Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:00:00] Welcome to Black Earth podcast. I'm your host, Marion Atieno Osieyo. Black Earth is an interview podcast that's celebrating nature and the incredible Black women leaders in the environmental movement. In today's episode, I am joined by the visionary, Wawa Gatheru. Wawa is the Executive Director and Founder of Black Girl Environmentalist.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: In today's episode, we explore the mission and vision of Black Girl Environmentalist. We discuss important elements of building an energizing and impactful career in the environmental justice movement. And we also take time to remember and honor the contributions of our African American elders to the modern environmental [00:01:00] justice movement.
Wawa Gatheru: Well, first, thank you so much for having me on here. I just want to first congratulate you and the team for all that you've accomplished already. Um, I remember our conversation in person in London, where you were essentially seeding this, this experience or opportunity that you wanted to cultivate and to kind of see how it's blossomed into being a resource for black women in this space.
Wawa Gatheru: And also folks that may not actually be in the environmental or climate space, but have a deep, um, interest in, in being so, I feel like y'all have, have done such a beautiful job of, of really showcasing the universality of our relationship with the earth. And so I want to thank you [00:02:00] for that representation.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Wawa. That means a lot. And yes, you were there when I was seeding and you encouraged me so much. And that gave me a lot of inspiration and belief to, yeah, to go all in and to, to create this beautiful platform that we have manifested together. Um, so thank you, Wawa.
Wawa Gatheru: Of course. That's what we're all here to do, to support each other and ensure that we are, um, yeah, supporting each other in our, in achieving our wildest dreams.
Wawa Gatheru: Um, so I guess to answer your, initial question of me introducing myself. So hi, everyone. My name is Wanjiku Gatheru. Um, friends call me Wawa and I am environmental justice scholar activist. I am also a Gen-Z'r. Some might call a quote unquote youth climate activist. I've been in the climate space since I was 15 years old.
Wawa Gatheru: Um, [00:03:00] this is around the time that I took an environmental science class and had a really really incredible teacher that was able to help me navigate and find my own unique climate story as well as really plant the seeds of understanding that the climate crisis wasn't this issue of out there in the Arctic, far away from myself and my well being, but something that was very intimate to my lived experience and of other folks across the diaspora.
Wawa Gatheru: And that was my big aha moment. And ever since I've worn a ton of different hats. I've been a scholar, I've been an activist, I've been an organizer. And right now you can say I'm all those different things. Um, but my, my, my official title, my full time job is as executive director and founder of Black Girl Environmentalist.
Wawa Gatheru: We are a national organization that is dedicated to addressing the pathway and retention issue in the climate movement for black [00:04:00] girls, black women and black gender expansive folks. With a particular focus on early career folks, because our team is Gen Z and early career. And our goal is really to create ecosystems of care, um, through creating resources and community building opportunities for black women and black gender expansive folks to reach their full potential in climate leadership.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Wawa. I love that ecosystem of care. That is incredible. Um, I'm so excited and I can't wait to delve into, um, all the work and the kind of things you do at Black Girl Environmentalist in our conversation. Um, so Wawa, how would you describe your relationship with nature?
Wawa Gatheru: I love that question.
Wawa Gatheru: Um, and it's such a timely question as well. It's been something that's been on my mind quite a bit [00:05:00] recently, so I'm actually coming off of doing a retreat in the Redwoods in California near Santa Cruz this past weekend for a retreat for activists, movement makers, artists, and actors to come together in nature, and to be able to strategize and rest.
Wawa Gatheru: And so that was actually the first time that I have spent a significant amount of time in the outdoors in almost a year, which is a harrowing reality that I didn't even come to terms with until I was sitting outside looking up at the mother tree, which is one of the trees that, um, sit in this cathedral like, um, outing at the retreat center we were at and realizing that I have not taken a lot of time in the past couple of months to really just sit with [00:06:00] nature.
Wawa Gatheru: So I'd say like initially, I would say that growing up, I've always had like a very deep connection with nature. I was always a very shy, introverted child. I grew up in rural Connecticut, surrounded by wilderness. So I'd spent a lot of time outside.
Wawa Gatheru: Um, that was kind of how I collected my thoughts. I would write a lot in the outdoors. I'd write stories, I'd write songs, I'd sing. sing, I'd run, I'd dance, um, in, in my own solitude, but also basking in the, the ever present goings of nature and, and the sounds and the feelings that, yeah, I just would only really get to experience in the outdoors.
