Celebrating Black History Month: Advocating for Environmental Justice in Black Communities

Written by Kyle Bryant, Chesapeake Conservation and Climate Corps Intern

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the rich heritage and monumental contributions of African Americans; at the same time, it also serves as a reminder that America’s struggle toward true equality is far from over. In every facet of our lives, the effects of racial injustice play a role, and that includes environmental sustainability. 

Maryland LCV and Maryland LCV Education Fund are committed to addressing the environmental injustices disproportionately impacting Black communities within our state. This month, we not only celebrate the rich heritage and monumental contributions of African Americans, but also amplify the pressing need for equitable environmental policies.

The Legacy of Environmental Injustice

For decades, particularly since the mid-20th century, Black communities have been on the front lines of environmental injustice. In the Baltimore metropolitan area alone, a myriad of environmental issues exist that disproportionately affect the Black population. In Baltimore City, Black children are often exposed to lead paint, resulting in lead poisoning which causes permanent neurological damage during their cognitive development. Coal dust from Curtis Bay’s CSX Transportation coal export terminal has infiltrated residential neighborhoods, increasing the potential for asthma and other respiratory diseases. The Road to Nowhere, an unfinished expressway for which Black neighborhoods were razed, is only just starting to be addressed, with proposals to demolish it and repurpose the area for the benefit of the impacted communities. 

Across Maryland, many Black communities face similar challenges. This is not coincidental but rooted in systemic racism and historical policies that have marginalized Black Americans, confining many to areas with poor environmental conditions and creating many health disparities. 

The Call for Action

Addressing these profound challenges requires more than acknowledgment; it demands action. Maryland LCV advocates for legislation that not only tackles environmental degradation but does so with a lens of racial and social justice. We work with communities, elected leaders, and government agencies to ensure Maryland is implementing policies aimed at reducing emissions, ensuring clean water, and transitioning to renewable energy sources, all of which also account for and address the historical and ongoing inequities faced by Black communities.

Recent policies enacted with the intent of creating a more equitable future include both legislation in Maryland and administrative action from the White House. Maryland’s Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 sets ambitious goals for reducing our state’s greenhouse gas emissions. This act also specifically codified the terms “overburdened” and  “underserved” into law for the first time, providing a metric by which to discern which communities are most in need of help, and supporting future policies and actions that prioritize these communities. In addition, the Biden Administration is implementing the Justice40 Initiative, an Executive Order President Biden issued mere days into his term, to address long-standing environmental injustices and promote equitable climate action. The cornerstone of this initiative is the commitment that 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate, clean energy, and infrastructure will go to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. This includes investments in clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, and more. 

Your Voice Matters

Achieving environmental justice requires the engagement of all sectors of society. It’s about dismantling the structures perpetuating inequality and building a sustainable future where everyone, regardless of race, has the right to a healthy environment. Maryland LCV Education Fund is committed to this mission, working alongside community leaders, advocates, and policymakers, to drive meaningful change. 

As we reflect on the importance of environmental justice during Black History Month, it’s crucial to remember that change begins with us—through our actions, big and small. Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Volunteer with Local Environmental Justice Initiatives: Across Maryland, numerous organizations are working tirelessly to address environmental injustices and improve the health of our communities. By volunteering your time, you can help these initiatives achieve their goals while also gaining a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. Here’s a few places in Maryland:
  • Support Black-Led Environmental Groups: Amplify the efforts of Black-led organizations that are at the forefront of the fight for environmental justice. These groups bring invaluable perspectives and solutions to the table. Consider donating, volunteering, or simply spreading the word about their work. A few we work with are:
    • Follow: Black Girls Vote. Founded by Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson, Black Girls Vote seeks to bring change through advocacy, outreach, and building strength in numbers.
    • Follow: Black Legislative Caucus and their 2024 legislative priorities The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, Inc. is an American political organization composed of African Americans elected to the Maryland General Assembly. 
  • Educate Yourself and Others: Knowledge is power. Educate yourself about the history and ongoing challenges of environmental injustice in Black communities. Then, share what you’ve learned with friends, family, and through social media. Awareness is the first step toward change. Here’s some resources to start:

These are only a few ways in which you can contribute to the fight for environmental justice. By advocating for equitable environmental legislation and amplifying the voices of those who have been historically marginalized, we can pave the way for a more just and sustainable world.