African Americans & National Parks: New York Times Room for Debate

t_logo_291_blackThe recent New York Times Room for Debate is “Should Overcrowded National Parks Have Restricted Access?” My contribution to the debate is “National Park Maintenance Is an Issue that Doesn’t Resonate with Many African-Americans:”

“Though preservation of natural resources in undoubtedly important, many of the most popular parks that are threatened are not the ones African-Americans frequently visit. So the issue of whether overcrowding is impeding conservation does not have the same resonance in our community . . .”

 

Take a closer look . . . share your comments.

John Francis: African American Planet Walker

On Thursday, April 10, 2014, I had the honor of listening to Dr. John Francis, Planet Walker. He was invited to speak at the Inspire Speak Series at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. Dr. Francis was sponsored by The Green Building Alliance. He was an African American environmentalist long before environmentalism coalesced into a national movement in the late 20th Century and a cultural way of being in the 21st Century. Watch his Ted Talk:

He proudly continues to advocate for the earth.

John Francis walks the Earth, carrying a message of careful, truly sustainable development and respect for our planet.

(https://www.ted.com/speakers/john_francis)

2012 State of Diversity and the Environment Blog Carnival

Another Blog Carnival Presented by Rooted in the Earth! Read the original call for blogs.

I am going to keep this simple: my hope is to join with each of you  to meaningfully and fruitfully gather together face-to-face focusing on people of color and the environment in the near future. In 2009, Audrey Peterman did just that with Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors.

Some thoughts on some wonderful work in 2011 and where we are headed in the future including 2012:

~ Andrea Roberts’ Extending our Useful Lives Being Honest About Sustainability and Mortality

~ Rue Mapp’s The Year of Relevancy

~ Dianne Glave’s She Wolf  Transitioning to the New Year of 2012

Go to the blogs to read thoughts, ideas . . . some are transforming thoughts into action.

Do contact me at dianneglave@gmail.com if you would like to add your blog to this carnival.

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

She-Wolf: Transitioning to the New Year of 2012

Tulips in Bloom, Chicago

Right now I’m caught up in series of novels titled Game of Thrones, and the HBO series based on the novels.  Creatures called dire wolves–from the Ice Age and now extinct–are central to one of many over-lapping  story-lines, with dire wolves in symbiotic relationship with young royals. 2011 transitioned so quickly cart-wheeling into 2012, and I am embracing my she-wolf. I don’t bite but am running hard and fast down two different paths: the environment and health. Like the story-lines in Game of Thrones, the two paths have and continue to overlap. I’m including some of my favorite photos from 2011 some with and without rhyme and reason in relationship to the text. Put simply, these photos like so many I took last year simply touched me.

The first path is environmental. I continued my life’s work, a ministry to people and the earth, sharing the gospel of African Americans and the environment. Back in 2010, I published Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage. Continuing into 2011, non-profit organizations invited me to do speaking engagements, some of the content based in part on the book:

At Barnes & Noble with a Little Fan

I also did a radio interview with Groovin 1580 FM and a book-signing with the Wildlife Federation at Georgia Tech. In 2012, I will continue to share an environmental gospel, speaking at the Tuskegee Institute Historic Site in Alabama and Getty College in Pennsylvania.

From Fall 2010 to Summer 2011 when I  continued my environmental opus, I was in an intensive Clinical Pastoral Education Program training for chaplaincy. I managed to complete the program, while still blogging.

Interestingly, the Rooted in the Earth WordPress Annual Report differs from my favorite blogs “penned” during part of the program. The highest ranking blog going back to 2010 was (drum roll please) Predators: Survival of the Fittest in a Busted Paradise. Perhaps not so surprising since my blogs on film and television ranked higher than some of the historical blogs. People like popular culture. Well, so do I.

Grand Isle, Louisiana, 2007 (ok, not 2011!)

I also love history and my personal favorites included Kentucky, African Americans, and the Environment, Harriet Tubman Working Nature, Barack Obama: An Alternate Environmental History, and 2011 MLK Day: Remembering Martin Luther King, the Environmentalist. Hey, I’m a historian. What can I say. I’m back on the steep happy hill–that’s the she-wolf in me on the move–blogging again in 2012 with a call for blogs for a State of Diversity and the Environment Blog Carnival.