Wawa Gatheru: And I'd say that my relationship is one that's definitely ancestral. I think this is something that we share. Across the diaspora, Black folks around the world, we've always had a deep connection with the Earth, with Gaia. And [00:07:00] so, right now, it's a, my relationship is a, an interesting one. I spend all my time trying to do what I can in my capacity to support, you know, Black women and Black gender expansive folks.
Wawa Gatheru: Be able to have the resources to participate in Earth advocacy, to protect, um, our planet. But at the same time, Um, I'm not going to lie. I find myself in this capitalist work system in which, you know, rest is, is not something that is super prioritized. Um, and oftentimes I fall into that. And so right now, I'm in this moment of really trying to hold myself accountable to spend time in the outdoors, to spend time in nature, to spend time really intentionally building my relationship with Mother Earth, with Gaia, because we [00:08:00] all deserve to spend time loving on the world that we're fighting to protect.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Wawa that is so deep. And it deeply resonates with where I'm at as well in my journey. Um, I think doing the work of Earth care is connected and important for, um, our own kind of personal relationship with nature. They're connected and intertwined, but they're also, you know, two separate things. Um, and it's important if you're involved in kind of environmental climate justice, to be cognizant of that, um, you still need to spend time with Earth, you still need to have that, you know, personal quality time and connection with Earth above and beyond what you do, um, in [00:09:00] terms of strategizing or advocacy or organizing for, um, environmental justice. So thank you so much for sharing that, Wawa, and I am very excited for you and to see um, how this realisation or insight, you know, transforms your, your journey going forward.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So I want to move on to Black Girl Environmentalist. I remember when I first saw your page on Instagram in 2020, it felt like a dream come true. I couldn't believe it. I was like, Oh my gosh, this is, this is [00:10:00] world building. This is what we need. Um, so I'd love for you to share with us your journey, you know, what led you to start, um, Black Girl Environmentalist.
Wawa Gatheru: Well, that makes me feel so warm and fuzzy, especially since taking us back to even how our bodies were feeling in 2020. Any time or space that we could feel seen and heard and held, just so, so beautiful. And I'm really, really happy to know that even us as an Instagram page back in 2020 could provide you some of that.
Wawa Gatheru: Um, so you're right. So the idea of Black Girl Environmentalist (BGE) officially came together in the shower. I have a lot of ideas in the shower, um, in, in August of 2020. So earlier in that year, I'd graduated, um, my undergraduate degree and had been as everyone else, launched into a long period [00:11:00] of isolation, of being home and kind of being within the four walls of my room and kind of this question mark of how do I contribute to the climate movement and to environmental causes when the best way that I've known how to contribute my voice has been through in- person organizing. They're working with other people. And so I decided to write. I started writing a lot personally, but then also publishing my work for the first time.
Wawa Gatheru: And a couple of my works went viral. One of them being a piece that I wrote for Vice which it's funny because the title was very clickbaity and I wasn't the one who came up with the title actually. It was like, uh, it's time for environmental studies to stand up to, you know, ignoring or sidelining black voices.
Wawa Gatheru: I'm not totally sure. Um, but that was really the essence of it. I was talking about my experience as a young black woman navigating [00:12:00] environmental scholarship and being really intellectually frustrated. At having to spend so much of my time, whether as an activist, as a student, forcing myself and us into conversations where we should have already been.
Wawa Gatheru: And it was so interesting with the response of the piece was the fact that I was getting hundreds of messages, emails, sometimes calls from black women from all over, of all different ages, essentially telling me that that was the first time that they had read something about their experience in the environmental/ climate space where they felt seen.
Wawa Gatheru: And so I was experiencing a lot of, oh my goodness, I'm not the only one who's been going through this, but then a lot of sadness. That we, that a lot of the experiences that I was sharing weren't mine alone. And so I decided to utilize that moment in [00:13:00] which I, and so many of us were especially craving community and just spaces to be seen and heard amongst ourselves, I use that moment to create an Instagram page, and I was so surprised that that username was not taken.
Wawa Gatheru: And I essentially had been awarded. I had been named a Glamour 'College Woman of the Year' and in the announcement, I only talked about black girl environmentalists. I was like, this is why I do this work. I want more black women to be in these spaces. Everyone go follow this page. And I was like calling out black girl environmentalists.
