Many pieces of a puzzle are on the floor of my living room. More are in a large gray tub upstairs. I am looking at the pieces of what has been my interest lately: the African American church and the environment. Going back even further, I’ve long been drawn to learning and sharing about African Americans and the environment–the great love of my life–for about 23 years.
As is true in my life, I shift back and forth between peaks and valleys. A bit of a peak is coming up. In late March 2014, I head to the 12th National Black Writers Conference as a panelist on the “Saving Our Communities, Saving Ourselves” panel sponsored by The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. Thank goodness they haven’t asked for a title yet but I am leaning towards “The African American Church Never Left the Outdoors.”
The literature on the subject continues to grow though still small:
- Dianne Glave, “Black Environmental Liberation Theology,” To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History (2006).
- Dianne Glave, “Religion: Shouting in the Woods,” Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage (2010).
- Eileen M. Smith-Cavros, “Black Churchgoers, Environmental Activism, and the Preservation of Nature in Miami, Florida,” Journal of Ecological Anthropology,” vol. 10 (2006)
- Mark Stoll, “Religion and African American Environmental Activism,” To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History (2006).
I am hoping to blend scholarship with my other concern: environmental activism in and through the African American church.
And the first person who comes to mind is Veronica Kyle, Congregational Outreach at Faith in Place. She has been faithful and busy:
“Veronica joined the Faith in Place staff in August 2008 to engage in the much needed work of linking/involving African American churches to the work of Faith in Place. In addition Veronica works with other Faith in Place partners in the movement to share, coordinate and support congregations that are new to the idea of living out their faith while serving as good stewards of the environment. Veronica lived and worked for the past twelve years in the Caribbean and Southern Africa for a faith-based organization in the areas of social justice and development. She received her B.A. in Religion and Women Studies from Vermont College of Norwich University and her Masters degree in Gender Studies from University of the West Indies, 1999.” (“Our Staff,” Faith in Place)
Veronica works with one of many grassroots environmental activists in or with churches:
- St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church (The Saint): based on my own experience in 2010 they have offered an environmentally themed adult vacation bible school and continue to take the lead in a farmer’s market across the street from the church in response to a food desert.
- Faith in Place: Our own Veronica Kyle works and serves there.
- National Black Church Initiative
- Green the Church
As I continue to consider this puzzle, take a look at a classic scene of African Americans having church in the woods “Beloved,” the film. Steven Spielberg, the director, was smart to use what sounds like Toni Morrison’s exact words from her novel Beloved: