7 Black Environmentalists To Keep An Eye On

Meet People Protecting the Planet

Bendy road, Mam Tor, Castleton
Photos by R A Kearton / Getty Images

From park rangers to environmental justice advocates, black men and women are making a huge impact in the environmental movement. Celebrate Black History Month any time of year by taking a closer look at some notable black environmentalists working in the field today.

01
of 07

Warren Washington

Warren Washington
Warren Washington (Photo: National Science Foundation.

Well before climate change became such a hot button issue in the news, Warren Washington, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research -- was creating the computer models that would allow scientists to understand its impact. As only the second African-American to earn a doctorate in ​atmospheric sciences, Washington is considered an international expert on climate research. ​​

Washington's computer models have been used extensively over the years to interpret climate change. In 2007, they were used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to develop an international understanding of the issue. Washington, along with fellow scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Resources, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for this research.

02
of 07

Lisa P. Jackson

Lisa P. Jackson
Lisa P. Jackson (Photo: U.S. EPA.

As the first African-American to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson made it her focus to ensure the environmental safety of particularly vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and those living in low-income housing.

Throughout her career, Jackson has worked to prevent pollution and reduce greenhouse gases. After leaving the EPA in 2013, Jackson signed on to work with Apple as their environmental director.

03
of 07

Shelton Johnson

Shelton Johnson
National Par Service Ranger Shelton Johnson (Photo: The Wargo/Getty Images).

Growing up in inner-city Detroit, Shelton Johnson had little experience with the natural world. But he always dreamed of living in the great outdoors. So after college and a stint in the Peace Corps in West Africa, Johnson returned to the U.S. and became a national park ranger. 

For 25 years, Johnson has continued his work with the National Park Service, primarily as a ranger at Yosemite National Park. In addition to his normal ranger duties, Johnson has helped share the story of the Buffalo Soldiers -- the legendary African-American army regiment that helped patrol the parks in the early 1900s. He has also worked to encourage Black Americans to take ownership of their role as stewards of the national parks. 

Johnson received the National Freeman Tilden Award, the highest award for Interpretation in the NPS in 2009. He was also an advisor to and an on-camera commentator for Ken Burns' PBS documentary film, "The National Parks, America's Best Idea." 

In 2010, Johnson invited and hosted Oprah Winfrey on her first visit to Yosemite.

04
of 07

Dr. Beverly Wright

Dr. Beverly Wright
Dr. Beverly Wright (Screenshot: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/YouTube).

Dr. Beverly Wright is an award-winning environmental justice scholar and advocate, author, civic leader and professor. She is the founder of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, an organization that focuses on health inequities and environmental racism along the Mississippi River corridor.

After Hurricane Katrina, Wright became an outspoken advocate for displaced New Orleans' residents, fighting for the safe return of community members. In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Wright an Environmental Justice Achievement Award in recognition of her work with the Katrina Survivor’s Program. She received the Urban Affairs Association’s SAGE Activist Scholar Award in May of 2011.

05
of 07

John Francis

john-francis.jpg
John Francis (Screenshot: TED.com).

In 1971, John Francis witnessed a massive oil spill in San Francisco and made the decision right then and there to give up motorized transportation. For the next 22 years, Francis walked everywhere he went, including treks across the United States and much of South America. 

About five years into his walking, Francis says he found himself frequently arguing with others about his decision. So he made another radical decision and decided to stop speaking so that he could focus more intently on what others had to say. Francis maintained his vow of silence for 17 years. 

Without speaking, Francis went on to earn his bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees. He ended his silent streak on Earth Day 1990. In 1991, Francis was named a United Nations Environmental Program Goodwill ambassador.

06
of 07

Majora Carter

Majora Carter
Majora Carter (Photo: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images).

Majora Carter has won countless awards for her focus on urban planning and how it can be used to revitalize the infrastructure in impoverished areas.

She has helped to establish two non-profit organizations, Sustainable South Bronx and Green For All, with the focus on improving urban policy to "green the ghetto."

07
of 07

Van Jones

Van Jones
Van Jones (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images).

Van Jones is an environmental justice advocate who has worked for decades on issues such as poverty, crime, and environmental degradation.

He has founded two organizations: Green For All, a nonprofit that works to bring green jobs to low-income communities and Rebuild The Dream, a platform that promotes social and economic justice alongside environmental recovery.  Jones is President of The Dream Corps, which is a "social enterprise and incubator for powerful ideas and innovations designed to uplift and empower the most vulnerable in our society." that operates several advocacy projects such as Green for All, #cut50 and #YesWeCode.

Only The Tip of the Iceberg

There are so black men and women working in the environmental field today, doing amazing things to help protect the planet. This list represents just the tip of the iceberg in recognizing those whose work will have a lasting effect for generations to come.