10 Notable African Americans Fighting for the Environment
In celebration of February as “Black History Month,” we’d like to honor the remarkable African American thought leaders, innovators, pioneers, and activists fighting for justice for the environment, its people, and their food. While this list is in no way exhaustive, it does illustrate the sheer impressiveness of the work of those making real and lasting change in their communities.
Years after growing up on a small farm in Maryland, Will Allen founded Growing Power Inc. He is recognized as one of the preeminent thinkers on agriculture and food policy and is a leading authority in the expanding field of urban agriculture. Allen promotes the belief that all people, regardless of their economic circumstances, should have access to fresh, safe, affordable and nutritious foods. Using methods he has developed over a lifetime, Allen specializes in bringing healthy food to underserved communities using a unique growing system he developed himself.
Michael “Kosher Soul” Twitty is a local food writer and culinary historian who focuses on African American food culture. He’s made several appearances during cultural events hosted here at the farm, demonstrating what he calls, “culinary justice,” or the art of honoring the food past and providing for the food future. He started his blog, Afroculinara, as a way to chronicle his life’s work and to share the work of many other great “soul foodies.”
Bryant Terry is a chef, food justice activist, and author of four books, including one on vegetarian soul food. He is committed to raising awareness about the negative impact the industrial food system has on health and the environment. Terry’s interest in cooking, farming, and community health can be traced back to his childhood in Memphis, Tennessee, where his grandparents inspired him to grow, prepare, and appreciate good food. Bryant’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Food and Wine, Gourmet, Sunset, O: The Oprah Magazine, Yoga Journal, and Vegetarian Times, among many other publications. In 2012, Terry was chosen by the U.S. State Department as one of 80 American chefs to be a part of its new American Chef Corps.
John C. Robinson is a biologist and birder who has birded in almost every state and led birding trips in Central America and South Africa. He often points out that in another couple of generations, minority populations collectively will be the majority and will hopefully drive conservation efforts. Thus, his mission is to encourage inner city and minority youth and young adults to become more interested in nature through bird watching. He explores the topic in his book, Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.
The Petermans are among the leading experts on America’s publicly-owned lands system and have been pioneers in the green and conservation movement since 1995. They are tenacious advocates for breaking the color barrier and for integration of our natural treasures as a way for all Americans, including children, youth, adults and seniors – regardless of ethnic heritage – to better appreciate our collective history and achieve a truly democratic society. The captivating story of the Peterman’s journey through the national parks and the environmental world enables Americans to look at our country with new eyes. It shows that around the country, Americans of every race contributed to the protection of our most treasured places.
“A masterful storyteller,” Marc Bamuthi is the creative genius behind “red, black & GREEN: a blues(rbGb),” a multimedia performance he created in response to the fact that people of color are underrepresented in the environmental movement. Performed throughout the country, rbGb provided a vibrant opportunity to unite individuals, families and neighbors in asking, “what sustains life in OUR community?” and gave voice to those people often left out of discussions about “living green.”
A historian and professor whose specialty is African American Environmentalism. Her love of nature has translated professionally and vocationally and she writes and speaks extensively on the topic. She is currently serving as the associate pastor at Ingomar Church in Pittsburgh, where part of her ministry is advocacy for impoverished and marginalized people affected by environmental disparity including access to recreational spaces and healthcare. She is the author of Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage.
An American botanist and inventor born into slavery, George Washington Carver is regarded as one of America’s greatest agricultural researchers and educators. His innovations in the field of crop rotation are considered breakthroughs in resource conservation, by preserving soil and making farms more productive. As we are coming to understand 150 years later, Carver believed that in the natural world everything is a part of the whole. He understood that nothing exists in isolation, that everything is inextricably connected, and ignoring that fact can have disastrous effects.
Often referred to as the “father of the environmental justice movement,” Dr. Robert Bullard has been one of the leading voices on the issue for decades. In 2008, he was named one of Newsweek’s 13 “Environmental Leaders of the Century”. In 2013, he was the first African American to be honored with the Sierra Club John Muir Award. He has authored numerous books on the prominence of waste facilities in predominately African-American areas all over the nation, as well as others that address urban land use, industrial facility siting, housing, transportation, climate justice, emergency response, smart growth, and equity. He firmly believes is that if you live on this earth, if you breathe this air then you are an environmentalist.
Known as the “planet walker,” Dr. John Francis started walking in protest against the oil industry after a massive oil spill in 1971. For 22 years, he walked across North and South America (17 years of which were in complete silence!). He has shared his story on Ted Talks, “Walk the Earth… My 17 Year Vow of Silence” and in the documentary “I Am”. His book “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence” details his concern for the human loss of connection to nature, a point he stressed in an interview with The Atlantic. “While loss of habitat and species, pollution, and what we typically think of as environmental problems remain important issues for me, after walking across America listening and studying the environment for 17 years, I realize that people are part of the environment.” Today his non-profit, Planetwalk Foundation, is “saving the planet one step at a time.”