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African Americans have a deep understanding of how caring for the planet can help us live better lives. It's vital to examine how environmental justice is directly linked to racial justice issues. Throughout America's long history, African American communities have been disproportionately impacted by the lack of access to environmental resources, health disparities, pollution, and the effects of climate change.
Raising their voices about issues that dramatically impact our communities and the globe are Black environmental activists on the frontline. They have dedicated their lives to educating our people about health, wellness, and saving our planet. Because of their work, they are making the world a better place.
Here are five Black environmental warriors you should know.
Reverend Doctor Heber Brown, III
In the city of Baltimore, The Reverend Dr. Heber Brown, III is a fixture in the fight for environmental justice for his community. As Pleasant Hope Baptist Church pastor, Dr. Brown has been an environmental warrior for over two decades, raising the systemic issues of land conservation and food insecurity in Baltimore and beyond. On April 18, 2010, as part of the congregation's Earth Day celebration, Pleasant Hope established Maxine's Garden. It was named after Maxine Nicholas, who had been a member since the 1950s and until her passing in 2018. The garden grows nutrient-rich food promoting better health in the community and providing vegetables, herbs, and fruit to its members and neighbors.
Recognizing the deep-seated issues of food insecurity, in 2015, Dr. Brown launched the Black Church Food Security Network, which is "a multi-state alliance of congregations working together to inspire health, wealth and power in the Black Community." The BCFSN partners with Black churches to establish gardens and cultivates partnerships with Black farmers to create a grassroots, community-led food system.
Kari Fulton is redefining environmentalism for the next generation. She's an award-winning Climate and Environmental organizer, historian, and journalist. She has worked with various campaigns and national conferences, including Power Shift, the largest youth climate summit in the country, and the People's Climate March.
Fulton has trained students and communities on Climate and Environmental Justice across the United States. She's also active in local community organizations developing strategies for public health, climate change, community empowerment, and environmental policies that directly impact African Americans. Fulton is a Class of 2020 National Urban Fellow, Georgetown University, McCourt School of Public Policy, where she graduated with a Masters of Public Management in 2020.
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, PhD
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, conservation strategist, and writer. The Brooklyn native is the co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for developing policy solutions for coastal cities. Her research includes urban ocean conservation, sustainable fishing, ocean zoning, climate change, and social justice. She's researched the bycatch impacts—the capture or entanglement of non-target marine species—in Caribbean coral reef trap fisheries.
Previously, Johnson held positions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic the Atmospheric Administration, and the Director of Science and Solutions at the Waitt Foundation in Washington, D.C. It's no surprise that Elle Magazine named her one of the "27 Women Leading the Charge to Protect Our Environment
A self-described "hood naturalist" and wildlife conservationist, Corina Newsome combines her work as an ornithologist and social justice to better our planet. She's a biology graduate student at Georgia Southern University, where she studies Seaside Sparrows and a Community Engagement Manager for Georgia Audubon. She helped organize #BlackBirdersWeek after a white woman Amy Cooper called the cops on a lack birdwatcher named Christian Cooper in Central Park. Black Birders Week is a week-long series of online events to "highlight Black nature enthusiasts and to spotlight Black birders, who face challenges and dangers when engaging in outdoor activities." She's created several programs for high school students from minority to consider careers in wildlife sciences. Corina's mission is "to center the perspectives and leadership of historically marginalized communities in wildlife conservation, environmental education, and exploration of the natural world."
Based in Atlanta, Ashley Renne is a sustainable travel enthusiast, vegan lifestyle expert, and smart tech media personality that seeks to teach others how to live their best adventurously lit, green life. Her brand of health, wellness, and environmentalism uses original video, photography, and blog posts to present travel guides, eco-friendly lifestyle tips, and tech recommendations to introduce her audience to all the benefits of green living. Her work has been featured on major websites like Essence, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and Mashable.
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