Green is the New Black: How Black Staff are Working to Center Justice, Solidarity and Liberation at Greenpeace

by Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

February 13, 2020

Meet Some of the Greenpeacers Carving Out a Place for Black Liberation in the Environmental Movement

Environmental activists at large aren’t here to save the Earth, we’re here to save ourselves (along with the creatures and places we love) from ourselves. We’re here to stand, shout, sign, organize and unapologetically express the urgency of climate change and who it is disproportionately affecting. As you read this, numerous families still remain displaced and unassisted by the systems that caused generational oppression. These are the communities I fight for.

I am a writer, lover of music, nature enthusiast, and proud Taurus. I began organizing in the 2016 presidential election, and plan to keep my head in the movement for black liberation, food sovereignty, and nature conservation for many years to come.

That’s why I’m thrilled to introduce to you some of my Black Colleagues at Greenpeace USA. Each of the individuals following are brilliant and powerful in their own right. They have impacted Greenpeace and this movement in ways unimaginable, and they’re just getting started. I hope you are encouraged to read on, and share this inspiration widely.

Tahirah Green – Development Team

My name is Tahirah. I live in my hometown of Washington, DC, where I currently work as a Grant Specialist for Greenpeace. I’ve been professionally fundraising for social justice and human rights issues for six years and volunteering support for much longer. Philanthropy has considerable influence in resourcing movement work, and I came to Greenpeace as part of my desire to ensure movements have the resources needed to advance change.

Recent estimates show that only 3% of charitable donations go to environmental nonprofits. For the causes that I care about most, this limited funding is exacerbated by the fact that only 8% of philanthropic dollars go to communities of color.

The pervasiveness of environmental racism has long meant that Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have bore the brunt of environmental degradation. In DC, we see this in everything from lead-contaminated water and waste disposal site locations to the stark contrast between the treatment of the Anacostia River and the Potomac River.

The current climate emergency yet again places these communities at the greatest risk. Given these dynamics, it can be challenging to operate in white-led organizations that don’t center those realities nor the leadership of individuals from those impacted communities. At Greenpeace, the leadership and staff is predominantly white—people of color make up only 31.1% of staff, 22.2% of senior staff, and 42.9% of the board.

Fortunately, many groups — both philanthropic or environmental — are starting to make progress towards rectifying the dynamics that make their workplaces arduous for people from marginalized communities. I look forward to seeing rhetoric and diversity training evolve to accountability and an anti-oppression framework.

Rico Sisney – Actions Team

My name is Rico and I work on the Greenpeace Action Team. Though I’m now based on the west coast, my career with GP began as a canvasser 10 years ago in Chicago.

In my role, I’m often reminded of the wide array of skill sets and experiences that exist in my family. Like many black people in this country, much of their talents and labor have been unrecognized, unpaid or undervalued, but it informs my work. Like my mom, I plan events.  Like my father, I use my speaking voice or singing voice to make an impact. I work with machines and vehicles like my Grandfather and I recruit volunteers, like my Grandmother. Like so many others in my family I teach and train and use stories to communicate.

As I face challenges, I root myself in that history and remind myself that these fights are not new.

The disparity of impacts of climate change and access to basic human rights like Health Care, Clean Air or Education also exists within the movements to fight for them. Small POC-led environmental justice groups like West County Toxics in Richmond or LVEJO in Chicago don’t have access to the same resources as larger NGO’s. Black and Indigenous organizers don’t often have the same platforms to amplify their work as their white counterparts and as a result, young people of color don’t always see a space for themselves in the environmental movement.

Luckily, we continue to make a space for ourselves just as we have always done. Outside of Greenpeace, I am an arts curator and a member of the bands Sidewalk Chalk and House of Whales. I am an Aquarius.

Avery Sinclair Raines – Digital Strategy Team

How’d you get to where you are today?

I ask myself this question all the time. Believe it or not, I intended on making documentaries… Somewhere around the 2016 election I began working as a distributed organizer. I’ve been working in nonprofit digital departments ever since. Crazy how time flies by…

What’s it like being a black person in the environmental movement?

It’s tiring. I’m tired. I won’t mince words: the environmental movement and environmental nonprofits are steeped within the culture of white supremacy. So often our comrades will forget that, like so many others, Black folks find their political homes in other movements outside of the environmental movement. Being Black and existing within the sphere of climate, we’re often either singled out for our lived experiences or disregarded completely. That dichotomy of being tokenized or erased is frustrating. This movement is not one that has always been welcoming to Black folks, and yet it prides itself on supposedly embodying the values of environmental justice. It can be frustrating having to work within a movement that often values preserving trees and habitats (both important don’t get me wrong) over the lives of Black people.

At the same time, there’s relatively few Black folks that continue to work in the environmental space and we’ve formed a kinship that I value dearly. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

How is life at Greenpeace?

Now, I’ve been at Greenpeace about 6 months now and have no complaints thus far. To be fair, I work remotely so I’m fairly insulated from the culture. It’s a nonprofit mired in nonprofit culture just like any other. Shout out to the Online team!

How do you tie black liberation into your work?

One of the main reasons I stay within this movement is because I’m passionate about climate migration issues. I believe in freedom of movement and that borders shouldn’t exist. I’m dedicated to fighting for our liberation by helping to dismantle the oppressive nature of the  international migration complex, with the eventual hope that Black folks can move freely.

What inspires you to work for climate justice?