Wawa Gatheru: And it just started there. Um, and so a lot of it was in response to the community that I had just started to have authentically of just so many people reaching out and being in conversation with, and hoping on calls with black women who were senior in their careers, black women that were, you know, [00:14:00] younger than me, even like at 15 years old when I started and just really being like, yeah, we need, we need spaces for us because right now it doesn't really exist in the way that it needs to.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Thank you, Wawa. I'm so glad you had that idea in the shower and you had the, the courage and the intention to to manifest it because it's become a hub and a platform that really amplifies and inspires uh, so many, um, black girls, black women, black gender expansive folk to, to lean into this work of Earthcare as, um, the rising generation.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, um, just want to say thank you again for creating this space. Um, I would love for you to share with us what, uh, you're all up to at Black Girl Environmentalist because you've [00:15:00] evolved from being an Instagram page into organization who are doing amazing stuff. So could you share with us some of the things you're up to?
Wawa Gatheru: Yeah. So what do we do at Black Girl Environmentalist? That's, that's a big question. We do a lot of things, but everything still falls in line with our mission of addressing the pathway and retention issue and the climate movement for Black girls, Black women, and Black gender expansive people. So since 2021, we've come a long way.
Wawa Gatheru: We're no longer just an Instagram page. We are a nonprofit organization, you know, with full time staff, part time staff, and, you know, fully fledged out programming. But all of our programming and, um, things that we're doing internally have to do with our three impact areas. So that is community empowerment, narrative change and workforce development.
Wawa Gatheru: I'd keep you all day if I was walking through exactly what that looks like, but I can give you examples based off of our impact areas. So for community [00:16:00] empowerment, we have our um, multi city hub program. So we're in 10 cities across the U. S. Think Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, D. C., um, oh my gosh, Houston.
Wawa Gatheru: We're in so many different places. And there we have really amazing dedicated hub leads that are essentially coordinating in person events on a monthly or bi monthly basis where they are creating spaces for BGEs to come together and what is really cool is that the basis of these convenings fall in line with either being spaces of rest and healing or spaces of climate action and advocacy.
Wawa Gatheru: So an example would be for our example is in L. A. Just two days ago, our incredible L. A. Hub to essence was able to collaborate with Climate Diva and co host a [00:17:00] yoga beach session and beach cleanup with Heal the Bay. So what that looked like was creating a space for B. G. E. S to come together, engage in this free yoga activity on the beach and then afterwards contribute in a beach cleanup with the local nonprofit in the area.
Wawa Gatheru: Another example would be for our New York City hub. Just next week, we'll be co- hosting event with the Brooklyn Museum in which we will be coordinating a panel at their new Africa Fashion exhibit that will be centered around discussing the dynamics of waste colonialism in the continent and how it relates to a truly sustainable Uh, system that needs to be pushed in regards to the fashion space.
Wawa Gatheru: And in addition to that, we're going to be hosting a clothing swap at the end of that panel. So these are different examples of how our hubs are interacting and creating spaces for folks to build community.
Wawa Gatheru: On the narrative change end of [00:18:00] things, um, you know, obviously we have a thriving digital community, and we're constantly putting out educational resources that truly center the lived experiences and expertise of BGEs.
Wawa Gatheru: Now on the workforce development end of things, we have a fellowship that we're launching this upcoming summer called the Hazel Johnson Fellowship Program, which will be placing 12 to 15 BGEs that are currently undergraduates at 10 week climate internship programs. And those will be across disciplines, across sustainable fashion, climate tech, clean energy, and environmental justice.
Wawa Gatheru: And there, not only will the fellows have this opportunity to have a foot in the door in the climate movement through a climate internship, but their summer cost of living will be fully paid for. They'll be provided a livable wage. In addition to having a black woman or black gender expansive mentor be able to walk them through the [00:19:00] process at the end of the summer, they'll have be having an in person retreat where they're able to share share learnings across the different experiences that folks have had.
Wawa Gatheru: So these are just an example of the things that we're doing to really create these ecosystems of care for BGEs to enter the climate movement, but ultimately stay.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Wow. Thank you. And I love that. Uh, what I heard you say just now for black girl environmentalists to enter the environmental movement and to, to stay.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I know there can be some kind of challenges or barriers to, um, Black folk entering the environmental movement, but it's really sustaining themselves and growing and flourishing in, in this movement that, um, also needs like additional, um, care and support and energizing. So, um, I'm so grateful that you have this [00:20:00] really interconnected um, approach to really nurturing and investing in, in the rising generation of, um, black girl environmentalists and gender expansive folk.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I, I wanted to speak to you about careers, um, and Um, I think you and I have some very interesting lessons from our own personal journeys, uh, kind of working in the environmental spaces in the UK, the US.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I wanted to ask you what, what are some important elements that, um, you know, Black women, Black girls and gender expansive folk need to... consider when, you know, wanting to build a career or a vocation in environmental justice.
