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.
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 the disproportionate impacts of climate change effects and disproportionate exposure to toxic waste that people of color face.
“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. Jacqui Patterson | Director of the Environmental Justice Program at NAACP
Jacqui Patterson is a multi-faceted researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate, and activist. She is an avid supporter of women‘s rights, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice.
“We should all have access to heat and electricity. People are literally paying the price of poverty with their lives,” said Jacqui.
Help the NAACP hold policymakers and politicians accountable to climate justice promises.
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.
10. Dr. Ayana Johnson | Founder & CEO of Ocean Collectiv
Dr. Ayana Johnson is a marine biologist, social activist, and climate solutions advocate who designs conservation solutions that work for communities and put people first. Her nonprofit, Ocean Collectiv, works with scientists, policy-makers, and communities to clean up and conserve our oceans in a way that also protects vulnerable communities in the face of climate change (often communities of color).
Take Action & Support Ocean Collectiv.
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.
13. Marilyn Waite | Program Officer in Environment at the Hewlett Foundation
Marilyn leads the climate and clean energy finance portfolio at the Hewlett Foundation, an environmental and social justice-focused charitable foundation. Through her work at the Hewlett Foundation, Marilyn promotes socially cohesive and environmentally conscious business practices.
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 MN350
Sam has decades of experience organizing communities around climate justice and now serves as Executive Director of MN350, which works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate a just clean energy transition in Minnesota.
“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 mn350.org
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.
Follow Leah’s Instagram Accounts: @greengirlleah, @intersectionalenvironmentalist, and @thegreensgirlco.
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