Celebrities often use their influence to bring attention to causes that they deeply care about. On Earth Day 2021, conserving our environment and protecting the planet are some of the most essential issues of our time. According to the EPA, changes in our planet including rising temperatures, heavy rainfall, shifting rain and snow patterns are caused by human behavior. Consequently, climate change and environmental issues have the most devastating impact on Black communities.
Thankfully, there are several well-meaning, Black celebrities who consistently use their time, talent, and bank accounts to highlight environmental justice, climate change, and food security as crucial elements for the full-flourishing of Black people across the globe.
Here’s a list of 10 Black celebrities who have a genuine passion to make the planet better for all people.
Rihanna is one of the biggest stars in music and fashion. So when she takes on a cause such as environmentalism, she has the ears of millions. The Grammy-award winner and founder of Fenty Beauty, has put her focus on climate-related disaster prevention. She launched The Clara Lionel Foundation which “supports and funds education initiatives and emergency response to natural disasters. CLF also emphasizes “the effects of climate change on those most marginalized through preparedness and climate resilience projects across the Caribbean.” It is the goal of Rihanna and her foundation to make the Caribbean a “climate smart zone.”
By her presence alone, Erykah Badu has an aura like she’s the “Mother of the Earth.” Ever since she burst on the scene in 1997, she has promoted an alternative, natural lifestyle before it was in vogue. “I’ve been vegan-vegetarian [from] about the time my first album came out, so it was 1997,” the Grammy-award winner told The Cut.
Badu is an arch advocate of a plant-based, vegan lifestyle but she also makes the planet better by bringing life into the world as a “doula.” By definition, a doula “is someone trained to provide continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth.” Since 2001, Badu has assisted in 50 births and keeps in contact with all the babies she brought into the world, who call her their “Badoula."
Oscar nominee Don Cheadle is one of leading celebrity spokespersons of climate change. As an actor-director, Cheadle’s work as a climate activist has given him and his cause a tremendous amount of notoriety.
Cheadle first began to notice the effects of climate change when he was living in Denver, Colorado. He remembers only being able to water his family’s lawn on certain days because of the water shortage. In 2010, he was named the UN Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador and he hosted an episode of the Showtime series, Years Living Dangerously, where he interviewed people living in the southwest United States to demonstrate water droughts in the region. Cheadle continues his work of spreading the word about how climate change is impacting our world.
Multi-platinum producer and rapper will.i.am believes that his transition into veganism and being conscious about the environment have transformed his life. He has spoken out about the ethics of killing animals for food and questioned corruption in the food industry.
Will.i.am also invested in a vegan CBD brand called VAAY. On the cutting edge of veganism and CBD, VAAY offers a variety of products such as CBD-infused bath bombs, oils and other products available in both the UK and Germany.
The Black Eyed Peas founder has now taken interest in sustainability. He recently teamed up with Amazon to promote sustainable shopping. Reconfirming his commitment to an eco-friendly lifestyle, he told Rolling Stone, “I have embraced sustainability personally and in business in several ways, from driving all electric vehicles, eating a plant-based vegan diet [and] investing in companies that allow people to live more sustainable-friendly and healthy lives.”
Lupita Nyong’o is just as devoted to her causes for social activism as she is to her craft of acting. As a conservationist, the Oscar-winner in 2015 was named the WildAid Global Elephant Ambassador, becoming a tireless advocate against the global ivory trade. Reflecting on her childhood she told CN Traveler that, “I remember we were raised with a real sense of respect for the animals that lived around us, elephants included. I’ve always felt a special affinity for the elephant.”
Nyong’o was involved in the production (and narration) of My Africa, a documentary portraying the benefits of conservation and how people can be more engaged in conservation efforts, which debuted at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. As a global elephant ambassador, she appears in public service announcements and print campaigns to be distributed internationally, all across the globe, sharing the message of why saving elephants is important for her homeland and the rest of the world.
For over a decade, R&B singer/songwriter John Legend has been in the fight for social justice, specifically the fight to save the planet. In 2007, he started The Show Me Campaign after researching global solutions to poverty. The mission of the campaign is to “support community-led development initiatives aimed at providing sustainable, scalable solutions that help the communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty.” Their work includes providing mosquito nets to prevent malaria, offering free lunches for children who attend school, and ensuring that clean drinking water is available.
It’s not surprising then that he was awarded a BET Humanitarian award for his efforts on the campaign. Legend also partnered with REVERB, an environmental non-profit, to make his Evolver Tour as carbon neutral as possible, invest in wind farms and to curb carbon footprints of his tour.
R&B diva Mya has transformed her whole way of life by going vegan. She has authored her own step-by-step guide to going vegan called Mya’s Vegan Starter Guide as a way to make the transition easier. To encourage others to adopt a vegan lifestyle, she offers a 6-Day Vegan Reset Challenges to educate those about veganism. But for Mya, who calls herself a “hardcore vegan” says it’s more than just about trying to be healthy; she’s trying to save the planet.
In an interview she said, "I'm not wearing leather shoes and I have not worn furs since a long time ago.I have to be very conscious when I'm making decisions and saying I'm vegan because I have to be about it all the way.” In addition, she also has worked with many campaigns as an animal rights activist.
The Flint water crisis revealed how environmental policies affect African American communities in disastrous ways. One of the most prominent voices to raise public awareness about the crisis was rapper/actor Jaden Smith. He’s been assisting the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church's water distribution program by donating a Water Box filtration unit, following Michigan State’s end of its water bottle distribution activities. The Water Box, which has the ability to filter over ten gallons of water every minute, is a smaller version of the filtration system used by JUST Water, the bottled water company owned by the Smith family.
Showing his devotion to creating a cleaner Earth and plant based lifestyle, Smith said, “Seeing the ocean polluted... sparked a journey into learning about the environment. I was like ‘wow, this is so groundbreaking.’ I wanted to make an impact. I started learning about the environment, about plastic, about carbon dioxide.”
Not only is Pharrell Williams one of the greatest producers of all but he’s also a humanitarian and an environmentalist. Williams merged his love of fashion with environmental sustainability. He worked with BIONIC, a material engineering company in a collaboration with his textile manufacturing company with his company G-Star Raw in 2014. The “Raw for the Oceans” campaign recycled plastic found in the ocean into denim.
He’s also a strong advocate of climate change. Speaking about the condition of the planet to the Associated Press, Williams said, “If we don’t, as a species, if we don’t do what we are supposed to do, we lose the track but we also lose the planet.”
Chicago native Common is a Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe winner and regarded as one of the greatest MCs ever. But he’s just as passionate about clean living and caring for the Earth. His YouTube series, Com+Well premiered last August and for a six-episode run. The show features “wellness gurus” such as Grace Harry, Yancy Berry, and Ron Finley. As an activist, Common lent his voice to numerous causes and is involved with many campaigns promoting eco-friendly living, sustainability, and environmental justice. He took part in a campaign called #DrinkGoodDoGood, an effort led by naked juice. In the campaign, the company donated produce to underserved communities.
Whatever platform he’s on, Common uses his voice to raise the concerns of Black people who are vulnerable to environmental injustice.
(Photos from left: Jeffrey Neira/CBS via Getty Images, Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images for Turner, Rindoff Petroff/Suu/Getty Images)