perhaps most importantly, as an effective and nimble community advocate.”

Dana Beach, the league’s founder and first executive director, added, “Faith is imminently qualified to lead the Conservation League in its fourth decade of advocacy on behalf of our beautiful Lowcountry. 

“There has never been a more important time to redouble our conservation efforts in the face of unprecedented development pressure. Faith’s background in land use and law, along with her exemplary communication skills, are perfectly aligned with the goals and needs of the organization today.”

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