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To mark Juneteenth and the Fourth of July for 2010, Planet Harmony, the online environmental network especially for people of color, salutes ten African American Green Heroes who have made notable efforts to end environmental tyranny affecting communities of color.

Their achievements range from challenging the discriminatory dispersal of toxic chemicals to the recasting of cities to enhance the quality of life to botanical genius to help folk care for and reap the bounty of the land.

(See below how you can post your own green heroes)

Will Allen is a genius. That’s according to the MacArthur Foundation who handed him $500,000 in 2008 as part of its genius grant program. What caught the eye of the folks at MacArthur is what folks in Will Allen’s ‘hood in Milwaukee can see every day: more than a dozen greenhouses right in the middle of the city near a housing project. Founder of an organization called Growing Power, Will Allen and his crew are bringing the growing of fresh produce right on the block. And with his work coupled with some other urban and rural sites, Will Allen is not only putting folks in touch with the land, he’s feeding them directly off it.

Majora Carter is also a genius, certified by the MacArthur folks in 2005, for her determination to bring a clean, livable and indeed enjoyable environment to her native ‘hood of Hunt’s Point in the South Bronx. She thought she’d become a filmmaker, but when the City of New York wanted to locate a major trash facility right on the waterfront of Hunt’s Point she fought back. Today Sustainable South Bronx, her creation, is the proud sponsor of a lovely waterfront park. Ms. Carter herself has gone on to form a for-profit environmental consulting company, the Majora Carter Group, now noted for working to bring high intensity agri-business to inner city neighborhoods.

 

Robert Bullard is a Clark Atlanta University sociology professor who was among the first to document that people of color are disproportionately affected by such environment risks as the location of toxic dumps, with his groundbreaking book Dumping in Dixie, first published in 1990. Professor Bullard’s work was key in debunking the misconception that economics played the most important role in the location of toxic dumps. Over and over he found race to be a more important factor. Professor Bullard has also documented that racism in transportation didn’t go away after the era of Plessey v. Ferguson, but that racism is a key component of sprawl. Today Robert Bullard also directs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

Anthony "Van" Jones is probably America’s funniest green black person, if his recent appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher is any guide. A lawyer and community activist who started looking to green jobs as one of the ways to help employ former prisoners, he has become one of the most articulate voices calling for a new green economy for the inner city—and the rest of America as well.  An author of the bestselling The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones is a Fellow of the Center for American Progress, and a former green jobs advisor to the Obama White House.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is CEO of Green for All Green for All, an organization that was originally launched by Van Jones. Since she’s took over the helm of Green For All in 2009, she has become the poster person for involving people of color in fighting climate change. Interviewed in 2009 in Yes Magazine, Ellis- Lamkins, outlined how she has achieved success so far.

“We’ve joined with the Hip Hop Caucus, the NAACP, and other organizations that have not always been traditional players in the environmental movement, and created Green the Block, which gets people involved in environmental projects in their own communities. That program’s successes have shown us, in a short period of time, that when you mobilize communities of color and low-income communities, they really can make change in the environmental movement and also address the issues that are most critical to saving the planet.”

Hazel Johnson was busy educating people about the effects of environmental hazards on low-income and minority communities as early as 1982 when she formed People for Community Recovery (PCR) in Altgeld Gardens, a gritty housing project on the South Side of Chicago that is within “spitting distance” of more and a dozen toxic dumps and industries. Young Barack Obama came and went as a volunteer in Altgeld gardens, but Hazel Johnson has stayed. Today Altgeld Gardens is cleaner, and some of the dirtiest nearby industrial sites have cleaned up their acts, but Hazel Johnson is still out on the job. “There is still so much to be done,” she recently told a group of visiting journalists from the Unity Convention.  

Jerome C. Ringo grew up in the bayous of Louisiana and worked for petrochemical industry for years in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley until shortly after he noticed that people at his plant had to wear protective masks and clothing, but the residents along the fence line didn’t. He started speaking out and back in 1991 joined Calcasieu League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN), an affiliate of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. In time he would be elected chairman of the National Wildlife Federation. He’s now a director of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of organized labor, environmentalist, business and civil rights leaders dedicated to clean, sustainable and secure energy. 

Ludacris (Chris Bridges), the highly successful rapper and actor, uses his celebrity to speak out on environmental causes.  This year he’s actively involved with Increase Your Green program to make your high schools across the nation more environmentally friendly.  He also co-stars in Discovery Channel’s environmentally themed reality show, Battleground Earth.

Drake headlined Greening the block” with a Campus Consciousness Tour across 17 campuses in 16 states during 2010’s Earth Day season. The wildly popular performer joined with Green The Block, campus leaders and community organizations to raise environmental awareness during the tour. The tour itself lead by example, riding in bio-diesel buses, working with the concert venues to recycle, and purchasing clean energy offsets. 



And from history:

George Washington Carver is a genius who grew up in the Jim Crow era of the South, when many African Americans were disappointed about what they saw as the broken promise of the federal government to provide every freed slave family 40 acres and a mule. (The promise is attributed to Union General William Sherman). Carver set out to prove that even a single acre of land could provide great bounty, and he devoted his genius to agricultural research. He’s known for his work on the peanut (think of G.W.Carver when you have a peanut butter sandwich) but also developed hundreds of inventions and concepts, ranging from novel crop-rotation methods to hundreds of new uses for crops such as the peanut and soybean, which created new markets for farmers.

Now tell us, who are your Green Heroes?

We invite you to post the stories of your hometown gurus and geniuses of green as we celebrate this Freedom Holiday season.