Wawa Gatheru: Yeah, I think something [00:21:00] that we're in this moment of greenwashing. Um, so that's something that we need to consider, right?
Wawa Gatheru: Just because a job says that it's green or sustainable doesn't necessarily mean that it's aligning itself with justice, climate justice in particular. Um, and isn't a guarantee that the work is essentially working to address the root causes of the crisis. So I'd say we're in this interesting moment where I think all industries across the board are beginning to realize that they either have principles internally around sustainable, sustainability goals or climate goals in order to exist in the future, whether it be from like a planetary point of view or from a point of view of being entities that candidates want to apply themselves to. There's some research that says that young people, Gen Z in [00:22:00] particular, are doing this thing called climate quitting, like quitting jobs because they don't have robust enough climate plans or not even applying because the organization or company doesn't care. So people are definitely in this moment of either actually trying or wanting to pretend to try. And so there's this need for us to have discernment around. Okay, if we want to have this kind of career, let's make sure that the spaces that we're entering are actually in line with what we want to do, which is around hopefully having impact while having a livable wage.
Wawa Gatheru: Um, the other reality is that, you know, like this space does need a lot of work, right? The whole idea of Black Girl Environmentalists, and I hope so many other organizations, is that we want to be able to cease to exist, right? I don't want there to be conditions within the climate movement and climate sector in which Black women and Black gender expansive folks are leaving, [00:23:00] are not having enough support to be able to take their career to the next level so that they can continue their journey in climate leadership.
Wawa Gatheru: So the goal is that, you know, we don't have to exist to do these things. So I think being cognizant of the fact that a lot of the social dilemmas that exist in other industries are in the green industry as well, however, there is this unique opportunity that exists in the climate sector and the climate movement, that is the fact that climate connects with all these different issues.
Wawa Gatheru: So when we do get it, right. When we are able to join organizations and have roles that are pushing the needle forward towards integrating, right, our, our lives and true justice within these frameworks within these jobs, we have an opportunity to bring everybody along with us. So there's this unique opportunity that the green sector provides, and there's this unique opportunity on the flip side of being able to have a career that isn't [00:24:00] just allowing us to provide impact, but also be able to, as my friend Isaiah Fernandez says, build ecological wealth, ecological wealth of supporting ecosystems holistically, but then also being able to build wealth for our families and our communities.
Wawa Gatheru: You know, in this conversation around climate reparations. There also needs to be an additional element of discussing how all this investment trillions of dollars of investment that are going into the green economy. There's not tons of research really showcasing it, but we know if the movement's already struggling with this already, then this is a problem right now.
Wawa Gatheru: A lot of those investments are not going to our communities where it's needed most. So this is a time that we need to be here. To absorb that and ensure that these resources are actually being utilized to support our communities and to really, really be in line with justice. And there is a way for us to make a [00:25:00] livable wage in doing that.
Wawa Gatheru: So again, there's there's a lot of unique opportunities here and cool people like you and I and so many more of our communities that are so invested and making sure that we do this right and in making sure that we're bringing everyone along with us in this pursuit for climate justice.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Well, thank you so much, Wawa.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I really hear you, especially in the last point about the kind of investment for the green transition to net zero nature, positive economy and how much of that uh, investment in wealth is actually going to flow into black communities. That's something I'm very passionate about as well, um, in my life at the moment.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I wanted to add some reflections also from my experience in the UK. Um, the UK environmental sector is the second least uh, racially diverse sector in the whole of the UK. And the least diverse [00:26:00] sector, um, in the UK is agriculture and farming. So as a whole, um, the green space, does not have enough insights and perspectives that, um, you know, black people in the U. K. are feeding into, um, and that has massive implications for, um, the green transition, as we've just spoken about, um, whose voices, whose perspectives are being privileged in this conversation, um, around the transition, and, um, how are these policies and solutions actually addressing some of the systemic inequalities that our, um, black communities in the UK face.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So I, want to encourage more, um, more black people specifically, you know, black women and girls and gender expansive folks to really, um, [00:27:00] consider, you know, building a career in this space, building a vocation in this space because their talent, their voice, their genius is desperately needed.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, this transition isn't just about addressing climate environmental injustice. It's literally building new worlds. And so we need, we need new, new ideas. We need new perspectives. Um, we need new solutions. Um, but I know UK environmental sector, that this, this isn't often the most nurturing spaces for, uh, black folk to exist in.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and so for anyone listening who wants to enter this space, um, I would encourage, you know, whatever you choose to do in this space, um, to always prioritize your emotional and psychological safety.