So what’s that second path as I continue loping on winding path?  Back in 2010, I never imagined that graduating with an M.Div. in “Faith, Health and Science” at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University would be life changing concerning my health. Over the last year I lost 17 pounds and hope to lose about 20 more. No rush. One pound at a time. Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers . . . make it happen like Mariah belts out in the recent Jenny Craig commercial.

I continue being heart healthy with nutrition and exercise. I serve as a pastor at Crafton United Methodist Church and some of the members have followed my example joining Weight Watchers. Others have been serving healthy options like veggies at Coffee Hour after church. And yes, I found time to blog about spirituality and religion at BeingEphesus.com.

Korean War Memorial, Washington, DC

I am grateful to everyone in my personal life who patiently listened to my stories about being on paths of the environment and health. In addition, so many colleagues invited me into their institutions trusting me to share one vision of  an African American environmentalism. I did not take that trust for granted because many of the people in the audience were college students. I honored to continue working with young people, my favorite “demographic.”

Now I stand among many talented and committed in an environmental family with shared interests in diversity. One kind and generous person in stood out in 2011: Na’Taki Osborne Jelks. I knew Na’Taki for years going back to 2005 when I went on a hike with Keeping It Wild in Georgia. It wasn’t until she organized several events for me that I got to know her better. I am grateful for Na’Taki and so many others devoted to the cause.

I invite you to continue with me embracing your inner-she-wolf (or whatever creature works for you) on paths to protecting the planet and good health, with a dash of science. Thank you for coming along with me.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

I always feel sad when I remember a visit to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia. The eternal flame was not lit. The foundation for the flame was cracked. The precious historical ephemera documenting King’s life were in a small exhibition moldering because of poor ventilation. I smelled the decay. Sadly textiles, photos, and papers were disintegrating. I don’t think I can ever go back.

But then comes some hope: the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial near the Basin in Washington, D.C. I visited the memorial in fall 2011. The trees–cherry blossoms, elms, and crape myrtles–stood bare like bone thin sentries bordering the memorial. I saw the stone representation of a mountain in a carved boulder from across the street just steps beyond the Lincoln Memorial. I walked past  the King Memorial because this massive expressionless cold stone couldn’t be it! I felt nothing. I tracked back and walked through the center where a part of the boulder had been cleanly sliced down the middle creating a passageway. Walking through felt claustrophobic, perhaps how King felt in a prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, part of the fall-out of the broader mid-century social movement against vice-like racism.

Something changed when I walked into an open circle, freedom, when I saw the likeness of King rooted in stone. King once said, “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope” in “I Have a Dream,” his most famous speech. The words are carved into the statue, the idea of the mountain and stone made tangible. On the other side of the statue are the words, “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness,” a paraphrase. World renowned writer Maya Angelou was certainly hot about the paraphrase because she argued it made King sound pompous, really the antithesis of his public persona in the Civil Rights Movement.

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Between the statue and the boulder are many of King’s quotes in an arc at feet level etched in grey granite:

  • “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
  • “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
  • “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.”
  • “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
  • “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
  • “It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”
  • “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs “down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
  • “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
  • “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

As I walked away back through the split boulder, I was blessed and moved by what felt to me like sacred space. The monument renews the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an icon in service, in life and death, for equal rights and desegregation for African Americans during the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 1960s. Millions of tourists, so many people, will pass through the stone remembering the legacy.

Photos 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.

Being Black & Green: SoGreen Network Summit at Florida A&M

I was so touched to see so many gathering together on sustainability, and being black and green in Tallahassee, Florida. On February 18-19, 2011, the Southeastern Green Network (SoGreen) with Florida A & M University (FAMU) organized and met for the “Embracing Our Tradition of Partnership” Summit. Together we focused on “climate change, alternative fuel sources, sustainable agriculture, and the role our farmers and landowners play in becoming partners that will work toward changing our regional environment.” (http://www.sogreennetwork.org/guyc/)

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Some of the participants included:

  • Shirley Sherrod, the keynote speaker
  • Mayor John Marks, City of Tallahassee
  • Representative Alan Williams, Florida State Representative District 8

I was honored and privileged to share the stage with Dr. Owusu Bandele from Southern University. His talk was “Our Deep Roots in Agriculture: The Role of the 1890 Land Grant Institutions,” filled with the history of African Americans and the land with references to Paul Cuffee and George Washington Carver. He even wove in musical references to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth.” He was a tough act to follow but I did my best sharing on “Being Green in the African Diaspora” emphasizing blood diamonds in Sierra Leone.

