Black History Month: Environmental Justice

Environmental issues are often overlooked within Black communities, even though we are among the most adversely affected communities. The conversation is growing in light of the pandemic, but Black communities have been disproportionately affected by issues, such as climate change and pollution, for decades. The health disparities resulting from conditions within our communities are directly linked to institutionalized racism. More than 68% of Black folks live near “dirty coal-fired power plants,” resulting in higher levels of particulate matter and disproportionate Black deaths and complications from the novel coronavirus. This is just one example demonstrating that “America is segregated, and so is pollution (National Black Environmental Justice Network).” Environmental issues are also systemic racism issues, and we deserve to be heard. Here are a few Black leaders who have been at the forefront of the environmental justice movement.

Dr. Robert D. Bullard is deemed the father of the environmental justice movement. He has written eighteen books addressing environmental racism, urban land use, community reinvestment, transportation, disasters, community resilience, regional equity, and many more. He is the founder of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, which aims to educate people of color on “environmental decision-making.”

Based in Northern Manhattan, Peggy Shepard is the co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. Her community is a first-hand example of Black communities disproportionately being adversely affected by climate change. The WE ACT website states that “By 2080, New York is expected to see 3,331 heat-related deaths.” This is a direct result of Black communities often being located in “heat islands.” Shepard’s leadership allows her to take action to improve “environmental health policy locally and nationally.”

Carl Anthony is the founder of the Urban Habitat Program. This program works to address the intersections within the environment, race, and class. He specifically emphasized the importance of leaders of color addressing the issues that most prevalently affect us. Anthony and Urban Habitat aim to “[broaden] the definition of “sustainability to include equity and justice.” He is also one of the co-founding editors of the first environmental justice periodical Race, Poverty, and the Environment Journal, which has been crucial in spreading awareness of these intersections since the early dances of the movement.