Taking Back Our Space: The Importance of Black & Brown Environmental Justice Activism

May 12, 2020 | BM4F Spotlights, Uncategorized, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

In October 1991, a group of BIPOC (Black, Indigeous and People of Color) convened at the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. There was representation not just from the United States, but from Puerto Rico, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands. It was at this moment in time that the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice was formed–the framework that still guides the work of this intergenerational movement. While the pioneers of the environmental justice movement were BIPOC, fast forward to 2020, the large “green” organizations with missions and visions grounded in environmental justice are way too white in both staffing and organizational culture. What is an even greater disservice to the movement is the invisibility of grassroots efforts. While America suffers from a litany of environmental crises, lack of cultural and racial diversity in seats of power and influence are a close second in the list of catastrophes. Black Millennials 4 Flint has assumed the energy of our ancestors and elders to create our own, unique spaces–going back to the true essence of the environmental justice movement as represented in the 17 Principles. The space that Black and Brown leaders in the Black Millennials 4 Flint tribe creates rejects colonial-based strategies and instead addresses issues of environmental racism and ecological violence through strategies of peace.

On the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, Black Millennials 4 Flint hosted a national virtual event–Young, Gifted & Green: Earth Day Twitter Round Table. This event was powerful as it centered the voices of BIPOC. The engagement was absolutely magical and we have receipts:

Why are forums such as a Twitter Round Table important for the Black and Latinx community?

As a follow-up to the virtual event, we listened to our Black and Brown family and adjacent allies about their experience. Here are the accounts from some of these dope change agents:

As grassroots activists, social media campaigns are very important, because they allow us to supplement the on the ground work we are doing in the community. They also provide us with an opportunity to reach people in other networks and expand our reach. 

Commissioner Salim Adofo, Ward 8 ANC, District of Columbia

After last night and during COVID-19 times proves that, People of Color [are] a broad range of cultures, religions, shades, ethnicities. Yes, over 500 and nearly 600 years of Oppression, Suppression and Depression (OSD) of our people for [corporate] gains must come to an end. In 1991 the 17 Principles of Environmental laid ground work for environmental change, restitution, and standards. This was before [there were] iPhones, internet, Gmail, Twitter and so on. I mention these facts that we know, saying [that] with this technology, we can hold people and government more responsible.

Phillip Sharpe, Environmental Justice Advocate

Forums such as the Earth Day Roundtable are important to the Black and Latinx community because they provide a platform to hear and contribute to conversations that matter to us…from trusted sources. They allow us to expand our reach and use digital media as an advocacy and organizing tool.

Kawanza Billy, Civic Engagement Chair, Thursday Network Greater Washington Urban League Young Professionals

I was honored to be a participant in the “Young, Gifted & Green: Earth Day Twitter Round Table” last month.  Forums such as this Twitter Round Table are important for the Black community, for many reasons. One major reason it serves as a central focus place for Black and Latinx people from various career backgrounds to present and discuss ideas that will eventually lead to implemental solutions. Another reason is related to policy. We were able to discuss strategies that can be implemented to create a more equitable playing field for Black small businesses to acquire access to the clean energy industry. For example, it must be intentionally written into legislation & local bills that a high percent of business goes to Black small businesses. 

Dr. Keila Foster, Educator & Writer

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”― Arundhati Roy Social media platforms serve as excellent mediums for the voice of the often unheard. These platforms allow us to connect, to share, to express, and to organize. All of these capabilities are important. Sharing stories of environmental injustices allows us to inform, connecting with others provides greater strength in numbers and organizing brings us together for progress.

Elise Marie Tolbert

Twitter round tables like the one hosted by Black Millennials 4 Flint provide a forum for Black and Brown communities and allies to discuss the injustices faced by frontline communities – but also how we can fight for healthier and safer communities and the future we deserve. We want to again thank Black Millennials 4 Flint for this opportunity! 

Jonathan Soohoo, Manager, Defend Our Future (Environmental Defense Fund)

Having diverse stakeholders address problems and create solutions is critical to fighting the climate crisis. EDF Is excited in participating in forums that expand both information and access to new audiences. We look forward to working more with Black Millennials 4 Flint!

Elise Nelson, Manager, Campaigns and Partnerships Environmental Defense Fund

The Future of the Movement is Digital

While Black Millennials 4 Flint’s core service areas are Flint, Baltimore, Memphis and DC, our social media platforms support our mission and vision to expand our reach. According to a 2016 Report by Neilson called Young, Connected & Black, 55% percent of Black Millennials say they spend an hour or more daily on social networking sites, which is 11% higher than the total Millennial population. Additionally, 29% of Black Millennials say they spend three or more hours daily on social networking sites, an amount that is 44% higher than that of the total Millennial population. Nielson released another report in 2018 assessing the Latinx social media presence. The report states that 52% of Latinx 18 and older spend at least one hour per day on social media (compared with 38% of non-Hispanic Whites) and 24% spend three or more hours per day (compared with 13% of non-Hispanic Whites). Utilizing social media as a platform for mobilization and organizing in the beginning of a new, progressive era where inclusivity builds a modern platform for those directly impacted by environmental racism to voice demands for justice. As we navigate our “new normal” amid COVID-19, Black and Latinx Millennials and GenZ have demonstrated the power of technology–the new conduit for carrying the torch of the environmental justice movement. A seat at the table has taken on an entirely new meaning and we are here for it!

Make sure you follow us on all our social media platforms to stay up-to-date about future programming and other news surrounding environmental justice: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube.


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