Lawrence Jennings on Race and Environment: “Our Reality Determines the Focus and Level of Our Activism”

As an African American working with Black and Latino faith leaders, I am convinced that Environmental Justice issues are best addressed—and understood—as part of our long-standing, on-going struggle for social justice and civil rights.

In fact, I contend that environmental justice and economic/social equality are inextricably connected.

Sadly, America has a long history of dismissing and devaluing us—de-humanizing us. Click to Tweet

Present-day realities such as poor housing and inadequate healthcare, food scarcity, underfunded schools, and overzealous policing, are examples of “environmental” issues that are just as significant as the (likely polluted) air and (likely to be insufficient) green space in our neighborhoods.

Positive change happens most efficiently and effectively when folks understand how we got to this point, and are encouraged to voice both where they want to go, and how they want to get there. Our lives matter. And so do our voices.

We cannot conceive of engaging in the traditional “environmentalism” of White America. We cannot afford to. No matter how worthy the cause, there is simply too much to contend with in our immediate environment to allow time and energy for “tree-hugging” or endangered species.

We are well aware of our own vulnerability to forces we cannot control, our own “endangeredness.” But that does not mean we are complacent or unengaged; it simply means that our reality determines the focus and level of our activism.

I believe that people of faith have a moral and spiritual duty to care for every part of creation, ​to be good stewards, and to speak truth to power.

It is the right thing to do.

We also have a moral and spiritual duty to organize from within the community, not by imposing a predetermined agenda or structure, but by listening, assisting, sharing information, and providing resources that equip folks to take action in the ways that make sense in their situation.

It is the right thing to do.

Lawrence Jennings of Infinity Mennonite Church in Harlem, New York City, has been involved in community and economic development for more than three decades, most recent of which is as a leader at GreenFaith. He works closely with faith communities and inner city and “frontline” groups that often are overlooked or excluded. 

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