EDF celebrates Black History Month with a renewed sense of promise and purpose. We are taking purposeful action to help fulfill the promise of a world where racial and environmental equity are basic human rights. This goal must be integral to all of our work. To achieve it, we must acknowledge and learn from the past.
Achievement in the face of inequity
In 2020 the United States repeatedly witnessed gross inequities — from the disproportionate number of COVID-19-related deaths suffered by communities of color to horrific police brutality and the questioning of presidential votes cast by millions of Black Americans.
These events represent only a minuscule portion of the systemic adversities and atrocities Black Americans have faced for centuries, including the current threats from white supremacists. And yet throughout all the years of pain and hardship, the Black community has made contributions of incalculable value to all areas of American life. During Black History Month, we celebrate these achievements, bear witness to the pain and recognize EDF’s own past and future responsibilities.
Critically examining our role
While we can point to notable examples where we have sought to address the disproportionate environmental burden borne by communities of color, we have not been consistent or intentional in this work. EDF’s focus on solving environmental issues at the global, national and regional levels has led us to overlook local environmental problems and neglect Black community concerns. As a result, our policy stances have sometimes been at odds with local communities’ needs and priorities.
For these reasons, EDF is critically examining our role. We acknowledge the need to stop, listen and learn. We’re meeting with leaders of Black community groups and the environmental justice movement to strengthen relationships; compare policy agendas to identify potential synergies and conflicts; broaden access to grant-makers; and commit EDF as an ally so that the communities most affected by pollution can secure clean air, clean water and freedom from exposure to toxic substances. We are also looking inward to examine how our structure, strategy and culture can better reflect these communities.
EDF’s leaders have been constantly encouraged by younger colleagues, especially our younger colleagues of color, that now is the time to act. They are the bridge from EDF’s past to our future, and I thank them for their courageous contributions as we work to identify the ways our organization needs to change.
Supporting Black leaders and perspectives
We recognize that growing into a diverse, inclusive and equitable international environmental organization will require honest introspection and a significant shift in our practices and priorities. We must authentically engage the perspectives, skills and ideas of our international workforce, board and membership, as well as build lasting relationships with diverse constituencies.
We must also support leaders of color. For the first time in our nation’s history, the federal environmental agenda will be shaped by two Black Americans, EPA Administrator nominee Michael Regan and Council of Environmental Quality Chair nominee Brenda Mallory. I have had the privilege of working closely with both of these individuals and know how fortunate we all are to have them taking on these leadership roles.
The efforts underway at Environmental Defense Fund will take time, but we feel the urgency needed to meet the moment and drive the change required to make EDF and the environmental community more equitable and just. Everyone at EDF must join our colleagues in building a bridge to the future. I for one am all in.
Act when it matters most