Why communities of color should care about Earth Day, environmental justice

By: Alyssa Wilson & Teddy Grant

Earth Day, a modern movement that focuses on the protection of the environment, was started 51 years ago, but some communities of color do not see a reason to care. 

The celebration began in 1970 to combat America’s ignorance of environmental concerns and the impact pollution has on human health.

Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, who describes himself as an “environmental justice gladiator and planet protector”, joined DC Today with Del Walters to discuss the significance of environmental justice for communities of color.

When asked why Black and brown communities should care about the climate, Ali said,” Because our communities are the ones hit first and worst by pollution and by the climate crisis that we find ourselves in.”

RELATED: From Slavery to Civil Rights and Environmental Racism

While environmental harm affects everyone, its effect on communities of color, particularly Black communities, has been cataclysmic and highlights how deeply rooted racism is in almost every part of the nation’s history.


According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, in 2019, Black people were three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than their white counterparts. 

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America also found that Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people in the United States face the highest-burden of asthma caused by systemic and structural racism. 


According to an article by Eco Watch, reports show that water systems have poisoned Black Americans in their communities for years. From dirty water in Flint, Michigan to hookworms in Alabama, Black people are being impacted. More specifically, a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that Black children living below the poverty line are twice as likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood than poor white or Hispanic children. 


Food deserts are geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance, the Food Empowerment Project reported. 

According to Eater, in Birmingham, Alabama, about 88,000 people who live in food deserts identify as Black or Latino.


Chemical plants are being built in communities already struggling with air quality. In Louisiana, there is an 85-mile stretch of territory called “cancer ally” and it is impacting the lives of the Black and brown people who live there. 

A 2017 report by the N.A.A.C.P. and the Clean Air Task Force revealed that Black Americans are 75% more likely than other Americans to live in fence-line communities, which are defined as areas situated near facilities that produce hazardous waste. 


During Hurricane Katrina, four of the seven zip codes in Louisiana that suffered the most expensive damages had a Black population of at least 75%, the Scientific American reported. 

In Southern Texas, small communities called “colonias” near Mexico are in areas prone to flooding and lack sufficient wastewater structures. This was especially problematic during Hurricane Harvey. 

Dr. Ali says we need to make sure laws are protecting communities to make real change happen. 

“If we don’t address these issues, if we don’t get engaged and if we don’t have attorneys that are actually getting engaged making sure that the resources are making it back to the communities and not into their pockets, then we are going to have a lose-lose situation instead of this win-win situation that we’ve now set up with the new set of actions with the administration that is in place,” he said. 

RELATEDBiden environmental team heavy on experience, diversity 

On Earth Day 2021, BNC is highlighting Black environmentalists and organizations.   

Out Door Afro is a nonprofit organization that connects Black people to experiences in nature. Founded by Rue Mapp, the organization operates in 42 cities and focuses on conservation.   

Earth Uprising International is a youth-led organization committed to tackling the climate change crisis. It’s demanding world leaders act on climate change before the effects on the planet are irreversible.   

Omar Freilla founded the Green Worker Cooperatives. Based in Bronx, New York, the organization “builds, grow and sustains worker-owned green businesses” in immigrant and communities of color.   

Savonala “Savi” Horne is the executive director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, which helps combat land loss in North Carolina through legal channels for Black landowners.  The organization advocates for farmers by providing them necessary resources.   


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