Honestly…I just really f***ing hate fossil fuel companies.

Ishmael Herod IV – People & Culture Team

I’m Ish, the Talent Acquisition Lead for Greenpeace in our Washington, DC office. Originally from Dallas, TX, I came to Greenpeace in 2011 shortly after finishing up at Howard University.

As a black man, to come into a space that was majority white was pretty overwhelming and very challenging. I started off as a fundraiser for the organization and refused to accept the notion that people that looked like me did not belong in a very cool organization like Greenpeace. I spent my time in fundraising working hard to make sure voices like mine were heard and represented for the better part of 3 years. The last 6 years I have been on our People & Culture team and have worked hard to make sure we continue to diversify the movement and the organization; and to have many different identity groups represented as well. The emphasis we have put on making sure justice is a focal point throughout our organization is a driving force for me and keeps me motivated. I’ve seen the organization grow tremendously in the last 9 years I have been here and am excited to see us continually moving forward for a just and equitable future.

Chelcee Price – Actions Team

My name is Chelcee and I am an Actions Team Fellow based in Oakland, CA. My path to working in the environmental justice movement started in Denver, Colorado. I moved out west from Florida because I wanted to be surrounded with folks that were doing movement work.

Being a black femme in the environmental movement is equally exhausting and magical. It can be frustrating to not feel heard or to feel left out of conversations led by cis white people. However, there are countless moments of pure wonder and joy when so many talented activists and organizers come together to throw down for the movement.

When I came to Greenpeace, my intention was to use my core values and instill them into every part of my job. Being a part of such a large organization provides me a platform to uplift the work of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, queer, disabled, transgender, and low-income folks.

I work for black liberation and climate justice because there are too many generations of black kids in the world that deserve wonder and joy. I do this work because there aren’t enough black, non-binary folks in high paying positions.

Every day, I am working towards a future where black folks live beyond our ancestors wildest dreams.

Rudo Mugandani – Frontline Team

I chose to work for Greenpeace because they are an organization that works to be the voice for these lower income families. Being at Greenpeace has also taught me that environmental issues are another factor that will affect these families and it truly has been a fulfilling experience to work on reducing this stress for these individuals.

What inspires me to work in climate justice is just seeing how black issues are being handled in the media and knowing we need more and more people of color holding the microphones, taking up space and not being afraid to express the frustration of constantly being pushed in the background. I want to demand the same energy be put in our issues as they are in issues that affect the white population. We have to be in the forefront as well. I have family in Zimbabwe that are going to experience drought, wildfires and famine. I need the media to be just as concerned as they are about places like Australia, Indonesia and Europe. We too are people and we too need just as much help as our white neighbors. We don’t want to be waiting for a white savior to help give us the attention we deserve because there are plenty of activists of color trying to shed light on these issues.  We are highlighted for a brief moment but we are never truly the spotlight. We are constantly told that we are being looked out for but the aid is never given to us. It is sad to think about and I hate using this word again but it is frustrating.

Folabi Olagbaju – Democracy Campaign Team

My name is Folabi Olagbaju and I am originally from Nigeria.  My first experience being active on environmental justice issues was working to stop the extra judicial killing of Nigerian environmental defender, Ken Saro Wiwa who was killed with eight other Ogoni activists in 1995 for protesting the ecological degradation of Shell Oil in my homeland.  I later joined Amnesty International USA to lead their environmental defender campaign set up in the aftermath of Ken Saro Wiwa’s killing to prevent similar incidents to other environmental defenders.

As a black man, I feel my voice is very important in the environmental justice movement since black and brown people and those living in the global south bear a disproportionate impact of climate change while we are the least emitter of pollutants that cause climate change.

I am very new to Greenpeace.  However, I have had a long standing relationship with the organization.  My first job when I moved to DC in the early 1990s was canvassing for Greenpeace. I also trained with fellow Greenpeace staff and activists in circa 1994 on Moby Dick for an action targeting Shell Oil in Baltimore harbor. Seems like this is my second coming to Greenpeace and currently loving it.

I am a pan-Africanist by orientation and would like to see African nations come together and present a united front within the COP process. While African countries have demonstrated commitment to contribute to the solution, the biggest emitters like the US have not shown similar commitment. In these negotiation rounds, we need a spirit of solidarity rather than charity.

I am inspired to do this work at this stage in my career because of my children. I have three children aged between 17 and 30 and when I look at them, I get really scared just imagining what their world will be like in 50 years.  We owe it to them and the 7th generation to leave this precious Earth a better place than we met it.

Jasmine Conwell – Information Technology Team

I’m Jasmine and work in IT as a database trainer. I was born and raised in Prince George’s Maryland, a predominantly Black county bordering Washington DC. I was on a crew team in high school that rowed on the Anacostia river, one of the most polluted waterways in the country. This experience propelled me to join the fight for environmental justice. I want to share a poem I  wrote about just that.

Seen yet not heard

Hurt yet not seen

Our oceans and streams run black with oil

Pollutants swirl upwards, creating a black haze shrouding city skylines

Our youth robbed of a chance to run, to play, to thrive

Red lungs once full of laughter now strain and blacken

And yet

We invited ourselves in

We persist, insist, resist

And yet

The future is green

Peace is white

Black is invisible

It is no longer enough

There is no more time

And yet

Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

By Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

Lauren E. Wiggins is the Online Content Specialist for Greenpeace USA, based in Oakland, CA.

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