This article is dedicated to Sierra Taliaferro, an outstanding environmental and social justice advocate. She has spent the past few months gathering stories from various Black environmental leaders and compiled them into a Facebook page called "The Green Obsidian". We admire her passion for raising awareness towards underrepresented conservation leaders and wanted to shed light on the inspiring work she does. The following pages are written by Sierra and linked directly to "The Green Obsidian".
"Back in 2018, I was thinking of shifting gears and considering exploring other career path options within environmental conservation. And although I saw some potential opportunities, I seemed to run into the same issue where there weren’t too many black people being represented, especially in mainstream media, in those roles and I found that frustrating.
There are a significant number of Black people that have contributed to the field of environmental conservation–both past and present– and don’t get highlighted as often or enough in my opinion to show the variety of participation throughout the science-based discipline. And so, I came to think deeper into the concept around inspiration: If we want to encourage the next generation to get involved in this work, especially as it relates to the environment, we have to show that representation fluidly so that they can also envision themselves in that role with people who look like them, that came from communities similar to theirs, and find mentors to guide them through these spaces that are still trying to get comfortable with our presence–even today.
That frustration turned into researching individuals to highlight in conservation, which so happened to be in February- the basis of Black History Month. So I used Black history month as a foundational platform that is already so connected to highlighting black leaders throughout the diaspora as a way to bring awareness of leaders in these spaces too with the hopes that over time, it won’t be so challenging to find their information. Honestly, their information is out there waiting to be uncovered, it’s just a matter of bringing their story to light so others can read it too.
Hence, how I created the series– to make it convenient for others to read and share their stories in one place. In all, I believe their stories are inspirational, and I hope that they encourage the next generation to become champions in environmental conservation to envision themselves in these roles too."
Lamar Gore, a Trenton, NJ native who’s love of nature was inspired by people whose lives touched the natural world– including his uncle who was a deep-sea fisherman– taught him about the connections between the conservation world and communities, which in part helped influence the leader and conservationist he is today.
Dr. Samuel Ramsey
For all of my insect enthusiasts, do I have the perfect person for you!
For the DC-born and Maryland-raised full fledged entomologist, Samuel Ramsey’s admiration started at a young age– though it didn’t have the start you’re anticipating.
As she notes in her well-written and researched thesis upon her graduation from Pomona College in 2018 as a major in Environmental Analysis, titled, “Prison, Policing and Pollution: Toward an Abolitionist Framework within Environmental Justice'', she explores the intersection between those three elements that are often overlooked in the environmental justice conversation.
As a proud Brooklyn native, jazz singer enthusiast, and the offspring of a teacher and architect, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson has always been a well-rounded individual who enjoyed contributing to social change – having both parents being civil rights activists definitely left a lasting impression– and invested in ocean ecosystems, listening to her father’s stories growing up in Jamaica.
Chad Brown–a decorated US Navy vet who served in the Gulf War/Desert Storm and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia– always knew he had a passion for wild spaces and outdoor exploration.
As a DC native, Army vet, and adventure sports enthusiast who had a real passion for parachuting out of military planes– or better known as skydiving– she didn’t necessarily comprehend the concept of doing this and other outdoor activities for fun until she got out of the military and started to connect with her community, to whom by her surprise, enjoyed it just as much as she does.
Starting off as a grassroots organization in 1951, The Nature Conservancy– a global nonprofit organization that works to conserve lands and water– has grown to become one of the most effective and wide-reaching environmental organizations in the world with consideration to a strong membership base.
As a west-side Detroit native and Environmental Science graduate of Spelman College, a historical black university in Atlanta, GA, she realized that as important of a profession environmental work is, that there weren’t too many people who looked like her in a white-dominated discipline.
As a lifelong resident of Hamilton Heights who grew up in a family actively engaged in the civil rights movement, it was truly no surprise that he would become one of the earliest champions of environmental justice of his time.
