• Navya Sammeta

Black History Month

Role of Black Leaders in the Climate Movement

With regard to the climate crisis, black communities are inseparably tied to the climate movement. Studies show that throughout history, people of color continue to be disproportionately affected by climate change. Take natural disasters, pollution, or rising sea levels, African Americans in the U.S. are facing the brunt of the climate crisis. Now more than ever, black communities in the south are experiencing more incidents of extreme heat, hurricanes, and flooding. Furthermore, the communities alongside power plants, chemical factories, and other major sources of pollution, also tend to be primarily made up of African American or other people of color.

Historically, environmental destruction is deeply rooted in the narratives of people of color. For example, in an interview with Yale 360, environmentalist Elizabeth Yeampierre explained how “Climate change is the result of a legacy of extraction, of colonialism, of slavery. A lot of times when people talk about environmental justice they go back to the 1970s or ‘60s. But I think about the slave quarters.” As mentioned by Ms. Yeampierre, slavery itself was an institution manifested out of the goal to extract land. It fed the same capitalistic system that continues to drive the climate crisis today. Therefore, it is impossible to separate the exploitation of land and labor from the history of people of color.

Get to know Black Climate Movement Leaders

Today, while black leaders are an integral part of the climate movement, they are still not given the attention they deserve for it. For this year’s Black History Month, we wanted to use this chance to celebrate some influential climate activists that are at the forefront of the movement.

1) Heather McTeer Tone

To me, environmentalism is being able to connect to the earth, air, and water in your own community, in your backyard—whether it’s rural or urban. It’s about connecting in a way that's not only natural to you, but is in a way that's caring for these elements as being a part of our existence, a part of our humanity, and it being our responsibility” - From “Abolish the Tree Hugger

Heather McTeer Tone is an American environmental activist who is currently the National Field Director for Moms Clean Air Force, a campaign that is comprised of over 1 million people committed to fighting climate change and especially its effects on children. She served as the youngest, first female African American mayor of Greenville, Mississippi from 2004-2012. In 2014, she was appointed as the Regional Administrator for Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Southeast Region by President Obama. In the EPA, she oversaw the environmental situation in Region 4, which includes the southern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, and six federally recognized tribes. She is also a renowned speaker and writer, and has contributed a lot of media for her activism.

Moms Clean Air Force:

2) Dr. Mildred McClain

Through years of confronting racism in all of its different disguises, all fights against injustice include calls for environmental injustice. That’s why civil rights is at the center.”- From “Building the Beloved Community

Dr. Mildred “Mama Bahati” McClain has worked for over 30 years for environmental justice in the United States. She is an Executive Director of The Harambee House / Citizens for Environmental Justice (HH/CFEJ) in Savannah, which she co-founded in 1990 with the mission to promote civic engagement in climate activism and empower communities against their problems. The House’s Black Youth Leadership Development program has helped train over 1,500 young leaders to serve their communities.

In 2018, she helped organize citizens of Savannah, Georgia to be part of the discussion about the solution for pollution from the shipping channels in Savannah port. She also was part of the fight to hold a utility responsible when nuclear waste became part of that pollution. She continues to help educate and promote climate education in Savannah and other communities of color. Dr. McClain was also a delegate at the World Conference Against Racism and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Harambee House:

3) Elizebeth Yeampierre

The communities that are most impacted by Covid, or by pollution, it’s not surprising that they’re the ones that are going to be most impacted by extreme weather events. And it’s not surprising that they’re the ones that are targeted for racial violence. It’s all the same communities, all over the United States. And you can’t treat one part of the problem without the other, because it’s so systemic.” - From Yale Environment 360

Elizabeth Yeampierre, born in New York from African and Indigenous ancestry, is a distinguished Puerto Rican attorney and climate justice leader. She is the Executive Director of UPROSE, a multiracial grassroots organization promoting sustainability led by women of color. Before this, she was the Dean of Puerto Rican Student Affairs at Yale University, Director of Legal Education and Training at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, and Director of Legal Services for the American Indian Law Alliance.

She also served on the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences Advisory Council, and the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She is a famous environmentalist speaker and took part in the Obama Administration’s first White House Forum on Environmental Justice in 2010, the Climate Change Rally at the National Mall in Washington DC by Pope Francis in 2015, and various college summits. Her vision continues to lead climate leadership in UPROSE and New York communities especially.


Other Research

  1. Black History Month


Dr. Mildred Mcclain-,-a-conversation-with-dr.-mildred-mcclain/

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