Why The Green Economy Should Be A Priority for People of Color

Written by Shamar A. Bibbins
Director of National Partnerships, Green For All 

As a college sophomore in the mid 1990’s, I eagerly accepted a field-study assignment with a local environmental organization where I helped execute public engagement efforts around New York State’s newly established recycling laws in public housing projects. As anyone who has ever done community outreach will tell you, there is always a swinging pendulum of public response, from great appreciation to deep agitation. However, it was the response of a young mother, not much older than myself, that changed the trajectory of my studies and eventually my career. 

I wasn’t even a minute into my pre-scripted message on the importance of recycling, when the young woman looked me square in the eyes, clearly agitated, and said, “Look, are you kidding me? I don’t have time to sort my trash. I’m trying to figure out how to feed my baby.”  Her words pierced me. It was my “Aha” moment. From that moment forward, I focused my work, as an environmental studies major, not only on the necessary science, but also on the social and economic impacts that environmental injustices have on our communities.

African Americans, Native Americans and other communities of color have significantly higher rates of asthma, respiratory problems and other chronic diseases, not because of their lifestyles or because of genetics, as some would have you believe, but because of their zip codes. Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant, and millions of African Americans live in “food deserts,” with little or no access to healthy food. Our communities are hit first and worst by the affects of climate change and are the last to recover.

The environment is our issue and should be at or near the top of our political agenda. Our folks are on the front line - disproportionally affected by environmental threats. We should not only be a part of the national conversation around effective solutions that benefit our families and communities, but should also be a part of the economic opportunities that arise as green industries and technologies develop and grow. This is the green economy.

The NAACP’s summit, “Bridging the Gap: Connecting Black Communities to the Green Economy” being held on April 15th in advance of the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C., is an important convening that will focus on solutions that help build access to the green economy and address the unique needs of our communities. The day-long event will include strategy sessions on policy and advocacy, grassroots organizing, youth mobilization and opportunities in the green economy for entrepreneuers and small businesses.  There will also be career pipeline expo, featuring representatives from government agencies, private sector companies, and non-profit organizations to discuss career and business contracting opportunities.

Our best solutions to expanding the green economy — from forming climate resilience plans to investing in infrastructure and clean energy— are also our best tools for creating job opportunities and pathways out of poverty for people of color and low-income communities on the front lines. I hope you join us for this exciting event.

Check out the NAACP’s blog series on the summit: Framing A Green Economy Based on Social Justice Connecting Black Communities with America’s Infrastructure Redemption & Second Chances: Eliminating Employment Barriers for Previously Incarcerated Individuals

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