Many thanks to the organizers including Cynthia Hayes (SoGreen), Kwasi Densu (FAMU), and Lynn Pinder.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Barack Obama: An Alternate Environmental Biography & History?

If Barack Obama had been born in Kenya and not the United States then his environmental biography would certainly have been different. George Obama, Barack’s brother, grew up in Kenya. George’s biography gave me some insight into an alternate environmental history, what might have been if President Obama’s path had been a different one in Africa. The president’s relationship with and story about the environment would have been different. Or would it have been?

Consider George Obama’s biography written with Damien Lewis titled Homeland: An Extraordinary Story of Hope and Survival (2010).

Perhaps Barack Obama, the older of the two brothers, calls many places homeland including his birthplace Hawaii in the United States. Like many a child of an immigrant, Kenya is Mr. Obama’s ancestral homeland, the birthplace of his father.

If Barack had been born in Kenya his experiences might have paralleled George’s life. The president would have visited and perhaps even lived with the Luo, his people, his cultural group in Kenya. Much like George, a young Barack might have visited  his grandfather’s compound filled with family in rural Kenya.

The family supported themselves herding livestock including cattle. (Obama, 4) The Obamas were also farmers. Their grandfather “owned land  . . . that was used for rice growing. The rice fields were rain-fed, as opposed to irrigated. If the main April-June rains failed, the young plants would wither and die in the fields, and there would be no crop that year.” (Obama, 4-5)

George, who spent much of his time in Nairobi, remembers nature as a child visiting the family compound:

At the start of the rainy April season the wind would blow in from the bush in a sudden, raging storm. The dry fronds on the palm trees clashing together sounded like an army of children fighting with wooden swords. Then you knew that rain was on the way, and you had no more than ten minutes to get under cover. As a wall of gray clouds rushed in from the far horizon, powerful gusts knocked down coconuts from the palms and dead branches from the trees. (Obama, 5)

Barack Obama in Kenya, 2006

Now here is some whimsy on my part: although Barack did not grow up in Kenya, his DNA influenced his environmental thought and actions in reality, in the real world. In 1987, George still a child met Barack already an adult. They met on a Nairobi playground. Barack had visited Kenya, his homeland. He returned again in 2006.

Today, President Obama is the first green and black president. In his 2011 State of the Union Address, he highlighted that California Institute of Technology was developing “a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.” (2011 State of the Union Address, NPR transcript) This is part of federal green initiatives in and for the United States and the world.

As I sit here in my home, miles away from the president and the White House, even more miles away from Kenya, I dream a global dream that embraces Barack Obama a descendant of Kenyans influenced by his rural origins there; at the same time, he is driven to implement environmental innovation and initiatives as an American, as the President of the United States.

In Conversation with Philip O’Neal of Green DMV

GREEN DMV is a non-profit that promotes clean energy and green jobs as a means of diminishing poverty in low-income communities in the United States.  Philip O’Neal and Rhon Hayes are the co-founders.

Dianne: Philip, let’s start by writing poems that includes themes of nature.  I’ll write one too inspired by your verses.

Philip:

Winter’s magic in grandma’s garden, deep roots, moments of loneliness, feeling forgotten, and silenced.

While Grandma, warm, weaves her basket with the thoughts of strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes and egg-plant.

D: I like it. Grandma! Fruits and vegetables. Here’s mine . . . borrowing some style from ee cummings . . .

i dream

of stark trees through

eight window panes in a row

like sentinels

waiting

first glance desolation

future

spring hides under brown, grey, and silver bark

leaves wait for warmer days to unfurl

winter is not desolate

breath exhaled

spring

D: We spoke–a short conversation–for the first time a few weeks ago. I would like to know more about you.