For most Freshmen entering college their first year, I would imagine they’d be focused on getting acclimated to campus life– classes, campus organizations, even cafeteria hours. But for Elise Tolbert–Tuskegee, Alabama native and environmental activist– she had her sights focused on a different mission.
Established in 1871 and spread throughout regions in the United States, the US Fish & Wildlife Service is a government agency dedicated to the conservation, protection, and enhancement of wildlife, plants, and their habitats. In addition, it is the only agency in the federal government whose primary responsibility is the conservation and management of those natural resources for the American public.
Col. Jerry Carter
In the beginning of the creation of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the main goal has been focused on to conserve and enhance Mississippi’s wildlife, fisheries, and parks, provide quality outdoor recreation, and engage the public in natural resource conservation since the agency’s establishment in 1932.
When Randy Moore began his 43-year career back in the late 1970’s with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in North Dakota, I’m sure he didn’t expect the myriad of events and accomplishments that would soon propel life and career forward.
Lamont Smith, a home-grown Milwaukee native and UW Madison grad, notes about his time working for Milwaukee County Parks, in addition to his outdoor adventures like fishing, biking, and playing sports– aiding his love and appreciation of nature.
Kwesi Osaze Billups
For DC-native Kwesi Billups and his mother Cheryl Gaines, his mother and an ordained minister, specifically started this community garden back in 2010 after hearing about a shooting in southeast DC that left nine shot and four teenagers killed. Two years later, she started this community garden, hoping that it would help the community begin to heal from the traumatic event and called it Project EDEN–Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally.
Born and raised as a Washington, DC native in the metro area, Ronda Chapman’s journey began when she completely changed locations and headed west to meet the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, and that love at first sight when she saw the snow developed into a beautiful romance and infatuation with snowboarding and skii-ing.
The Trust for Public Land, founded in 1972, is a nonprofit with the principle that everyone needs access to the outdoors and nature close to home in the cities and communities they live in, of which all these factors contribute to health, equity and justice
A Detroit-native who always knew that she had a connection to water started at a young age growing up with makeshift pools out of garbage trucks and fire hydrant hookups in the neighborhood.
As an ISA Certified Arborist, she truly incorporates her obsession of trees into all parts of her work and helps to create more greener and equitable cities.
As a Selma, AL native–one of the birthplaces of the civil rights movement– Chancee always believed in helping communities become healthier and sustainable.
With a passion of supporting sustainable and healthy communities, complemented with indigenous knowledge and an exchange of best practices that redevelop and support sustainable communities helping to conserve natural resources without contributing to irreversible damage to Gaia, Georgia.
Congressman A Donald McEachin
As the son of an Army Vet and school teacher, Germany-born and Virginia-raised Aston Donald McEachin seemed to always have a passion for doing the right thing and fighting for the common people.
Catherine Coleman Flowers
Born as the oldest of five siblings, Alabama native Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up surrounded by nature and community, connecting to land and ancestral heritage
Dr. Ashanti Johnson
Representation Matters, especially in STEM! This accredited STEM advocate, speaker, major contributor in various STEM-focused articles/journals, and mother of three– Dr. Ashanti Johnson is known as the first African American Female in Chemical Oceanography in the country.
Food connects us– not just to land, spirit, and history– sometimes it connects us to our purpose in the most meaningful way. For the local jawn and public health-trained professional Ashley Gripper, her purpose was divinely aligned with what she truly loved to do and it came from the most authentic place– grief.
A South Carolina native with a military family and community activist background, Jasmin began her connection to Marine science on the shores of Myrtle Beach, SC where she and her family spent a lot of time near the ocean.
Being familiar with Wisconsin’s frigid temperatures in winter, it’s truly a test of endurance to brave it by doing regular activities– let alone hiking a 1200 mile trail by foot (and with a dog!). But for Emily Ford, an avid and experienced winter hiker and gardener at the Glensheen Historic Estate during the majority of the growing season, she was determined to accept and complete the three-month challenge set out on the trail ahead– and her only chance to do so was in winter.
You can find their stories and other highlighted Environmental Conservation champions on the Facebook Page: The Green Obsidian