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8 Black Leaders in Sustainability

8 Black Leaders in Sustainability

As a San Francisco / Mexico City-based start-up working to make the world a better place through our products, we are firmly situated with the current landscape of sustainability. 

Historically, the sustainability space has frequently omitted and disregarded the voices and values of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). In the 11 days since the senseless killing of George Floyd, we have become even more acutely aware of this. We are committed to amplifying Black voices in the environmental space not just this week, but going forward.

We’re starting by highlighting 8 Black environmental leaders and activists who are working towards building a more sustainable and just future. Because there can be no environmental justice until we tackle social justice too.

1. Leah Thomas | @greengirlleah

A week ago, Leah Thomas posted this on her Instagram account and sparked a movement when she called on the environmentalist community to “stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with Black, Indigenous + POC communities impacted daily by both social and environmental injustice.” Her post also educated thousands on intersectional environmentalism, which advocates for both the protection of people and the planet and identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. She also called on people to take the Intersectional Environmentalist Pledge shown below.

2. Isra Hirsi | @israhirsi 

17-year-old Isra Hirsi, daughter of congresswoman Ilhan Omar, has already made a name for herself as a climate activist. She is the co-executive director of US Youth Climate Strike, a student-led movement of youth who “demand bold action to put an end to the climate crisis.” Last March, the organization’s largest strike inspired an estimated 1.6 million students across 120 countries to skip school in order to demand action on climate change from adults in power. Since then, Isra has been organizing locally and nationally for environmental justice with a focus on making space for young people of color within the movement.

3. Bryant Terry | @bryantterry

Bryant Terry is an award-winning chef, food justice activist, and the author of four vegan cookbooks. He is committed to raising awareness about the negative impacts of the industrial food system on people’s health and the environment. Bryant is working to change the way people think about vegan and vegetarian dishes in food-insecure communities. He’s currently the Chef-in-Residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco where he creates public programming at the intersection of food, farming, health, activism, art, culture, and the African Diaspora. Watch his Ted Talk on stirring up political action from the kitchen here.

4. Majora Carter | @majoracarter

Majora Carter is an urban revitalization strategy consultant, real estate developer, and award-winning broadcaster. She is described as “a visionary voice in city planning,” viewing urban renewal through an environmental lens. A native of the South Bronx, Majora served as executive director of Sustainable South Bronx for 7 years and managed to bring the neighborhood its first open-waterfront park in 60 years. Watch her captivating Ted Talk to learn why minority neighborhoods suffer the most from flawed urban policies.

5. Dr. Robert Bullard

Often referred to as the “father of the environmental justice movement”, Dr. Robert Bullard has been one of the leading voices in environmental activism for decades. He has written 18 books on the subject and is known for his work highlighting pollution on minority communities and speaking up against environmental racism in the 1970-1980s. When asked why race matters when we talk about the environment he says “because the environment impacts everything— where we live, where we work, where we play, where we learn and where we worship. When certain populations are somehow provided less protection from say pollution, it’s because of race.”

6. Dominique Drakeford | @dominiquedrakeford

Dominique Drakeford is the co-founder of Sustainable Brooklyn, an organization which aims to bridge the gap between the sustainability movement and people of color. As women of color, Dominique and her co-founder Whitney McGuire never saw themselves reflected in the environmental community, despite the fact that environmental issues disproportionately affect communities of color. Through their organization, they work to bring sustainability to communities that are often left out of the conversation, bringing the community and experts together to “open up meaningful discussions about problems within the movement, learn about the environment, and frame solutions.”

7. Van Jones | @vanjones 

Van Jones is a CNN political contributor and social entrepreneur who has been leading the fight for criminal justice reform for more than 25 years. He was the primary champion of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and worked as the green jobs advisor to President Obama. Van has co-founded a series of social enterprises, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Green for All, an NGO that fights for a world that is green for all, not green for some and works at the intersection of the environmental, economic, and racial justice movements to advance solutions to poverty and pollution. He’s also the author of the New York Times-bestseller, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.

8. Vanessa Nakate |  @VanessaNakate1

Vanessa Nakate is a climate justice activist who was inspired by Greta Thunberg to start her own climate movement in Uganda. In 2019, Vanessa began a solitary strike against inaction on the climate crisis and for several months she was the lone protester outside of the gates of the Parliament of Uganda. Eventually, youth around the world began to respond to her calls on social media and joined her protest to raise awareness of the irreparable damage being done to the Congo rainforest. Vanessa went on to found the Youth for Future Africa, the Africa-based Rise Up Movement, and 1 Million Activist Stories, which shares stories of climate activists all over the world.

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If you dig a little deeper, you will find that the sustainability space is full of Black leaders. The Black environmental leaders highlighted above are just a few of many who have inspired us with their actions and their words. Below, we have listed more of our favorite Black women and Black-owned businesses in the green space to follow on Instagram. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating their important work and amplifying their voices.

Our mission at Nebia is to make the world a better place through our products. We also strive to make the world a better place through our actions. As a company we stand for equality, love, peace, just and equal opportunity for all people. We believe that we have a responsibility to protect not only planet Earth but all of its inhabitants, especially those who have been historically and systematically oppressed in the U.S. If you are looking for concrete actions to take in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and other antiracist organizations, we recommend this Google Doc, Resources for Accountability and Actions for Black Lives, created by Carlisa Nicole, to get you started.