The Green Confessions of Nat Turner

Sojourners was kind enough to invite me write “The Green Confessions of Nat Turner: The Rich and Varied Roots of Black Environmental Liberation Theology” for the May 2016 magazine.

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The article begins:

WHEN ONE THINKS of black environmental liberation theology, the name of slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner might not immediately spring to mind. Perhaps it should . . .

The temporary link is available until April 11, 2016. Beyond that date subscribe to Sojourners.

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Sixth Wave of African American Environmentalists

For weeks, I have been thinking about environmentalism among African Americans. And oh out of that reflection, I feel the power of a people who can make so much out of almost nothing. Isn’t this how it has been for centuries? Isn’t this true for environmentalism by and for Africans and African Americans in a white world?

Some might think that it all started on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 in this narcissistic 20th century world. Not so. There have been waves of African American environmentalism.

The first wave . . . Ancient Africans who I wish I could make famous today times 10 reality tv, worked the land in places like Ghana and Botswana before white colonialist gave those countries a name.

The second wave . . . A stolen assaulted people, an African people–treated as a monolith yet so diverse in cultures including language. They became, through struggle and hardscrabble, African Americans. Whites used their expertise in the cane, cotton, and tobacco fields. African Americans were the experts with expert experience framed by the brutal realities of enslavement. Stolen and holding their pride in their knowledge of nature.

The third wave . . . Before environmentalism part of the American lexicon, African Americans were just in nature. George Washington Carver, an African American scientist, best known for all the ways to use the peanut, spoke tenderly of nature. He wasn’t using the word preservationists back then but he knew nature.

And even faced with segregation in the first half of the 20th century, we became boy scouts . . . girl scouts. We also squeezed what limited resources the Cooperative Extension Service (United States Department of Agriculture today) and made a way out of no way.

The fourth wave . . . Benjamin Chavez, Robert Bullard, and Dorceta Taylor, and many others with famous names and names we will never know carried us on their shoulders into the late twentieth century with a BANG. We called for environmental justice. Many fought environmental racism. Our pioneers and environmental s/heroes stood up against powerful corporations and corrupt governments to save our children. We fought against that foul garbage dump. We stopped that industrial plant from dumping waste into our neighborhood. Poor people with few resources recognized the environment was deforming and killing babies who could never be born. Marginalized people recognized that too many were diagnosed with cancer at high rates in toxic places.

The fifth wave . . . Over the last ten years or so many have emerged . . . I am afraid to name them all because I might leave someone out. And that would be a shame. They put their shoulders to the plow and there is change.  So to honor the impact of so many, I ask you to name them. Whisper or shout the name of an African Americans past and present who so transformed you, redefined you in such a way that the meaning of nature has changed for you. Speak those words, those names because that is a our power in a world where abuse in the form of words and actions tries to steal from us, steal nature from us. Words.

The sixth wave . . . I see you. So many young people including children embracing nature. I close and suddenly open my eyes. And as I sit in a field of wild flowers, I watch our children dance in circles, kicking their feet and raising their arms. And I am ready for this next generation of African American environmentalists! Here they come . . . wait they are here.

 

African Burial Ground National Monument: 2013 New York Stories 2

In 1991, I was living in New York when the burial place of Africans who were enslaved and free were discovered at what is now 290 Broadway in downtown Manhattan. Their remains were buried from the late 1600’s to the 1794. It is only recently in 2013 that I am fully understanding and appreciating the African Burial Ground in the context of a long history of Africans and people of African descent . . . my history . . . our history.

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The National Parks Service offers a broad experience at the monument including an indoor video and exhibition at the museum, and an outdoor memorial.

Some of the focus is on the spiritual implications of a people in bondage holding onto their humanity by burying loved ones in the midst of oppression and violence. Only humans bury their dead. The curators offer insightful social and cultural context to the lives of people of African descent including how some labored and family lives.

Learn more reading Audrey Peterman’s “African Burial Ground National Monument: Peace at Last” in Our True Nature: Finding a Zest of Life in the National Park System.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Eve Project, A Farm, A Saturday Afternoon

What a lovely afternoon spent with the EVE Circle. LaVerne Baker Hotep, with the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime (CVVC), organized a retreat for a group of African American women at Wild Red’s Gardens, formerly known as Mildreds’ Daughters Farm. It is the only farm within the Pittsburgh city limit.

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The women spent a joyous day outdoors on the farm. When the skies darkened and it got cooler, they joined together for food and fellowship.