P: I was born and raised in Elizabeth City, NC. Attended Elizabeth City State University. I’m married to my beautiful wife of 7 years Danielle, with one son Logan and a little princess on the way in May. Danielle and I lived in Atlanta for 4 years, before moving to Washington DC in 2004.

D: What led you to become an environmentalist?

P: The first person who made me realize I was an environmentalist was Dr. Robert Bullard, a long time educator and environmental justice activist who teaches at Clark-Atlanta University. In 2007 I heard him speak on a panel at a Congressional Black Caucus forum on Climate Change. A statement that I will never forget is when he said. “If you drink water, eat food or breathe air. Or any two out of the three, then you’re an environmentalist”

D: Ah yes, Dr. Bullard! He has clearly influenced your thinking. Any other influences?

P: I can’t pick one person that has been the greatest influence in my efforts. But I feel that my thinking was cultivated from academics such as W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, civil rights leaders such as Dr. King and Gandhi, to environmental leaders past and present from Dr. Bullard to Al Gore. Between each name, I can fit a hundred or more names, it’s that many! I represent the sum of many individual ideals mixed in with my own little individual flavor.

D: How did you and Rhon come up with the idea to launch greendmv.org?
P: It kind of organically happened, (no pun intended). I call it strategic intuition. We knew the green movement was going to be the next boom, and we knew historically low-income communities and communities of color typically don’t get the information early enough to take advantage of ground floor economic movements. So we made it our mission to insure the left out communities of the past, would be locked in the green economy of the future.

D: Tell me about the contributions of others working for and with Green DMV.

P: We have relied heavily on volunteers. For the first 2 years, Green DMV was funded from our own pockets. After out first two grant requests were denied, we just found creative ways to get things done, like organizing volunteers and making our organization attractive to supporters. Since then, we’ve received support from Home Depot, Whole Foods, Giant Foods, City Governments and more.

D: Yes, the hard work in environmentalism relies heavily on the work and good will of volunteers. Another question: why do you think clean energy and green jobs are important?

P: Environmentally, this is the most important work that needs to be done. Economically, because these are the jobs of the future. If you take a look around, it’s very rare that you see a solar panel on a person’s home. Now let’s take a look in the future. It will be very rare not to see solar powered home. Between now and then, somebody has to do this work and currently the workforce doesn’t exist to supply the demand of all those projects. Somebody has to train and hire this new workforce. So why not train the people who have had barriers to employment for this new industry?

D: How can environmentally conscious energy and jobs change our lives here in the United States?

P: A new industry will be created to boost our economy, which will support jobs in both metropolitan and rural cities and towns.

D: What is our responsibility as individuals and a nation to the rest of world when it comes to protecting the environment and its resources?

P: All I ask is that we be conscious of little negative acts. That’s all. If you can just ask yourself a question, “Am I doing the right thing?”, even if you do the wrong thing after that, I’d be happy.

D: Could you share something about Green DMV’s latest initiative?
P: In partnership with the District of Columbia and AARA, GREEN DMV is taking on the daunting task of educating the entire faith-based community of Washington DC, to take part in the efforts to fight poverty and pollution in our Nation’s Capitol. We’re calling this “The Green Faith Initiative- One Green City Through Faith.” The church is the backbone of the community and there is no way we can inform poor communities effectively without the support and efforts of the faith-based community.

D: Do you spend time outdoors? What is your favorite activity? Do you hike? If so where? A favorite park?

P: Honestly, My favorite activity is doing spontaneous things with my family. Living in Washington DC, there’s just so much history and things to do.

D: How is Barack Obama doing concerning the environment? Michelle Obama?

P: Well, President Obama just isn’t the first black president; he’s the first green president. Approving 500 Million dollars for Green Job Training, he get’s it and now after the State of the Union Address, he’s focusing on getting them all employed in the green sector. Michelle is focused on the greening of our bodies with the Let’s Move initiative. She’s ensuring that we have healthy schools and fit kids.

D: Thank you, Philip. I look forward to ways Green DMV will continue to change the green economy.

Photos Courtesy of Green DMV