Black History Month is a time reserved for people to reflect on the contributions and accomplishments of people of the African diaspora including African-Americans, often which have not been taught in schools. However, Black history has never been confined to just the month of February and the celebration of it does not have to be either. AESS is continuing to feature Black environmentalists with the goal of honoring these people who have made notable contributions to the environmental movement and Black history.

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Karen Washington is a community activist in New York City working in the Bronx towards food equality for the underprivileged and minority communities living there. Washington has been encouraging urban farming as a resource for community members to have access to fresh, local food since 1985 in hopes of making New York City a better, more sustainable place to live. In her position as a board member for the New York Botanical Gardens, she was able to establish community gardens in previously empty lots in Bronx neighborhoods. Washington is also a member of the La Familia Verde Community Garden Coalition, helped begin a City Farms Market, and co-founded the organization Black Urban Growers. After working as a Physical Therapist for more than 30 years, Washington left that position to start Rise & Root Farm to work towards a more sustainable food system and food justice in New York City.

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Lisa P. Jackson is a leading scientist who has made groundbreaking strides in the field of environmental protection and advocacy. She began her career at the EPA in 1987 and then made history as the first African-American to serve as an EPA administrator after being appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2009, she served in this position through 2013. During her time working in the EPA, she prioritized climate action, air quality and chemical safety improvement, cleaning of communities, protection of America’s waters, stronger state and tribal partnerships, environmental justice, and expanding the conversation on environmentalism. In this position, she was also able to focus on helping under-represented communities that are more vulnerable to environmental threats and promised all stakeholders a place in decision-making. With her leadership, the EPA was able to issue new clean air standards, outline principles for chemical protection efforts, improve drinking water protection efforts, and renew public trust in the EPA. Jackson continues this work at Apple as the current vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiative; she oversees the effort to minimize Apple’s impact on the environment and increase energy efficiency.

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Dr. Warren M. Washington is another noteworthy Black environmentalist. Dr. Washington expresses his concern for and helps the environment through his work as a climate and atmospheric scientist who specializes in computer modeling of Earth’s climate. Dr. Washington was the second African-American to earn a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences and his work, which spans over 40 years, has been used to research the impacts of climate change on a global scale. In 2007, the global climate models Dr. Washington created were used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th assessment report which earned Dr. Washington and other scientists the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Washington served as Science Advisor to former Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton, and was awarded the National Medal of Science from former President Obama. Dr. Washington strives to increase the opportunities available to young researchers from all backgrounds and has a passion for supporting and mentoring students, early career professionals, and outreach initiatives. As Dr. Washington uses his time to work towards equal opportunities and environmental justice, he encourages others by speaking out about the racial discrimination he has faced, and reports that his experience “helped give [him] confidence that [he] could contribute to making a change.”

Remembering the contributions of these remarkable people to help preserve and better the world is important. We have a lot to thank our distinguished environmentalists for and even more to learn from them. Many of these people, including Dr. Warren Washington, have directly helped to bring up and inspire the next generation. In our next post, we will feature some up-and-coming black environmentalists who are in the early stages of changing the world.

AESS would like to acknowledge Heather Heckel for providing resources for this post.