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)

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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

2012 State of Diversity and the Environment Blog Carnival

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.

Submit your blog to 2012 State of Diversity and the Environment by January 19th. All blogs will be subject to review based on suitability to the topic.

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

Kentucky, African Americans & the Environment

Kentucky has a long history of African Americans and the environment. Much like other states in the South, Kentucky benefited from the labor of enslaved people of African descent.

Kentucky!

At the peak of tobacco and hemp production, African Americans comprised 25% of the population, many of whom were enslaved in the state. So basically, the historical economy of early Kentucky was built on the labor of African Americans. Kentucky is a reflection of how the South benefited from agricultural production from the 17th century.

From a more personal perspective, George Henderson described what he experienced in enslavement. Henderson was born on May, 10th 1860, five years before the end of the Civil War and emancipation in Woodford County, Kentucky. George said,

Some boy would ring a great big bell, called the “farm bell” around sunrise. Some went to the stables to look after the horses and mules. Plowing was done with a yoke or oxen. The horses were used for carriages and to ride. My work was pulling weeds, feeding chickens, and helping to take care of the pigs. (Interview with George Henderson, WPA Slave Narratives: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11920/11920-h/11920-h.htm#HendersonGeorge)

George Washington Carver

Yes, enslaved African American children worked rather than go to school. As part of the slave codes, it was against the law for any African American who was enslaved to learn to read and write.

After this period of enslavement, African Americans served in agricultural agencies in Kentucky. One was Arp C. Burnette. He was the first African American to work for the University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension Service–today the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA)–from 1919 to 1944. We often hear about George Washington Carver’s role in the Extension Service but there were many others like Burnette who have not be heralded for their hard work. Since the US was still segregated during this period, he only worked with African Americans. He started a Negro 4-H for the youth and was instrumental in increasing the number of cattle raised by African Americans in Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Libraries: http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/nkaa/record.php?note_id=2023)

Even with contributions of African Americans in Kentucky, segregation remained a terrible barrier to African Americans during the first half of the 20th Century. The state of Kentucky established a Public Accommodations Statue in 1956 segregating parks and playgrounds. This translated into to separate and unequal for African Americans in the outdoors. Such statutes and laws began to be dismantled in the 1950s with the Civil Rights movement but lingered through the 1970’s. (Jim Crow Laws: Kentucky: http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/scripts/jimcrow/insidesouth.cgi?state=Kentucky)

Today, African Americans can enjoy local, state, and national parks across the country. In Lexington, Kentucky, go visit Jacobson Park where in 2011 everyone has access. Let’s not let the taint of segregation, stop people of color from experiencing the outdoors, sitting under a tree, rafting on a river, and swimming in a lake.

Barnes & Noble Book Signing

On September 10, 2011, I was invited by Nu Lambda Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. to share about Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environment Heritage at Barnes & Noble Bookstore at the Camp Creek Marketplace in East Point, Georgia. We followed with a group discussion, book signing, and personal conversations. Some in the audience asked:

  • 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.

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Many thanks to Na’Taki Osborne Jelks who organized and co-hosted the event.

Photographs by Na’Taki Osborne Jelks and Michael McCrimmon

Harriet Tubman: Working Nature!

Several African American women in history stand out for me including Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Harriet Tubman. As for Harriet, she sure knew how to work nature to survive.

In 1822, Harriet Tubman was born enslaved in Maryland. She escaped to Philadelphia but went back thirteen times to lead other runaways from the grueling existence of plantation life which included planting and chopping tobacco. Harriet led a frightened people–most of whom had not been very far from the farms and plantations–at night and usually in the winter using the North Star to guide her back North. Perhaps Harriet learned the skills of surviving in the woods and other landscapes from Ben, her father, who worked the timber on the plantation. She was also familiar and comfortable with marshes because she checked and emptied muskrat traps.

Harriet Tubman: The Environmental Moses of Her People!

To learn more about Harriet, read Catherine Clinton’s Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.

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.