Black folks have been pioneering, innovating, revolutionizing, caring, educating, and leading in the environmental justice movement since it began. This Black History Month, we want to spotlight four inspiring figures who are making history right now for ocean protection, community food sovereignty, clean water advocacy, and more.
Environmental pollution and climate change disproportionally affect Black people. So it is absolutely necessary for Black voices to be amplified and heard. Each of these passionate climate champions is taking the issues they care about into their own hands. As we speak, they are fighting and growing their movements.
Dr. Beverly Wright
Environmental Justice Educator
In 1992, Dr. Wright founded the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. The DSCEJ was the first environmental justice center in the U.S. Wright has developed curriculum that to this day teaches public school students and workers about environmental justice. The EPA still uses the map developed by the DSCEJ that ties race and pollutants together to determine funding distribution for environmental justice. Dr. Wright leads the organization in providing Louisiana residents impacted by climate change with education and job training. She also works to address inequities in health and the environment in the region.
Food Sanctuary Revolutionary
When Ron Finley realized that the food deserts of L.A. had tons of unused patches of dirt, he knew he had to bridge the connection himself. After almost being arrested for planting vegetables near his house, he began fighting back with the help of his community. Finley started his own nonprofit to use gardening and green spaces to inspire families to appreciate nature and take food sovereignty into their own hands. He has planted dozens of gardens and has traveled to cities around the world to spread the urban gardening revolution.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Dr. Johnson is a marine biologist and writer who co-authored the Blue New Deal, which outlines how the ocean should be integrated into climate policies. She also cofounded Urban Ocean Lab, The All We Can Save Project, and the podcast How to Save a Planet. As the executive director of the Waitt Institute, she led the first successful island-wide ocean zoning effort in the Caribbean. She also worked with the EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on federal ocean policy. She continues to write an advocate for ocean protection and has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Scientific American, and more.
AKA Little Miss Flint
Copeny’s advocacy prompted President Obama to dedicate $100 million in relief toward the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. She has raised over $1 million for multiple campaigns. These campaigns provided thousands of children with school supplies, and gave away over 1 million bottles of water. Amariyanna also gave away thousands of water filters to people experiencing polluted water in their communities. She continues to lead today as an ambassador to the Women’s March on Washington and the National Climate March. She is also a member of the Flint Youth Justice League and the MDE Anti-Racism Student Advisory Council.
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11 transformative climate and environmental bills passed this year — from holding corporations accountable for pollution to addressing lead in public school water — in no small part thanks to our year-round advocacy work in Sacramento and across the state. Check them all out on our priority bills page!
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