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20 Black Climate Justice Leaders to Know

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20 Black Climate Justice Leaders to Know

February 24, 2021

This Black History Month, we’re celebrating these Climate Justice leaders and innovators who are working to improve the lives of underserved and under-resourced populations in the face of climate change. 

Black innovators, creators, and leaders’ contributions have been unjustly overlooked or dismissed in our nation’s story for centuries. Black Americans had to overcome monumental obstacles to make their mark on society. 

Many of these barriers still pose challenges today. Our nation’s racial reckoning this summer illuminated the many injustices that remain present in our nation, including environmental racism.  Due to a long history of redlining and environmental racism, Black Americans tend to live in neighborhoods with higher PM2.5 pollution density, even though they are less likely to contribute to fossil fuel emissions. In fact, Black communities are exposed to 56% more PM2.5 pollution than they create

What’s more, BIPOC and low-income Americans are subjected to the brunt of climate change effects including flooding, extreme heat, and catastrophic storm damage. 

This is what motivates climate justice advocates and leaders. These notable Black climate justice leaders are raising awareness for this issue and creating innovative solutions while giving a voice to people in critical communities. 

Table of Contents

1. Donnel Baird | Founder, BlocPower

Donnel founded BlocPower, a cleantech startup that sells, finances, and installs solar and energy-efficient technologies when he saw the need for clean energy and energy efficiency in underserved and under-resourced communities. BlockPower provides a platform for investors and community members concerned about climate change, job creation, health outcomes, and community development to invest in clean energy projects. Visit blocpower.io to learn more!

2. Shalanda Baker | Deputy Director of Energy Justice, U.S. DOE

Before joining the U.S. Department of Energy, Shalanda was a Professor of Law, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University in Boston. She is also the author of over a dozen articles, book chapters, and essays on renewable energy law, policy, and development.

“The energy transition lends itself to the possibility of justice…This is a remarkable opportunity to take back the energy system in service of those who’ve been on the bottom,” Shalanda said of the clean energy transition. 

Read More on Shalanda’s vision for the clean energy transition in her new book, Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition!

3. Peggy Shepard | Co-founder & Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

WE ACT educates and empowers members of BIPOC and low-income communities to make their voices heard in the fight for environmental justice. Through grassroots organizing, environmental advocacy, and community-based, participatory environmental health research, Peggy has become a national leader in advancing environmental policy and the perspective of environmental justice in urban communities.

Learn more about Peggy and WE ACT’s mission to improve the energy efficiency of New York’s buildings, support renewable power, and create jobs!

4. Dr. Robert Bullard | Author, Activist, Scholar, Professor, “Father of Environmental Justice”

Dr. Robert Bullard (a.k.a. the Father of Environmental Justice) is a distinguished scholar, writer, and activist who has brought to light that people of color are hit hardest with the impacts of climate change and are more exposed to graver effects of toxic waste within their communities. 

“There is no level playing field. Any time our society says that a powerful chemical company has the same right as a low-income family that’s living next door, that playing field is not level, is not fair,” Dr. Bullard once said. 

To learn more, check out Dr. Bullard’s full collection of books on race, climate justice, and environmental justice.

5. Jacqueline Patterson | Founder and Executive Director of The Chisholm Legacy Project

Jacqueline recently stepped down from the NAACP as Senior Director for their Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Since then, she is now founder and Executive Director for The Chisholm Legacy Project: A Resource Hub for Black Frontline Climate Justice Leadership.

“We should all have access to heat and electricity. People are literally paying the price of poverty with their lives,” said Jacqueline.

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6. Tonya Gayle | Executive Director, Green City Force 

Tonya leads Green City Force, a nonprofit working toward a green NYC rooted in social, economic, and environmental justice. Before joining GCF, Tonya served in the public-private partnerships department at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Career Program. Throughout her career, Tonya has been a leading advocate for economic justice for young people of color.

Support Green City Force here

7. Sekita Grant | VP of Programs for The Solutions Project

Sekita is a lawyer and environmental and social justice advocate. As the VP of Programs at The Solutions Project, Sekita oversees the grantmaking, policy research, and impact strategy support for leaders innovating models for greener, more equitable systems across the country.

Donate to The Solutions Project to support on-the-ground efforts for equitable climate change solutions. 

8. Elizabeth Yeampierre | Executive Director of Uprose 

Elizabeth is an internationally-renowned attorney and environmental and climate justice leader. Born and raised in NYC, Elizabeth’s vision for an intergenerational, multicultural, and community-led organization is the driving force behind UPROSE.

Get involved in making Elizabeth’s vision a reality! 

9. Colette Pichon Battle | Founder & Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy 

Collette works with communities and develops programming focused on equitable disaster recovery, global migration, community economic development, climate justice, and energy democracy. A Louisiana native and climate policy lawyer, Colette advocated for equitable disaster clean-up and restoration in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. 

Support Colette and the GCCLP! 

