Black History Month 2023: Black Resistance and NCEL's Commitment to Equity
NCEL is not a Black-led organization, nor does it speak for the perspectives or views of Black Americans. For more information on Black history and environmentalism, we encourage you to visit the list of organizations and resources at the bottom of this blog.
Introduction: Honoring Black Resistance to Environmental Harm
In honor of Black History Month, NCEL is highlighting some of the critical contributions of Black Americans to the environmental movement, the ways we are integrating anti-racism and racial equity into our work, and some resources for continued year-round learning.
The theme of 2023’s Black History Month is “Black Resistance,” a prime example of which is the modern environmental justice movement. Black Americans, and other communities of color, have continually been at the forefront of disproportionate environmental burdens, as well as the resistance to these discriminatory forces via community advocacy, research, and public policy.
- Environmental Racism Overview: Time and again, evidence shows that Black Americans and other communities of color bear the brunt of many environmental hardships, including lower access to green spaces, and higher exposure to air pollution and hazardous waste. Disparities of this sort are not a coincidence, but rather the result of racist and oppressive systemic forces, commonly discriminatory housing and city planning policy, which have concentrated environmental hazards in communities of color.
As we have explored in past years, Black Americans have been leaders in raising awareness about connections between environmental harm and human health, despite still receiving little credit. Black scholars such as W.E.B Dubois and Zora Neal Hurston were some of the first prominent voices to link environmental degradation to human health issues. Community advocates, such as Dr. Benjamin Chavis, led some of the first broad-based nonviolent protests against environmental discrimination. Renowned Black environmentalists, such as Dr. Robert Bullard and Vernice Miller-Travis, pioneered research into how pollutive facilities are disproportionately located in communities of color. Today, state lawmakers across the country are advancing legislative solutions to address the environmental injustices and cumulative pollution burdens felt disproportionately by communities of color and low-income areas.
- Learn more: The fight for environmental justice has come a long way, but there is still so much governments and individuals can do to ensure a healthy environment for all. Explore NCEL’s Environmental Justice issue page to learn more.
NCEL’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
NCEL is firmly committed to ensuring a more equitable future for Black Americans and all marginalized groups by weaving anti-racism and environmental justice into all of the work that we do. We know that a healthy environment for all is not possible without an intersectional approach and we are proud to work with lawmakers throughout the country who are committed to incorporating these principles into their work as well.
In the past year, we’ve worked with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force to greatly expand individual and organization-wide learning opportunities, conduct an internal DEI assessment, and create an Equity Roadmap to guide our work going forward. This work is not just for the growth of our staff, but also for our nationwide network of legislative champions to influence larger systemic change. Embedding equity, intersectionality, and anti-racism into all of NCEL’s work allows our organization to empower even more state lawmakers to drive equitable and inclusive environmental policy change.
Resources for Continued Learning and Actions
Below is a collection of resources to explore and Black-led organizations to follow for more information on the intersections of Black American history, empowerment, and environmentalism.
Black-led Environmental Organizations
Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice
- About: The Robert D. Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University works to promote justice — environmental, climate, economic, energy, transportation, food and water and health justice — and eliminate structural inequality and systemic racism.
- Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice Website
The Chisholm Legacy Project
- About: “The mission of The Chisholm Legacy Project is rooted in a Just Transition Framework. The project serves as a vehicle to connect Black communities on the frontlines of climate justice with resources to traverse the path from vision to strategy to action plan to implementation to transformation. In support of frontline leadership, the project seeks to link movements and mainstream entities with the tools necessary to advance systems change centered in equity and justice.”
- The Chisholm Legacy Project Website
National Black Environmental Justice Network
- About: The National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) is a national coalition of environmental justice organizations and activists of African descent, dedicated to improving the lives of Black people and addressing the systemic racism that harms and denies Black people equal access to environmental, climate, racial and economic justice.
- National Black Environmental Justice Network Website
- About: “Outdoor Afro celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. The network also connects Black people with our lands, water, and wildlife through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation.”
- Outdoor Afro Website
We Act for Environmental Justice
- About: “WE ACT’s mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.”
- We Act for Environmental Justice Website
Multimedia Resource List
- [Book] A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A Washington
- [Book] Black Faces, White Spaces by Carolyn Finney
- [Book] Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
- [Book] The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas
- [Article] ‘This is environmental racism’: How a protest in a North Carolina farming town sparked a national movement, by Darryl Fears and Brady Dennis for the Washington Post
- [Website] Surviving Race and Nature | Black History Month by Outdoor Afro
- [Website] Think 100% by Hip Hop Caucus
- [Book] Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
- [Podcast] 1619 hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones for the New York Times