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Celebrate the Past, Present, and Future of Black Environmental Leaders

Environmental justice is woven into the sustainability field as it provides protection of environmental resources for all people regardless of race, class, gender, age, or location. It helps to amplify voices that have been oppressed and opinions that were invalidated due to systematic racism.

Our work at Green Living Science is rooted in environmental justice because of our mission to highlight the importance of sustainability in Detroit, and a lot of that groundwork has been done by local leaders from black and brown communities. Black History Month is an important time to celebrate and highlight the work of Black and African American environmental justice leaders both past and present. 

Celebrating the Past

Black leaders from all over the country have been on the front lines of the environmental justice movement, all the way down to here in our hometown. Dr. Bunyan Bryant is recognized as the pioneer of environmental justice here in Michigan, where he worked alongside his colleagues at the University of Michigan to host a prominent conference titled “Race and Incidence of Environmental Hazards”. This conference was particularly revolutionary as it helped environmental justice become a recognized academic discipline and, by attracting many social injustice and environmental advocates, legitimized the environmental justice movement in Michigan. As a result of the conference, the Michigan Group, dedicated to advocating for disadvantaged communities suffering from environmental injustices, was formed in 1990. They took their advocacy nationwide and made huge steps over the years in securing rights for those struggling against injustice. 

However, despite the efforts of Dr. Bryant, and many other environmental leaders, environmental justice, sustainability, and equity within these programs are still major issues today. Another Michigan Professor, Dorceta Taylor, published one of the most comprehensive studies on diversity within the environmental movement in 2014 and found that there is still a major gap in gender, race, and class diversity in environmental institutions, with white men most likely to hold executive decisions. Yet, even now, Black leaders are pushing those boundaries and breaking into the world of sustainability and environmentalism.

Highlighting the Present 

Donele Wilkins

Kicking off our local highlights is the CEO of the Green Door Initiative, a nonprofit organization focused on educating the public and building a community for environmental equity. Donele Wilkens was born and raised on the Northeast side of Detroit and experienced firsthand the hardships of economic struggle and neglected neighborhoods, which inspires her work today. She has played a key role in leading the local environmental movement for more than 20 years, as well as helping the development of environmental justice policy, launching city-wide green jobs training, advocating for citizen involvement in public policy, and getting environmental stewardship on the agenda of community leaders and public policymakers. Wilkins has received numerous awards for her work and is an esteemed speaker on the topic of environmental justice. 

Madeline Miller

Another Incredible local leader in sustainability is approaching the problem with an interesting spin. Madeline Walker is the CEO and founder of NextTiles, a textile recycling company that takes used fabrics and turns them into eco-friendly building insulation. Her goal is to help divert waste from the fast fashion industry and help support the green insulation market right here in Detroit homes. Not only does NextTiles collect textiles for their insulation, but they also accept any fabric waste and work to find a second life for it through their large network of sustainable business partners. Miller is not only working to divert a large amount of waste from the fashion industry worldwide, but is also making a difference in the landfill and waste deposits in her hometown helping curb the community burden and keep the city more sustainable!

This is just the beginning of the stories about Black Environmental Leaders paving the way in Detroit! Explore more of their stories HERE.

Looking to the Future

Green Living Science strives to support environmental justice by highlighting the importance of sustainability. Always working for universal environmental literacy, advocacy, stewardship, and justice we are often the first step for many Detroit residents into waste reduction and environmental stewardship. The work of local Black leaders is incredible and we are grateful to stand by them in the mission to create a greener city. 

Green Living Science always wants to support and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders, and to continue our efforts it is essential for us to amplify the voices who have paved the way for environmental justice for black and brown communities.

I have been inspired by these stories and the work of Black environmental leaders myself as a young woman taking her first steps into this field. Green Living Science has given me the opportunity to make my mark and celebrate those who came before me. I could not be more grateful to be a part of this movement to inspire other young black environmentalists and work to make our great city of Detroit even more beautiful!

Happy Black History Month and remember to Bee Green!

Written by Isabel Redmond

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