Black History Month: 5 Environmental Leaders to Look Up To

In honor of Black History Month, SGA celebrates the achievements of five African American environmental leaders who have championed environmental issues for local and national communities. These heroes brought awareness to environmental issues by creating urban farms in empty lots, walking everywhere and giving up motorized transport, live broadcasting environmental justice issues, and sharing stories of the Buffalo Soldiers. Take a moment, in fact take many moments, to celebrate the spectacular accomplishments of these five remarkable African-American leaders who worked to promote healthy environments and communities for all.

John Francis, The Planet Walker
“One day in 1983, John Francis stepped out on a walk. For the next 22 years, he trekked and sailed around North and South America, carrying a message of respect for the Earth — for 17 of those years, without speaking.

During his monumental, silent trek, he earned an MA in environmental studies and a PhD in land resources. Today his Planetwalk foundation consults on sustainable development and works with educational groups to teach kids about the environment.” Watch his TED Talk here

“Part of the mystery of walking is that the destination is inside us and we really don’t know when we arrive until we arrive.”

Karen Washington, Urban FarmerGrowing up in the urban density of New York, all Karen wanted to do was become a farmer. Since 1985, she has transformed empty lots throughout the Bronx into community gardens. The first one was named the “Garden of Happiness.”
Karen is the co-founder of the Black Urban Growers, an organization that helps build networks and communities between urban and rural growers.

“You know sometimes people think food is a privilege. Food isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. And we want people to exercise that right to fresh, healthy produce in their neighborhood, and that’s what we’re all about.”

Will Allen, Urban Farmer
A MacArthur fellow, Will Allen is a former professional basketball player who built an urban farm without fences on an empty lot in Milwaukee to provide fresh, healthy, and affordable foods to underserved communities. As the founder of the non-profit Growing Power, Will has used innovative farming techniques such as vermicomposting, or using worms to turn organic waste into high quality compost to produce large amounts of food in small areas.

“It’s my belief that everybody regardless of their economic means should have access to the same healthy, safe, and affordable food that is grown naturally.”

Margie Eugene-Richard, Activist
Margie installed a webcam in her trailer home to live broadcast the pollution of her predominantly black neighborhood of Norco, Louisiana coming from her local Shell oil refinery. While speaking at an international environmental conference, Richard approached Shell officials and invited them to take a sniff from a bag of Norco air. Margie was the champion in a long, hard victory to hold the Shell oil refinery accountable to her community.

“Truth and justice for the betterment of life, the environment and government is the stairway to upward mobility.”

Shelton Johnson, National Park Ranger
A Detroit native, Shelton grew up dreaming of wild mountain landscapes. Today, he shares stories of the Buffalo Soldiers as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park and across classrooms in the US. Shelton invited Oprah Winfrey to Yosemite in 2010 to encourage African Americans to claim their inheritance as owners of our national parks.

“And I can’t not think of the other kids, just like me – in Detroit, Oakland, Watts, Anacostia – today. How do I get them here? How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here?”