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Black History Month Environmental Heroes


Participants of Covenant UCC's BHM Climate 101 workshop
Participants of Covenant UCC's BHM workshop

If you think educating people at your house of worship about climate change has to involve tedious lectures and mind-numbing statistics, think again.


Just look to Covenant United Church of Christ in South Holland for an example of how to educate and engage a faith community around environmental issues in uplifting and meaningful ways!


On Saturday, February 6, people enjoyed a day of climate change awareness at the church’s Black History Month Climate Change 101 workshop organized by Covenant UCC’s Green Team.


To better understand the science of why our climate is in serious jeopardy from humans burning fossil fuels, attendees played a game of Climate Jeopardy.


Participants holding up images from the BHM display
Participants holding up images from the BHM display

People also learned about the unique challenges climate change presents to African Americans. Due to the location of coal-burning power plants and toxic waste piles in close proximity to communities of color, Black communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution, and high asthma rates.


Although education about climate change is a crucial first step, the event largely focused on how people can make a positive impact on the planet and be a part of solutions to protect the land, air, and water we all share in common.


Attendees had the opportunity to connect with a variety of local environmental organizations and learn about implementing energy-saving initiatives from utility companies. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District raffled off rain barrels for water conservation, and eco-tourism companies gave away sustainability-oriented trips.


Making changes in our personal lives and advocating for policy changes to address climate change can be daunting. We all need leaders who can motivate us.


In recognition of February as Black History month, Covenant UCC’s Green Team compiled profiles of local, “homegrown” environmentalists of color, as well as leaders at the national level, and creatively displayed them on a clothesline to offer inspiration to workshop participants.

Participants in front of Black environmentalists display
Participants in front of Black environmentalists display


Leaders highlighted include Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx; Viva Yeboah, founder of Outdoor Afro Chicago; Van Jones, founder of Green for All; Robert Bullard, sociologist and founder of the Environmental Justice movement; Bryant Williams of Chicago’s Rebuiliding Exhange, and many more. View a PDF of all of the Environmentalist of Color profiles here.


“A clothesline represents one of the ways people can conserve energy by hanging up their clothes to dry instead of using a clothes dryer,” explains Veronica Kyle, a member of Covenant UCC’s Green Team and Faith in Place’s Chicago Outreach Director. “By highlighting the journeys of Black and Brown leaders in land stewardship, conservation and environmentalism, we are encouraged to take action. We are strengthened by the courage of influential leaders who have worked for environmental justice.”


Rev. Ozzie Smith speaks at the program.
Rev. Ozzie Smith, Jr. speaks at the program.

The event also found a way to recognize unsung African American environmental heroes. Rev. Dr. Ozzie Smith Jr., Senior Pastor of Covenant UCC, lifted up his heritage by telling his story of migration from Memphis to Chicago. In this story circle activity, he connected his story to the migrations of butterflies, birds, and other migratory species. In honor of grandmothers who acted sustainably out of necessity, homemade canned goods and vegetable garden seeds were given away.


Which environmentalists of color are missing from the list? Who are your unsung environment heroes? Share with us today on our Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #EnviroHero.


Thank you to Angela Diggs Taylor of Covenant UCC for sharing the environmentalists of color profiles used at the event, and thank you to Lorena Lopez for updating and adding additional bios.


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