I shared part of the afternoon with the women sharing about African Americans and the environment, and leading a guided meditation focusing on faith, the environment, and health. I was delighted to see Lois McClendon with B-PEP/Coalition Against Violence and a Pittsburgh environmentalist. 

Photos by Dianne Glave

2012 Helpshop: Where Environment, Spirituality, and Health Meet

With Leanna, A Participant

The Greensburg District of the United Methodist Church (UMC) held their Helpshop on January 28, 2012 at Community Church in Irwin, Pennsylvania. The theme was “Mind, Body and Spirit” with Tanika Harris, the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) of the UMC, serving as the keynote speaker. At the GBGM, “she provides resources as well as training opportunities to communities and churches throughout the country that are engaged in community development and social justice through advocacy and youth/young adult empowerment.” (Helpshop brochure) The breakout sessions included “Healthy and Vital Congregations,” “Sexual Health and Wholeness,” and “Remodeling the Temple.

I was invited to facilitate a session titled, “Africans Americans, Religion, the Environment, and Health.” We discussed:

  • Knowing one’s (environmental) history is good for you
  • Nature is healthy
  • Scripture and health
  • Better health of (African) Americans by experiencing the outdoors
  • Our Stories
  • A healthy mind: environmental meditation with African American themes

With William Meekins, UMC

One participant shared her memory of the fragrance of lilacs while spending time with her grandmother; the memory of those flowers evoked a spiritual connection, a connection to God. Our meditation included scripture, deep breathing, music, the sounds of the ocean,  prayer, and silence.

Many thanks to those in the Greensberg District of the Western Pennsylvania Conference, UMC who organized the Helpshop: Holly Sawyer, administrative assistant and William Meekins, District Superintendent. Of special note: Community United Methodist Church did a wonderful job hosting the event. And of course, many thanks to Rev. Kathy Barnhart, Rev. Rhea Summit and Rev. Augie Twigg for their diligence and hard work.

Photo by Dianne Glave

Revisiting Blood Diamonds From Sierra Leone

KJ, my Biggest Fan & a Future Environmentalist!

On Wednesday, March 23, 2011, the Environmental Science and Studies Program, and Sociology and Anthropology Deparments at Spelman College, along with Keeping it Wild invited me to speak at one of their environmental seminars. I had a fabulous time sharing about “Revisiting Blood Diamonds from Sierra Leone” at Spelman. I spoke before a wonderful audience of mostly young college women. And I enjoyed the seeing old and new friends and colleagues.

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I shared background about the civil war in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2001 in what was an epic struggle to control the blood diamonds in the region. Blood or conflict diamonds refer to the gems forcibly mined by Africans and exported during the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. During and after that period, some people around the world were and have been hesitant about purchasing diamonds. Moving into 2011, attitudes are beginning to change since the Kimberly Process–a means of certifying diamonds as conflict-free–is adhered to by most national and international jewelers including De Beers.

Based on my own experience and bias about diamonds, I walked into Kay Jewelers in my neighborhood, an African American neighborhood to get a watch battery replaced last week. The sales woman asked me if I wanted to see something in one of the cases. I responded maybe. I looked slyly at her asking if Kay was certified through the Kimberley Process, thinking she wouldn’t know what the heck I was talking about. To my surprise, she responded by whipping out a brochure proudly proclaiming that Kay only sells conflict-free diamonds.

Now keep in mind that the diamond world is not perfect because independent jewelers may not show commitment to selling conflict free diamonds compared to a national or international chain. De Beers an international diamond company, dominant wholesale and retail sales of diamonds, is committed to conflict-free diamonds in through their dealers. But what about the conflict diamonds that are still in their vaults? Some private collector might buy a large dazzling gem at an astronomical price from De Beers, unconcerned about the history of the human toll required to mine the stone in the past.

Unfortunately, there remains a long-standing ignorance: in 2010, former model Naomi Campbell, expressed an indifference concerning the civil war in Sierra Leone, blood diamonds, and Africa in general.

She was subpoenaed to testify at the trial of former dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor. He supported the rebels in Sierra Leone, fueling the violence in the country in order to profit from the chaos.

To learn more go to to “Conflict Diamonds” linked from the United Nations website.

Many thanks to the organizers at Spelman College including Yvonne Prabhu and Nijah Burris in Environmental Studies, along with Erica Weaver and Na’Taki Osbourne Jelks at Keeping it Wild for being kind and generous hosts.