As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, we want to recognize our Black staff members who daily forge a way in the environmental field where white power and norms are dominant.
Isioma Odum is Faith in Place's Climate Change and Energy Coordinator and also a champion of racial healing. Through facilitating racial healing circles, book discussions, and story circles, Isioma pushes the bounds of environmentalism, insisting the stories of people and their communities be centered.
This month, Isioma sat down with us and shared some of the ways being black influences her identity as an environmentalist. Take a look at what she had to say below.
1) What drew you to working as an environmentalist?
I am thankful that I was born into such a phenomenal family. My mother taught me discipline and encouraged me to challenge myself through much of life’s adversities.
However, it was my father that really influenced me into becoming an environmentalist. My father was the Director of the Department of Ecology for over 30 years and instilled the importance of preservation and environmental conservation.
2) How does being Black shape how you approach environmental work?
Understanding the correlation between environmental and racial justice has really shaped my work. I was blessed enough to have an early understanding of the environmental lens because of my father but it wasn’t until school that I learned just how much our environment can harm those pushed to the margins of society. That made me really hone in on becoming a part of this world.
In graduate school, I did my integration paper on environmental racism and the intersectionality of healthcare, theology and ecology. I spoke about how these three institutions should be more involved in the racial justice movement.
Given the nature of our world, black people have been shunned from participating in society in such a way that has crippled our flourishing, meaning there’s not enough of us at the decision-making table. We’ve also been impacted the most by institutions claiming to be for the betterment of all humankind. I’m a human that just so happens to be black and I should be given the same opportunities to live a more fulfilled life.
3) Is there a Black figure that inspires you in your work? Please share why.
Besides my militant mother being my hero, I think the many black women activists have all inspired me. I take what I can get from people like Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Audre Lorde, and Angela Davis (which used to be my nickname growing up).
Many of the social justice movements were driven by the resilience of black women so I’m inspired everyday by their contributions and sacrifices.
Thank you to Isioma and all of the Black environmentalists that have been teaching the world how to care for the land, live sustainably, and listen to the stories of migration for centuries.