Laurie and Debbie say:
Earth Day is so often seen through a white people’s lens when, of course, the issues that underlie this day affect everyone, and people from all races and ethnicities are doing amazing climate work. Sytonia Reid, writing at The Grio, showcases 10 Black climate leaders, while making the point that “Black people have long been stewards for the planet” and that these 10 are just a few of the many Reid could have chosen. We picked two of our favorites, and we recommend both reading about the other eight Reid selected, and digging deeper into the work of these two.
Leah Thomas coined the term “intersectional environmentalism.” In her November 2020 interview with Omolara Uthman at Assembly, “I Can’t Breathe: Climate activist Leah Thomas on how the pandemic, systemic racism and environmental racism are affecting Black communities,” she says:
I feel that racial justice and climate justice are one and the same. I often say it would be very hard to make an argument that the environmentalism that we have right now is not inherently racist. If it were not racist, then why do BIPOC [an acronym that stands for “Black, Indigenous and people of colour”] experience all … environmental injustices the most: poor air quality, poor water quality, proximity to toxic waste sites, the list goes on and on and on. So if the environmentalism we have today [was] not racist, then Black and Brown people or BIPOC would not be always disproportionately impacted. In order to remedy that I think environmentalists should be anti-racist because the environmentalism that we have now that has been thought of as being “progressive” has only been progressive for one group of people and that’s not fair.
It’s not just Earth Day, it’s Remarkable Women Named Leah day. Leah Penniman is the author of Farming While Black (2018), and an advocate for Black farmers everywhere. She and her husband run Soul Fire Farm, a working farm in Grafton, NY. Soul Fire’s website describes itself as:
an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. We raise and distribute life-giving food as a means to end food apartheid. With deep reverence for the land and wisdom of our ancestors, we work to reclaim our collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system. We bring diverse communities together on this healing land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, natural building, spiritual activism, health, and environmental justice. We are training the next generation of activist-farmers and strengthening the movements for food sovereignty and community self-determination.
Our food sovereignty programs reach over 10,000 people each year, including farmer training for Black and Brown growers, reparations and land return initiatives for northeast farmers, food justice workshops for urban youth, home gardens for city-dwellers living under food apartheid, doorstep harvest delivery for food insecure households, and systems and policy education for public decision-makers.
The other eight Black climate activists showcased in this article are every bit as interesting as the two we chose. We honor their work on Earth Day and every day.
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