My journey into climate activism wasn’t traditional. Honestly, it started a few years ago out of sheer necessity. For the longest time, climate activism has been a top-shelf issue that many people of color haven’t had a voice in. However, I realized climate issues impact the health of people of color like myself the most, and I owed it to my father, who has asthma, to enter this space and advocate for the millions of other people of color suffering health issues at the hands of environmental injustice.
Over the past several years, I witnessed the deterioration of my father’s quality of life due to something most of us take for granted—air. Continual exposure to smog and other air pollutants at his job in Washington, D.C., have caused his asthma to flare up and become unbearable. His asthma attacks became more frequent and his breathing became more strained. He began having trouble sleeping at night because he couldn’t stop coughing. Essentially, in exchange for the ability to support my family, he had been forced to sacrifice his health.
After seeing what air pollution—and the changing climate conditions making it worse—were doing to my father, I decided I needed to do something. I started my own national organization called The Community Check-Up which focuses on bringing environmental health issues to the forefront of the climate discussion. I was also recently selected as a delegate for United Nations Environment Programme negotiations through one of its focal groups. Through my activism, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with media outlets, focus groups, climate accessibility groups like Climate Cardinals, and several other organizations and activists fighting for climate health justice.
Restructuring the Climate Change Conversation
Before I entered the climate space, I fell victim to the mainstream narrative. It’s been a huge disservice to our nation that the climate movement is advertised as an abstract issue with little mention of the impacts on human health. The terrifying truth is, climate change is a public health emergency and the ramifications of climate change on air quality, water quality, and other pollutants literally impact the health of us all. Though the average-Joe may not be compelled to act from the news of polar bears going extinct due to rising temperatures or deforestation in the tropics, they should care about how their lung health and quality of life will be significantly harmed due to climate change degrading air quality, in addition to many other climate-related health risks. From more intense and extreme weather events, to the increase spread of water-borne and vector-borne disease, everyone should care about how environmental instability will endanger the lives and well-being of our global community. We just have to connect the dots and explain the real, everyday impacts of environmental issues on human health.
Crossroads of Environmental Justice
The climate movement isn’t something that can be abstract anymore, as it impacts the daily lives of millions, especially people of color. Environmental justice is an intersectional fight for fair treatment and involvement in development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental regulation and urban and regional planning reform that has historically abused and forgotten communities of color. Environmental justice is vital to climate activism and, I believe, will empower people to take a stand against all forms of injustice. That is why this racial justice must be present in all environmental and health-related policy going forward.
It is this intersection of climate change and environmental justice that inspired me to work with the American Lung Association. I want people who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds to realize that there are people who understand their daily struggle and are working for change. My narrative isn’t one that is extremely unique. The reality is that people of color in our country today directly suffer the impacts of climate change daily, whether at home or while at work. People are frustrated because leaders aren’t listening to their stories and calls for climate reform and environmental justice in order to protect the health of their families and communities. This is why the #MyCleanAirStory is a much-needed platform to help truly empower the forgotten and overlooked.
Hope for the Future
I think we are in the middle of an environmental revolution where everyone is facing climate reality. I am so hopeful for the future though because an increasing number of young people have begun to care about this issue. They are realizing that they have to stand up for themselves because many politicians aren’t effectively advocating for their futures. They understand we have to address climate change, as it impacts us all.
Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of mentoring aspiring “environmental health warriors,” as I like to call them, on how to take action in their communities through my own organization. Together, this cohort has developed resources and projects that they can implement locally to educate people about the importance of environmental health reform. It has truly been so rewarding to see future activists from historically underrepresented backgrounds like my own develop their passion for environmental health.
How You Can Make a Difference
I applaud anyone who has begun their journey in climate activism. Diversity is so important in the fight for climate health reform, to make sure all voices are heard, and no one is left behind or overlooked. And everyone benefits from the solutions needed. The first simple step can be researching organizations in your area that are fighting for things you care about. I encourage you all to take the pledge to Stand Up For Clean Air with the Lung Association. In addition to taking the pledge to push for clean air, there are so many different areas within the climate discussion I encourage you to engage with, such as the fields of environmental health, accessibility of the climate movement to minorities and non-English speakers, urban and regional environmental planning, and more. Starting local is really helpful because it allows you to gain more knowledge about specific issues that are important to you, while also showing you how to amplify your voice in a meaningful way.
I’m so happy to see so many activists like myself entering a space where we can really engage in meaningful climate change conversation that addresses complex issues like urban and regional planning, corporate sustainability, and climate change health ramifications. I can only begin to imagine what changes our work together can bring.
Blog last updated: November 2, 2020