7 Black Environmentalists Working Toward a Sustainable Future

Although the most visible champions for sustainability are white, communities of color are more likely to be alarmed or concerned about climate change than whites. Because of systemic racism, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by environmental stressors. Get familiar with these seven Black environmentalists fighting for a sustainable future.

Dr. Ayana E. Johnson
Photo: Jeremy McKane (2018)

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and Brooklyn native. She is co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities, and co-creator (and former co-host) of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast How to Save a Planet, on climate solutions. She co-edited the bestselling climate anthology All We Can Save and co-founded The All We Can Save Project. Recently, she co-authored the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy.

Nella "Ms. Pearl" Frierson
Photo: Tennessean (2022)

Nella "Ms. Pearl" Frierson has always been able to take a little and create plenty. Seeking a healthier lifestyle, she moved her daughters from JC Napier Homes to the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Nashville, TN, a historically Black and low-income neighborhood that experiences food apartheid. Many of the residents in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood are elderly and on fixed incomes. There are no grocery stores within a mile from the garden. Public transportation is inadequate for residents who don't have another form of mobility.

Robert Horton
Photo: Suzanne Crowell, CreativeMornings (2017)

Robert "Rob Veggies" Horton is an urban farmer, community health activist, and founder of Trap Garden in Nashville, TN. After relocating to Nashville to attend Tennessee State University, Rob grew frustrated with the lack of easy access to quality, fresh products, mirroring his experiences growing up in a St. Louis, MO. Inspired by work with his alma mater’s community garden, Rob founded Trap Garden to grow his own vegetables and herbs and provide assistance to others who do not have direct access to fresh and healthy food.

Leah Thomas
Photo: Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas is an environmentalist with a love for writing and creativity, based in Ventura, CA. She’s passionate about advocating for and exploring the relationship between social justice and environmentalism. She is the founder of eco-lifestyle blog @greengirlleah and The Intersectional Environmentalist Platform, which is a resource and media hub that aims to advocate for environmental justice and inclusivity within environmental education and movements.

Jaffee Judah
Photo: Recycle & Reinvest

After his release from prison at 22, Jaffee Judah was faced with the challenge to rebuild his life. Through volunteer work with Tennessee nonprofit From the Heart, he began to see a connection between crime in his neighborhood and trash in walkways, playgrounds, and alleys. He started picking up trash anywhere he saw it and encouraging others to do the same with the hopes that it would help neighbors bond and minimize the crime in the community.

In 2018, Jaffee connected with Kamitia Wilson and Joseph Bazelais to establish Recycle & Reinvest in Nashville, TN. The team facilitates beautification workshops and educates others on how to have a zero waste lifestyle. The group also provides youth mentorship and collects recyclables from low income housing areas for free, repurposing the materials for art.

Genesis Butler
Photo: Animal Save Movement

Genesis Butler is a 14-year-old environmental and animal rights activist and one of the youngest people to ever give a TEDx talk. Inspired by her great uncle civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, Genesis’ talk "A 10 Year Old's Vision for Healing the Planet" discusses the negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment.

She went vegan at the age of 6 and has earned numerous awards and recognitions for her activism, in addition to being featured on an episode of Marvel’s Hero Project by Disney+. Genesis is currently leading the Youth Climate Save movement, the first youth-led environmental organization that focuses on animal agriculture’s impact on climate change and aims to give all young voices a platform.

Bryant Terry
Photo: WBUR

Bryant Terry is a James Beard & NAACP Image Award-winning chef, educator, and author renowned for his activism to create a healthy, just, and sustainable food system. In his 2015 TedMed Talk, he shared his passion for putting the culture back into agriculture and getting people to eat real food. He is editor-in-chief of 4 Color Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House and Ten Speed Press, and he is co-principal and innovation director of Zenmi, a creative studio he founded. Since 2015 he has been the Chef-in-Residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco where he creates public programming at the intersection of food, farming, health, activism, art, culture, and the African Diaspora.

Blog Home
Scroll to Top