The climate justice movement continues to grow bigger each and every day. However, when looking for people making waves in sustainability and environmentalism, there is often a lack of representation of Black voices. With climate change affecting different people in a variety of ways, it is important to highlight Black individuals taking action and advocating for climate reform, whether it’s on a local or international scale. Here are five Black leaders making waves in environmentalism within their communities and beyond.
Ron Finley | Urban Gardener
Ron Finley is a Los Angeles native who started a revolution in horticulture in his childhood neighborhood. Having grown up in the food desert of South LA in 2010, he set out to fix this problem by planting vegetables in patches of dirt next to the streets. Now, he has founded The Ron Finley Project, an organization that works to aid communities around the world through gardening and unity.
Today, there are around 54 million people who are food insecure and around 23.5 million people who live in food deserts, meaning they have to drive long distances to get access to food. In addition, most people who live in food deserts are primarily Black and Latino individuals and people who come from low-income households. With organizations such as the Ron Finley Project, people across the country are getting access to organic, healthy food.
Nzambi Matee | Engineer
Nzambi Matee is a Kenyan engineer who uses her expertise and creativity to find a new way of converting waste into sustainable materials—founding Gjenge Makers, based in Nairobi, Kenya. The organization collects waste plastics and repurposes them into sustainable building materials like bricks. Gjenge Makers has managed to recycle over 100 tons of plastic waste and is growing their organization with the mission to provide sustainable alternatives to construction products for Kenya and the African continent, as well as create job opportunities for women and young individuals.
This is especially important for Africa, where plastic waste has become an imminent problem for many countries within the continent—a significant proportion of plastic waste ends up in Africa, even though it is produced in industrialized countries. It is estimated that plastic waste will double to 165 million tons by 2030. Organizations such as Gjenge Makers and numerous others like it are helping address the problem plaguing their communities and upcycling plastic waste into products that are beautiful and innovative.
Nyema Clark | Farmer and Advocate
Nyema Clark is a Seattle native who is committed to aiding underserved communities through community engagement and economic sustainability. She is the founder and director of Nurturing Roots Farm, located in Beacon Hill, Seattle. Nyema started it with a mission to create a space that re-engaged the local BIPOC community and provided a healthy activity anyone could get involved in. Nurturing Roots is an urban farm program that brings the local community together and teaches self-sufficiency and food empowerment.
In addition to farming, Nyema Clark is also an entrepreneur and advocate, hosting workshops that focus on a range of topics, from farming education to environmental and food justice. With her work, she continues to bring together women and people of color in the Seattle community by giving them a space to come together and cultivate their relationships with each other, as well as their food.
Robert Bullard | Father of Environmental Justice
When talking about the climate movement, one of its core tenets is environmental justice and how different groups can be disproportionately affected by climate change. Robert Bullard is a pioneer in the climate change movement as he is the “father” of environmental justice.
Growing up in rural Alabama, his relationship with the environment was strengthened by going hunting and fishing with his father, as well as his interest in social justice—growing up during the civil rights era. A sociologist, Bullard wrote many books in the 1970s and 1980s, such as Dumping in Dixie, which highlighted pollution and toxic facilities in minority communities and the issue of environmental racism. Currently 76 years old, Bullard is still continuing his advocacy work on climate change and environmental justice.
Vanessa Nakate | Climate Activist
Many young people are leading the way in the climate change fight, and Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate is among them. Nakate started her journey in 2018 when she became increasingly aware of the changing weather patterns negatively affecting her country, from prolonged droughts to deadly floods. While Africa emits a small portion of greenhouse gasses, the continent is being hit harder than most continents with the effects of climate change. Nakate is aware of this and wants to save not only her continent but the planet.
She was appointed as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2022, a role that helps UNICEF reach more disadvantaged communities by raising awareness of continuing issues and helping to mobilize support. With her willpower and passion, Nakate continues to raise awareness about the climate crisis and garner support.
The Black community is often ignored and left out of many conversations surrounding infrastructure, the environment, and government policy, despite the fact that they are more likely to face the brunt of the effects posed by such decisions. However, Black individuals have and continue to come up with new, inventive ideas, whether in environmentalism, science, pop culture, and more, that improves and enriches life for all. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness of Black individuals around the globe who are shining in a multitude of ways and celebrate their excellence.