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.
Yes, sometimes you have to go downtown to PENN DOT (we called it Motor Vehicle in Queens, NY). And that “work” trip turned into an an urban adventure. Walk! Walk! Walk!
I KNEW I was in downtown Pittsburgh on a weekday in the noon hour when I was cussed out by someone. Up. Down. In. Out. That’s city life. With the good comes the bad.
So some good. People filled the streets, the concrete and asphalt teeming with people. I passed an African American man seated drumming on a corner. There’s often so much more ethnic diversity at the center, the downtown then on the edges, the suburbs.
In the parking garage, I ran into a woman from Johnstown, BEYOND Pittsburgh. She was all a-jitter about to step to the city streets. She wasn’t used to the city and talked about getting lost getting into the city, asked if the 1st floor was street level, and finally wistfully asked me as we parted was this her floor. I gave her a few words to soothe her before she fluttered off into beautiful chaos. I launched her off into the hectic city and said, “Try walking around after you’ve found your destination.” I hope my suggestion did not fall like seed on fallow ground. I hope she gave downtown Pittsburgh a try. Dance with the city. Dance with the city.
Here’s some Los Lobos, which is what makes me think of cities across America–a love song.
If you don’t live in a city, take a deep breath and give it a try. Launch off. Dive in. JUMP.
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.
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.
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:
Welcome to the third Rooted in the Earth Blog Carnival!
People of color faced many obstacles in 2010 and 2011 including higher rates of unemployment during the Great Recession and increased conservatism concerning diversity/ethnicity in the US. There has also been much to celebrate with an African American president and a growing Latina/o population. I wondered in 2012, the new year, if the same ups and downs are true, when it comes to those working and serving for diversity (people of color) and the environment. Personally, I can count more than twenty people of all ethnicities I can reach out to with expertise concerning people of color and the environment. Five years ago, the ranks were thinner. At the same, time I sense some (justice) fatigue among the ranks.
I am sending a call for blogs responding to a the state of diversity and the environment in 2012. I will include your name, organization, a personal/non-profit description, and blog/website. The blog carnival is broad enough to include stories about nascent environmental movements among and concerning people of color, projects-in-progress that will help to grow the movement, ideas for the future, and more. For those who do not blog, please contact me directly so we can work together to add your perspective to the blog carnival.
What kind of research did you do for the book? How long did it take to research and write the book? It took several years at archives like Tuskegee University and Hampton University. And it took two years to write Rooted in the Earth.
Would you assign your own book to college students in one of your classes? Yes, but I would not rely solely on the book for my lecture and discussion.
Is the book used at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s)? I don’t know about specific schools but the book was marketed to the mainstream, academics, and librarians across the country.
Great afternoon! Great people! Of special note was Cynthia Parks, President of Nu Lambda Omega who was a charming co-host at the event.
Many thanks to Na’Taki Osborne Jelks who organized and co-hosted the event.
Photographs by Na’Taki Osborne Jelks and Michael McCrimmon
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.
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.
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.
So why is this important to me? Well, I have been encouraging African Americans to get outdoors along with the voices of Legacy on the Land and Outdoor Afro. If the parents and adults are not getting out, then the babies are not making it to the woods and beaches either.
Here’s an answer to this dilemma. Meet Outdoor Baby Network through the lens of it’s founder Heidi Ahrens:
Yes, I am a white woman. That said, I have long been interested in connecting people of color to nature. My first-hand experience was working with New York City Outward Bound and leading field trips with my classes in Brooklyn. I remember a conversation about the environment I had with a friend in Brooklyn many years ago. When I asked her about joining Outdoor Baby Network, she responded with “Why should I join that site?” She echoed the sentiments I’ve heard from other African Americans: “Black people don’t do that.” It’s been my understanding that most African Americans live in urban places and are disconnected from nature. Also, time and money is necessary, a luxury both impoverished whites and blacks don’t have. Economic barriers are a reality to nature including outdoor play spaces for babies and children. There is a connection though for many African Americans in their roots in Africa and bond through visits to family members still in the South.
I am aware as a white woman, that there is a divide between blacks and whites, and that it widens even further when it comes to nature. In a small way, I’d like to diminish that divide with Outdoor Baby Network. With my heart and soul, I want all families, including African Americans, to experience the joys, challenges and excitement the outdoors can bring in a connectedness to the living world. I invite you to come join in the conversation, if you have not already done so. I know many African Americans, Dianne counted among them, are already experienciencing nature. I understand the negative aspects but also wish to embrace positive aspects of the African American experience. Through Outdoor Baby Network and Rooted in the Earth, I offer my support to families to enhance their health and personal well-being through nature exploration and adventurous travel.
This new connection with Rooted to the Earth and Dianne Glave feels like a positive way for people to reach out to one another, and to nature.
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.