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, seek to find and invest [00:28:00] in spaces that really, uh, nurture your esteem because that has huge impact, um, on your life and your ability to feel empowered in this work and to kind of contribute, your full self to, um, environmental justice. Um, yeah, I would say that is a priority whenever you choose to engage in, in a particular space or a job, um, really prioritizing, uh, your emotional and psychological safety.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, secondly, I would say seeking to nurture deep relationships with your peers. Um, I'm so grateful to have met people like you, Wawa. Um, and I'm so excited that... Um, I can grow with other people in this movement, um, and nothing is in isolation. And that really excites me because, um, there's so much potential for exchange, for inspiration, for learning from each other, [00:29:00] um, over time.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And that is part of the kind of transformative work that we need in this space. So I would always encourage people to invest in nurturing their relationships with their peers, um, as they also grow in their career.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um. And then a final point I want to share, um, is something that. So I interviewed, um, Leah Penniman, um, the co founder of, um, Soul Fire Farm in New York.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And, um, Leah spoke about how, at Soul Fire Farm, they have this framework called, um, the four wings of the butterfly of social justice. So in, you know, any social justice movement, there are these four key roles or four key aspects of transformative change. Um, there are people who are building alternative institutions, [00:30:00] um, like ourselves. There are people who are reforming existing institutions. Um, there are people who are dismantling wack institutions, and then there are people who are healing and helping us heal ourselves, um, to be able to do this work.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I think it takes time, but I think it's important to figure out which aspects of these four wings um, really aligned with, with who you are, with the type of change that you feel most inspired and empowered to do.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I have tried to do reforming in the past and it was exhausting for me. I was drained because, you know, where I come alive is, um, building alternative institutions and it, it took me a life lesson, you know, to be able to really understand that and to own it. Um, and so I would also [00:31:00] encourage people in, in their career journey to, to take time to discern where, not just where they're good at, but where they feel most, um, alive. Um, we need people who are alive in this work. It's not just about surviving. It's, um, it's about thriving because earth care is, has so much potential to make people feel alive and to thrive.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so I just wanted to share those tips. Um, um, because yeah, I want, I want everyone to feel inspired and empowered to take up space in this movement. Um, So, yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Wawa, for inspiring me to share that.
Wawa Gatheru: I literally needed that. Exactly. I was like sitting over here writing notes.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: I wanted to speak with you about the environmental justice movement and us taking time to [00:32:00] contextualize it. Um, it's, I think it's become like, uh, a core framing. Environmental justice has become a core framing of the way we think about, um, the intersections of social justice and, um, you know, nature loss, climate change, and environmental degradation.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, but I think the environmental justice movement also has a really particular grounding, um, in the experiences of Black people in North America, um, who've played a really pivotal role in bringing this concept, you know, and naming it and allowing us to have language to, to name experiences that we've, you know, felt across the world when it comes to the intersections of injustice and, you know, earth degradation.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, and I heard you mention the Hazel M. Johnson program, and so we love Hazel M. Johnson. [00:33:00] Shout out to Hazel M. Johnson!
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, um, yeah, I would love for you to share a bit more about, um, the histories of the modern environmental justice movement in North America. and the role of Black people in really establishing that movement.
Wawa Gatheru: Yeah, thank you so much for that question. It's a beautiful one and it made me think of this past weekend once again.
Wawa Gatheru: So we had this incredible artist and movement maker by the name of Zion who actually constructed a an altar for us to engage with throughout our weekend. And one of our last community activities that we did together was actually to pour an out for the homies, you know, um actually give thanks for ancestors and Hazel M. Johnson was one of the people that I gave thanks to.
Wawa Gatheru: I heard her name come up with a couple of other people and [00:34:00] other black women environmentalist, Toni Morrison, Phyllis Wheatley, you know, so many different folks came up and it really just is a testimony to the fact that, you know, black women have been so critical to what we understand as environmental justice, but also in what we understand of relationship with the planet.
Wawa Gatheru: And I think in first answering this question, it's really important that we contextualize the climate crisis as being a direct descendant of chattel slavery and imperialism, right? I think oftentimes, especially, you know, both of our, our academic backgrounds and in the climate and environmental space, we'll be in classrooms, and they'll tell us that the climate crisis is a result of the industrial, the industrial revolution. And jump starting the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions, but that obviously doesn't tell the full story because the [00:35:00] industrial revolution didn't just happen. It didn't pay for itself. It didn't raise itself.
Wawa Gatheru: It was subsidized with blood money from chattel slavery, and therefore places the climate crisis as being a direct descendant in grandchilds of chattel slavery and colonialism. So if we actually take it back some, you know, in 1860 in the United States, enslaved people represented the largest single financial asset in the entire economy.
