Eight Black Women who have impacted the environmental movement in Washington, D.C.
By Dajah Massey
In recognition of Black History Month, DC EcoWomen celebrates the following eight women for their accomplishments in environmental spaces, their advocacy for the African American community, and their continued impact in the Washington, D.C. area.
Josephine Butler confronts DC Mayor Marion Barry, 1978 – photo and caption from https://washingtonparks.net/josephine-butler/
Josephine Butler was born in 1920 in Maryland. She was the daughter of sharecroppers and granddaughter of slaves. Butler moved to D.C. for medical treatment and then became a community leader, environmental activist, and social change agent in the District. Butler started America’s first union of black female laundry workers and was a major contributor to the desegregation of schools. Butler helped to transform Malcolm X Park, also known as Meridian Hill Park, from one of the most dangerous parks in D.C. to a beautiful oasis by planting trees, providing nighttime neighborhood watches, and hosting community education events.
In a time when environmentalism was not popular, Butler served as a community health educator for the American Lung Association in D.C. and taught thousands of children about the effects of air pollution. In 1995, she served on the D.C. Coordinating Committee for the International Women’s Year. Butler also became a representative on the Mayor’s Health Planning Advisory Committee and served on the D.C. Human Rights Commission. Today the Josephine Butler Parks Center, which overlooks Meridian Hill Park, stands in her honor.
Click here to learn more about Butler.
Photo from https://outdoorafro.com/team/
Rue Mapp is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit organization that connects African Americans with outdoor experiences and aims to change the narrative of who engages in the outdoors. Outdoor Afro has offices in Washington D.C. and Oakland, California. The organization has selected and trained 80 national volunteers and created leadership teams in 30 states – building a powerful network to nurture a community of black outdoor enthusiasts. Mapp first launched Outdoor Afro as a blog in 2009. The organization now has national sponsors and worldwide recognition. Mapp serves on several conservation boards, was part of the team that launched Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, and was appointed program officer for the Stewardship Council’s Foundation for Youth Investment. She also organized the first all-Black U.S. expedition team to climb Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest freestanding peak. Her proudest accomplishment is being a mother of three.
Photo from https://www.britleavitt.com/
Brittany Leavitt is a D.C. influencer — not the social media type, but a real-life changemaker. Leavitt is influencing her community and shaping the minds of D.C.’s youth by teaching preschoolers at the Smithsonian Museum about the natural world. She has also partnered with the North Face and the Girl Scouts to create a new adventure badge that young girls can earn. In addition to mentorship, she is a REI instructor and leads climbing, backpacking, and hiking classes. Her purpose is to build spaces for Blacks, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to enjoy the outdoors. Brittany was part of the Outdoor Afro first all-black climbing group to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Through her variety of partnerships, she is diversifying the climbing community.
Kari Fulton may be young, but her accomplishments and contributions to the environmental movement are not adolescent. She co-founded the Loving Our City, Loving Ourselves (LOCLOS) campus and community initiative, to build stronger campus and community solidarity on issues of concern in the Washington, D.C. area. She served as the Energy Action Coalition Campus Climate Challenge Coordinator for the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. She supported and trained hundreds of young people at more than 50 universities, and has become a pioneer organizer working to build up the youth climate movement amongst young people of color, in particular, students at historically black colleges and universities. She is currently a Class of 2020 National Urban Fellow at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, and a Master of Public Management candidate, as well as a Policy Fellow with the Climate Justice Alliance.
Fulton said: “My hope was for people of color and low-income individuals to get information that will help them take advantage of the growing green movement so that they are not left behind economically or environmentally.”
Lisa Perez Jackson
Lisa Perez Jackson is a Princeton University alumnus and a chemical engineer who served as the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2009 to 2013. She is the first African American to have held that position. According to the EPA, she “outlined principles to modernize our nation’s 30-year-old chemical management laws, called for unprecedented innovation in drinking water protection efforts, and announced tough standards to clean the air we breathe.” During her time with the EPA, she improved environmental regulation policies and supported communities that were historically underrepresented in environmental initiatives such as low-income areas and vulnerable age groups. Today, Jackson works as Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. Each day, she strives to transform Apple into a more environmentally conscious company.
Dr. Adrienne Hollis
Dr. Adrienne Hollis has always been an academic with a passion for the environment. She holds a doctorate degree in biomedical sciences and a law degree with a concentration in environmental law. Dr. Hollis worked on environmental issues in her postdoctoral studies at the Harvard School of Public Health, was employed as a Supervisory Environmental Health Scientist and Toxicologist (Section Chief) at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, worked as a Project Attorney at Earthjustice, a premier non-profit public interest law firm, and was the Director of Federal Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, in their Washington, D.C. office. Her positions have allowed her to make great contributions and changes within various environmental fields. Today, Dr. Hollis is the Senior Climate Justice and Health Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). She leads the development, design, and implementation of methods for accessing and documenting the health impacts of climate change on communities of color and other traditionally disenfranchised groups.
As Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Environmental and Climate Justice program, Jacqueline Patterson helps the organization achieve its three major goals: to reduce harmful emissions, particularly greenhouse gases, advance energy efficiency and clean energy, and strengthen community resilience and livability. Patterson has worked as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate and activist for women’s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice.
Leslie G. Fields, Esq.
Leslie Fields, Esq. is another D.C. environmental powerhouse serving multiple organizations to bring environmental improvement and social justice to our nation. Fields is a graduate of Cornell University and the Georgetown University Law Center and the current senior director of Environmental Justice and Healthy Communities for the Sierra Club. She is the former international director of Friends of the Earth-US in Washington, D.C. and is currently an adjunct law professor at Howard University School of Law. Fields serves as a Commissioner on the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies’ Commission to Engage African Americans on Energy, Climate and the Environment. In a recent interview with The Trouble, Fields said: “What we’re trying to do is work with all kinds of communities to push reducing carbon emissions and remedying in an equitable way, not just marketing solutions that are going to leave communities of color behind. We’ve got all kinds of problems, food justice issues, gentrification—all the stuff in this direct line. We can’t create any kind of solution without dealing with the legacy pollution.”
Dajah Massey is an environmental engineer and STEM advocate who is passionate about improving our environment and informing underrepresented communities about career options within engineering and STEM fields. She is also involved with brand management, print modeling, and women empowerment initiatives.