Black History Month event to uplift current and historic environmental justice leaders

This Black History Month, the United Church of Christ is celebrating historic contributions to the environmental justice movement.  

Current environmental justice leaders will share stories and reflections about some of the “unsung heroes” of the movement who they knew and found inspiration from during the “Black History: Unsung Heroes of the Environmental Justice Movement” webinar to take place Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. ET.

Mothers of the movement

One featured speaker, Cheryl Johnson, who serves as executive director for People for Community Recovery, will speak about the legacy of her mother, Hazel Johnson.

Hazel Johnson and Dollie Burwell have been referred to as “mothers of the environmental justice movement” for their early work fighting for better environmental conditions in their communities. In the 1970s, Johnson found connections between high cancer and illness rates in her community and the toxic landfill underneath Altgeld Gardens, the public housing project in Chicago where she and many others lived. Among her extensive advocacy work, Johnson founded People for Community Recovery, where Cheryl Johnson continues as a leader in the movement.

Other featured speakers include:

‘Cloud of witnesses’

The Rev. Brooks Berndt, UCC minister for environmental justice, will host the virtual event together with the Rev. Michael Malcom, executive director of Alabama Interfaith Power and Light.

“In churches, we have a tradition of remembering those who have gone before us because it is in that remembering that we find sustenance for our own journey,” Berndt said. “In Hebrews, it says it is because ‘we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,’ we are able to ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us.’ It is especially important to sing about those who have largely gone unsung. When a movement does not know its own history, it is deprived of one of its greatest sources of wisdom and inspiration.”

The event’s speakers will reflect on the historical contributions and stories of Dana Alston, Cecil Corbin-Mark, Hazel Johnson, Patsy Oliver, Gloria Roberts, Damu Smith, Emelda West and Margaret Williams.

Continuing the work

Several of the featured speakers have contributed to environmental justice efforts within the UCC.

Miller-Travis was a contributing author to the UCC’s landmark report “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States” and worked for the UCC’s Commission for Racial Justice when it was published. Bullard and Wright were among the authors of the 20th anniversary report to renew and expand upon the work of the original.   

The upcoming webinar, too, seeks to continue the spirit of renewing and expanding the work of environmental justice by honoring the history.  

“It is vital that we set aside times and spaces to connect with the sacred history of those who have led the way in the struggle that we now continue,” Berndt said.

Register for the Feb. 14 webinar here. A recording will be available following the event.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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