1970 was pivotal in America’s relationship with sustainability and earth preservation. Earth Day was created on April 22, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established on Dec. 2, 1970.
Since this time, pervasive movements have centered around how people can intentionally preserve the planet by reducing trash, reusing materials, and recycling products to be repurposed.
But if you were to talk to many members of the Black community, these practices have been a staple in Black households for decades. While sustainability is making waves through the popular halls of society, the concept is not new for those deeply associated with Black culture.
From the reuse of everyday items to the current display of being plant parents, Black people from across the diaspora have been tapping into innovative and natural ways to keep the world “green” before it was ever an official thing.
Plant enthusiast and Memphis, TN, resident Eso Tolson reflected on many green moments he experienced in his childhood prior to even knowing what environmental sustainability was all about.
“We would keep the Kroger bag and reuse them for a lot of things. We would get glass jars for like jelly, and they would end up being a plant pot or the next cup for juice,” Tolson explained. “I even remember my mom buying the bucket of Country Crock butter; weeks later, it would be Tupperware for leftovers. We are not new to this.”
The practices centered on the innovative repurposing of materials and connectivity to nature that have long been in rotation are some of the current suggestions listed on the EPA website, confirming the undocumented universal truth that Blackness has always been green.
With an ever-evolving rise in sustainability, many Black people have dedicated their lives and work to ensuring people can have easy access to becoming and remaining “green.”
Let’s look at seven change makers who are putting the environment and sustainability first.
A recurring character on STARZ’s “P-Valley” and a fresh and organic food savant, Williams leads the agricultural practices for Mama’s Sundry — a collection of individuals that provide “holistic and sustainable goods and prioritize community education and experiences.”
King is an environmental justice educator and director of programming at Black Girl Environmentalist. She is also an attorney, consistently dropping gems and resources about the harm of practices such as oil drills near homes and how they disproportionately impact Black and brown communities.
Fashion can be trendy and sustainable, and Edmondson is letting the world know of its possibilities. Advocating for thrift over fast fashion, her work is centered on the ways people can decrease waste and avoid the practices of sending clothing to landfills. She also heads ESE Consultancy, which “works to elevate brands and organisations looking to focus their business to harness social or environmental good.”
Food deserts are real, and Nyemb-Diop is working tirelessly to combat the phenomenon in her community. As a food nutritionist, she advocates for equitable access to fresh food, noting the correlation between race, food culture, and health.
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Vegan food can be delicious, and several examples prove this is true. Claiborne is part of an effort that offers opportunities for people to try vegan food that tastes great and is good for them. As a vegan chef and blogger, she also uses her platform, Sweet Potato Soul, to provide eco-friendly tips for everyday living.
Artis is a co-founder and the executive director of This Is Zero Hour, a youth-led organization that fights and advocates for a more livable planet for all. He is passionate about the law, politics, and environmental justice. Artis also co-authored “A Kids Book About Climate Change” with Olivia Greenspan, a fellow environmental advocate.
Griswell is giving the term “we outside” a new meaning. The founder of HBCUs Outside and Boyz N The Wood, Griswell encourages Black people to tap into the growing concept of ecowellness. Reconnecting with nature and providing care for the environment is at the core of this environmental thrust.