10. Dr. Ayana Johnson | Co-Founder of Urban Ocean Lab and The All We Can Save Project

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and Brooklyn native. She is co-founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab, co-founder of the climate initiative The All We Can Save Project, and co-creator of the podcast How to Save a Planet. You’ll find her at the nexus of science, policy, and communication focused on climate solutions.

11. Rhiana Gunn-Wright | Climate Policy Director at The Roosevelt Institute

Rhiana is an advocate for equitable, impactful climate policy. As the former lead architect of the Green New Deal, Rhiana serves as the Climate Policy Director at the Roosevelt Institute, a think tank dedicated to preserving Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy and ideas. “People have given up their bodies and their lives, often unwillingly, for us to be able to prosper off of fossil fuels. And now, they need resources to weather what’s coming,” Rhiana said. 

Read Rhiana’s Publications!

12. Catherine Flowers | Environmental Health Researcher & Founder at the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ)

While many climate justice advocates focus on pollution in urban communities, Catherine is an advocate for marginalized, under-resourced rural communities dealing with toxicity and poor sanitation. “Growing up in rural America where communities are often under-resourced and over-polluted, I have always had a strong lens toward inclusive and equitable environmental justice initiatives,” Catherine said.

Learn More about CREEJ!

13. Marilyn Waite | Managing Director at the Climate Finance Fund

Over the past several years, Marilyn helped lead the climate and clean energy finance portfolio at the Hewlett Foundation, an environmental and social justice-focused charitable foundation. She now drives the Climate Finance Fund as Managing Director where she focuses on mobilizing capital for climate solutions.

Check out Marilyn’s book, “Sustainability at Work: Careers that Make a Difference” to learn how you can work in sustainability!

14. Sam Grant | Executive Director at The Rainbow Research

Sam has decades of experience organizing communities around climate justice and now serves as Executive Director of The Rainbow Research, a national BIPOC-led research and evaluation focusing on intersectionality of a broad range of social justice and transformative change objectives.

“We are not yet doing a good job as humanity of delivering this triple bottom line which is to have an ecologically-sound reality, a socially-just reality, and an economically-viable reality that we co-create, share, and sustain,” Sam explained.

Learn more at The Rainbow Research website!

15. Leah Thomas | Intersectional Environmentalist, Influencer, Content Creator

Leah Thomas is a climate justice content creator and influencer who is raising awareness for sustainability practice, social and economic disparities, and ways to build a better world for all.

“We can’t save the planet without uplifting the voices of its people, especially those most often unheard,” Leah said. 

Pre-order Leah’s first book, The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet, set to be released on March 8, 2022.

16. Michael S. Regan | Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency

Michael made history March 11, 2021 by becoming the first Black man and second person of color to serve as the 16th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Biden. With his track record of addressing environmental racism and supporting policy to address climate change, Michael will be helping lead the charge to accelerate and promote an inclusive and just green transition for all Americans.

Learn more about Michael S. Regan here

17. Rue Mapp | Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro

Rue is the Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a national non-profit organization rooted in nature and community geared towards addressing the wide disparity of people of color in the outdoors. First starting in 2009 as a blog, Outdoor Afro has garnered major support displaying the true form of grassroots organizing.

Learn more about Rue Mapp and the amazing work that Outdoor Afro is leading on their website.

18. Dr. Beverly L. Wright, Ph.D | Executive Director for Deep South Center for Environmental Justice

Dr. Wright is a distinguished environmental justice scholar, civic leader, author, Professor of Sociology, and founder/current executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University, a research center aiming to address environmental health inequities from the Louisiana Mississippi River Chemical Corridor up to the Gulf Coast Region.

Fueled by her own lived experiences growing up in a highly polluted neighborhood of Louisiana, Dr.Wright has spent her life’s work investigating the systemic impacts of environmental racism and the link between race and pollution.

To learn more, check out Dr. Wright’s list of publications.

19. Aniya Butler | Student and Black Youth Climate Justice Leader for Youth vs. Apocalypse

Aniya is a Black Youth Climate Justice Leader working for Youth vs. Apocalypse, a climate activism group that is leading the charge of mobilizing young people of color in the Bay Area. As a student and young person of color, her voice and identities remain an integral reminder for the climate crisis to center these voices in the conversation of climate justice.

Since joining the climate action group, Aniya has helped to organize climate strikes averaging tens of thousands of attendees.

Stay connected to Aniya’s powerful, budding developments in the climate movement.

20. Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru | Founder, Black Girl Environmentalist

Wanjiku “Wawa” Gatheru is an environmental justice advocate, Rhodes Scholar, and climate communicator native to Kenya and Connecticut. She is pursuing a career in public service geared towards empowering frontline communities of color through community-based solutions with a drive to open and create space for communities of color for an inclusive and just climate future.

At just 22 years old, she founded, Black Girl Environmentalist, an intergenerational community for Black girls, women, and non-binary environmentalists creating a validating space to center these individuals at the core of the environmental justice movement.

Visit Wawa’s website to stay in the loop and learn more about her initiatives.

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