Wawa Gatheru: I mean, worth more than all manufacturing and railroads combined, and that doesn't even include the crops that they produce, the sugar, tobacco, and of course, the cotton. And so we already know that enslaved Africans subsidized the entirety of American life in the entire U. S. economy. And we know that then, Abolition represented a massive tectonic economic shift, much similar, very similar to the fossil fuel divestment movement and the tectonic economic [00:36:00] shift that's required for that.
Wawa Gatheru: After the abolishment of slavery, the US then launched itself into the Industrial Revolution, in which literally the blood money from chattel slavery and the extractive practice that dehumanized Black life and extraction of the land continued in a different mode. Right. So when we, when we contextualize the climate crisis and really investigate that genealogy, we understand that, you know, the civil rights movement in the United States and the environmental justice movement, which is a child of the U. S. Civil Rights Movement. It's deeply intertwined with the root causes of the climate crisis and already would have been in that genealogy even if the EJ movement didn't come about. But the EJ movement did come about, right?
Wawa Gatheru: And when we're talking about the United States and what we understand historically is, you know, in the 1980s you had Warren County in North Carolina, predominantly black community, [00:37:00] low income community, be designated as being the site for PCB toxins to be dumped by the North Carolina government, state government, and that's where we saw black communities and that community in particular coming together, organizing straight out of the civil rights movement organizing textbook, right?
Wawa Gatheru: Many of the same people that marched in the streets for civil rights were marching the streets so that their community would not be disproportionately placed with toxins, with PCB toxins. And unfortunately in that situation, the toxins were still dumped, but that was a really grounding moment in our history of this movement in the United States of black people coming together and saying, you know what, like our communities have higher rates of cancer.
Wawa Gatheru: Our communities have higher rates of respiratory illness. Our communities are being disproportionately targeted for this [00:38:00] harmful infrastructure that nobody else wants. And because we don't have the same amount of political clout institutionally, we're not able to, you know, use those same systems to make sure that they're not being designated to our communities in the first place, and that is how we understand, you know, the U. S. environmental justice movement to have began and what has now catapulted itself into, you know, a movement that is a massive one in the United States, and I'm I'm not going to say that it jumpstarted the global environmental justice movement.
Wawa Gatheru: I think like every region has its own serious events that really helped catapult it into being this now what we understand as being international environmental justice movement. But we do know that so many of these leaders, whether you know, it's Dr. Bullard or Dr. Beverly Wright, so many of these folks that help, especially from an academic point of view.
Wawa Gatheru: Be able to showcase that, especially in the U. S. race is a number one indicator of [00:39:00] one's proximity to a toxic waste plant and really begin to from an academic lens, integrate the racial and class analysis required to understand how our relationships with the physical built environment can be informed by racism and systemic, you know, injustice.
Wawa Gatheru: That, I mean, there were completely grounds, all that I do, all that, you know, we both do in so much of the ways that we understand, you know, this term environmental justice. So there, there's so many things to be given to, you know, black Americans in particular for this history. And I'm also gonna, you know, name myself, you know, I am a black American person, but I'm not a descendant of chattel slavery, nor am I an African American in, you know, as from the ethnicity point of view, but, you know, my things go so much further than, you know, just [00:40:00] talking about the ways in which African Americans have really, really led the EJ movement to being what it is. My very being as being a citizen in the United States is due to the civil rights movement and the work that they did to even allow immigration to include non white people, right?
