5 Black Environmentalists You Should Know
By: Tajiya Holland
“Reduce, reuse, recycle” is the slogan embedded in our brains from a young age to encourage us to reduce waste and take care of the environment. When it comes to protecting Mother Earth, however, there’s a lot more to it than these three words. In the last few years, an increase in environmental research and activism has led to positive changes, but we still have a ways to go.
Black communities, in particular, face greater harm from environmental factors due to environmental racism. Coined by Dr. Robert D.Bullard, environmental racism is when minority communities have to deal with hazards like factory pollution, toxic waste dumps, spills, air, and water pollution that affect their health and food security at a rate disproportionate to non-minority communities.
Paving the way for change right now are environmentalists—those who advocate for protecting the earth and the fair treatment and sharing of the advantages provided. Here are five Black environmentalists advocating for eco-friendly change in their communities and around the world.
Leah Penniman is the Co-director of Soul Fire Farm and the author of Farming While Black. An expert agriculturist for over 20 years, Penniman travels the world, working with organizations as a soil steward. Her book is a roadmap for small-scale farming and includes inspiring notes on the history of Black farming. The mission of her organization is to uproot racism and seed sovereignty in the food system. Black communities disproportionately have less access to fresh food and less than 2% of US farmers are Black, but Penniman is doing her part to change these statistics.
Jerome Foster II
Jerome Foster II is famous for going from protesting outside of the White House to working inside it as an Environmental Justice Council Member, where he informs President Biden on environmental injustices to help confront and tackle climate change in the US and abroad. Foster is also the Executive Director and Founder of One Million of Us—a youth-led voting and advocacy organization. In an interview with The Guardian, Foster stated, “In ten years, I don’t want to still be fighting about clean air and clean water. That’s a complete and utter waste of a lifetime, to fight for bare-bones things.”
Aja Barber is a writer and advocate for equality in the fashion industry. She is a consultant who helps individuals and business teams learn about sustainability and its intersections, but she is well-known for her microblogging on her Instagram. On her website, Barber states, “My work builds heavily on ideas behind privilege, wealth inequality, racism, feminism, colonialism, and how to fix the fashion industry with all these things in mind.” Topics Barber discusses include independent Black designers, garment worker wages, ethics in production, relationships with consuming, and demeaning marketing strategies. Barber gives insight into the future of fashion and the steps needed to get there.
Leah Thomas is the founder of media and resource hub Intersectional Environmentalist, where people can find a collection of films, articles, and personal essays on environmental issues. On her Instagram, Thomas discusses topics like climate change, sustainable financing, low waste living, hydroponic gardening, and more. Thomas provides great resources for those looking to learn more about intersectional advocacy.
Rue Mapp is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro—an organization dedicated to helping Black people access nature-based experiences while dismantling the false narrative of Black people not enjoying the outdoors. Mapp created Outdoor Afro to inspire Black connections in nature. Across the US, their trained leaders guide gardening, birding, hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, camping trips, and more. These trips are not only about being in nature but understanding the human relationship with it. As Mapp puts it, “The trees don’t know that you’re Black, the flowers are going to bloom no matter how much money is in your account. The birds are going to sing no matter your gender or political affiliation. In that way, we can have a very different conversation about what that connection to nature can teach us about being with one another.”