Wawa Gatheru: That is all given things to African Americans. And I think something that we need more in this movement is to especially name African Americans and their unique contributions to this movement, because I think it's not just that. I think I see this happen. African Americans and this community in particular, are often left out of global and national conversations around climate and climate solutions, and it's, it's horrifying, and it needs to be addressed.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow, wow, wow. Thank you so much for, for sharing that and providing such a deep [00:41:00] context to, um, the contributions of, um, African Americans to our discourse on environmental justice.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I hear you when you say that, you know, everywhere around the world, there is a local and context specific environmental justice movement of its own, but I would have to say that, um, the, the academic contributions of African Americans to the environmental justice movement has been so immense, and that is really important because they have given a language and ideas to issues that communities have been facing, you know, and for a long time, sometimes for even decades.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And because of that, communities are able to Um, figure out, you know, what environmental justice means means for them because [00:42:00] they have such rich, uh, academic theory, um, and ideas and understanding of what environmental justice looks like. And that comes predominantly from, um, African American environmental justice movement.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So I'm so grateful, um, that, uh, our elders, um, have played such a rich, um, you know, and pivotal role in, in really building out, um, this movement.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And one thing I'd also want to add is that for me, my, my work in earth care really started to come alive when I started to understand that I was returning to this movement because, um, our elders had been there before.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: I think it can be daunting as a Black person [00:43:00] to enter the climate space and feel like you're new to a certain space or there is no one else that looks like you, but as you start to kind of delve into the histories of climate justice, environmental justice, you begin to see, and actually broader than that, ecological care, you know, biodiversity conservation, you start to see just how rich, um, our contributions have been as a community to this work and how much we can learn from our elders.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, yeah. And one thing I really appreciate also about the environmental justice movement that's contextualized within Black communities is that we do, we do, we are aware, we are mindful of the role of our elders in this work. And it's something I desire to see more of, us working across generations to really build out this movement and, and create impact.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And I want, I [00:44:00] was just curious to hear from you, um, from your experiences, um, any ideas you have on how, you know, we can strengthen, um, connections and relationships, um, and collaborations, um, as black people, as black communities across generations to do this work of environmental justice.
Wawa Gatheru: Oh, my gosh, I absolutely 100 percent agree with you.
Wawa Gatheru: And, you know, this is where. This is where I think this idea and this truth that we both hold of the fact that across the diaspora, our communities have so many of the answers that this movement is looking for around community, right? Like, it does, regardless of like, what culture you come from, like, we, we really do value our ancestors, we do value our elders and the roles that they [00:45:00] have in our communities really showcase that.
Wawa Gatheru: And so for me, a really beautiful example of the world that we're building collectively together in the Just Climate Future looks very similar to a space I was recently in at New York Climate Week. So the organization Taproot Earth held a Black Climate Leadership Summit, which was multinational, um, had over seven languages represented, had a room of over a hundred Black folks of different ages from different organizations or not even from organizations, different countries coming together and strategizing on how we can build collective power across the diaspora. And that was the first time I've ever engaged in a space like that. And I truly felt for the first time that week, comfortable. I truly felt not even just [00:46:00] hopeful, but I had a space to actually construct what a, what black liberation can and should look like in all these solutions and conversations that we were having during climate week that never paid any mind to black liberation. You know what I mean?
Wawa Gatheru: So I think the responsibility that we have is to hold more space for that. I think when we hold space, so many beautiful relationships blossom outside of that. We hold space together. So many ideas come together and what we do after that, that is where the exciting, really, really exciting things can happen.
Wawa Gatheru: Right. But we have to hold that space. And so that's something that I'm holding, you know, in regards to BG and how we can do better to work intergenerationally to really lean on our community from a different landscape of ages. And that is something that's at the forefront of my mind and something I'm excited to [00:47:00] continue to lean into.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Wawa. Um, yeah, this is so exciting. I'm so excited to speak to you.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: One thing I love about this work is that it's really shifted my perspective on time. Because, um, environmental justice, climate justice, uh, ecological care, all these things require you to think in lifetimes, you know, because often, um, the, the changes we're seeking to make, um, can take and require lifetimes.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, [00:48:00] I wanted to hear from you what you hope to share with the future generations of our planet. Um, because you and I we're future ancestors, right? So we're doing this work from that perspective. But, um, yeah, what do you hope to share with the future generations of our planet, both human and more than human?
Wawa Gatheru: I love that question. Um, what I'd like to share. Is that I hope I hope at this point, I don't know how far in the future we're talking about, but just generally. I hope that I think, you know, world building is a continual process. I think when we talk about when we get into the nitty gritties of the dynamics of the worlds that we're building, I think we all understand that a lot of what we're talking about, we, you know, we might not be alive to experience these dynamics and even like the direct generation after us may not either, but that doesn't mean [00:49:00] that it's not possible. It just means that it's a process. Right?
Wawa Gatheru: And so the process of launching ourself into a new ecological age is something that I'm often thinking about. During Climate Week, a good friend of mine hosted an event called the Symbiocene, which is, you know, an ecological age or an epoch as you can call it, that's built off of symbiotic relationship with one another. That's built off of, world that fundamentally appreciates and values each other's words and values building ecological well.
Wawa Gatheru: And so, for me, when I think of the epoch that we're in, I understand that we're not, you know, in the Anthropocene, as one might call it. We're actually in a Capital-cene, a A plantino-cene. We're [00:50:00] in a geological epoch that is defined by racial capitalism, and that is based off of extraction.
Wawa Gatheru: And the only way we're gonna move out of this is holding space for and building a world in which our new ecological epoch can be a symbiocene. So, in that symbiosis, I hope that our future generations are being able to work across multi species, justice and understanding that. You know, ensuring that all living species that are part of our holistic ecosystems have a right to exist, have a right to exist outside of their material benefit to humans.
Wawa Gatheru: And I think that has a direct correlation to us being able to build a world in which our value as individuals isn't tied to what we create or produce [00:51:00] or don't produce. Right. My hope is that they're continuing to do the good work of bolstering a beloved community in which innate value is, is at the forefront of how we relate to each other and relate to ourselves.
Wawa Gatheru: And I don't have the answers of how exactly those dynamics are going to come to be, but I hope that the work that we're doing is, is seeding that reality for future generations that will come to know that world deeply.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Wow. Thank you. That is so beautiful. I'm so grateful. Wawa, how can we, how can we be involved with Black Girl Environmentalist?
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Because I'm pretty sure there are people who have listened to our conversation and are like, where do I sign up?
Wawa Gatheru: You know, oh my gosh, and that would make me so excited. Okay, what I will say is, you know, being conscious of the fact that your audience spans across the [00:52:00] globe, which is so exciting and being conscious of the fact that Black Girl Environmentalists, you know, right now, our programming is focused on the U. S. which is unfortunately bound to the parameters of our current funders.
Wawa Gatheru: Um, but, but a huge, huge, you could call it a long term goal. I call it short term goals because these years go by fast. And the next year and a half, it's a priority for BGE have a presence in the United Kingdom and then also a presence on the continent as well.
Wawa Gatheru: And. A long term goal of mine is in the next 5 years is that we have hubs in the Caribbean. We have hubs in the continent. We have hubs in, in Europe. We have hubs in which BGEs, wherever they are, are able to have community spaces. And that's only possible, you know, A, in our community telling us where they need us to be.
Wawa Gatheru: That's how our 10 hubs came [00:53:00] to be. It's honestly asking our community, where do y'all need us right now? And it fell into place. And that's what I love about our community and what we're building at BGE is everything we do is based off of a reciprocal relationship with the community that we are aiming to support.
Wawa Gatheru: Right? So let us know, communicate with us. You can follow us on Instagram at Black Girl Environmentalist. You can find us on LinkedIn at Black Girl Environmentalist. DM us, write us in our comments. Join us, you can go on our website and on the front page, they have, there's a link where you can join the organization there.
Wawa Gatheru: You'll be on our exclusive, but not really exclusive. It's just if you sign up and you want to be a part of it, um, email list where you'll be sent over different resources that we intentionally cultivate for community as well as getting to know when we're hosting in person in virtual events and then also be able to attend our office hours.
Wawa Gatheru: We're starting office hours [00:54:00] on a biweekly basis, which you can hop on calls with myself or other team members to share ideas to get support, whatever it looks like for you. So follow us, um, share what you need, and we can, we can build together. That's my hope.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Wawa. Um, and how can we support you as a leader?
Wawa Gatheru: Oh, I would say... You know, like, you can follow me as well on Instagram, Wawa underscore Gatheru. Um, but ultimately, like, I think that the best way to support me is to support BGE, because the reality is I really, really believe in this community that we're co creating together because ultimately it's meant to serve us all and one of the huge reasons why this project [00:55:00] and community and organization came about was just as everyone, all these different people were coming and, and asking for the space to be, I also internally was always asking for this space to be, you know, I need as in the same way we all need for climate movement that understands the value of us.
Wawa Gatheru: And so that might look like supporting BGE , but that might also look like supporting other initiatives in your community that are dedicated to supporting black women and black gender expansive folks, right? Like, I am of the belief that, like, climate work doesn't necessarily need to have climate or environment in the title.
Wawa Gatheru: Right as long as we're doing the good and pushing back against these extractive practices and colonialism and capitalism that tells us that rest is bad, that tells us that resourcing ourselves is bad, that tells us that community is bad. We're doing the [00:56:00] good work of loving a better world into existence.
Wawa Gatheru: And so whatever that looks like in your world, continue to build that that doesn't exist, continue to build entities like BGE that are attempting to do what needs to be done.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Wawa. Thank you.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much for joining us in today's conversation. We'd love to connect with you and hear your thoughts. We are on Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn at Black Earth Podcast. Don't forget to share this podcast with your friends, your family, your network, your communities. And you can also subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Black Earth is a proudly independent podcast, and we are on a mission to reconnect and [00:57:00] heal humanity's relationship with nature. If you'd like to support us, we are on Patreon at Black Earth Podcast. Thank you, and see you in the next episode.