CalRecycle Celebrates African American Environmentalists

During Black History Month, we honor African Americans who have strengthened our legacy of protecting the environment and encouraging others to do the same. Here are just three of those environmental heroes. Thank you, Shelton Johnson, Warren Washington, and Beverly Wright.

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Shelton Johnson

Shelton Johnson is a park ranger with the U.S. National Park Service. He has worked in Yosemite for 25 years and made multiple appearances in the Ken Burns documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” In an interview with SFGate, Johnson said, “For me, the Buffalo Soldier history is a way of reconnecting African Americans to the land that shaped our consciousness. You don’t have to go back to Africa to reconnect with nature, to understand its value and to know that it is an essential part of our shared history. It is right here.”

Johnson wrote and performs “Yosemite Through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier, 1904,” at the park. He has received numerous awards, including the “National Freeman Tilden Award” as the best interpreting ranger in the National Park Service for his work with Burns, and an Environmental Leadership Award from UC Berkeley.

Check out Shelton Johnson’s dramatic interpretation of a Buffalo Soldier at Yosemite.

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Warren Washington

Dr. Warren Washington, a Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has developed computer models that have helped scientists understand climate change. He has conducted research for more than 50 years and has been published in more than 150 publications, including an autobiography titled “Odyssey in Climate Model, Global Warming, and Advising Five Presidents.” Washington has served on the President’s National Advisory Commission on Oceans and Atmosphere and has had appointments under the Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations. As the second African American to earn a doctorate in the atmospheric sciences, Washington has served as a role model for generations of young researchers. For his mentoring and education and outreach work, in 1999 he received the Dr. Charles Anderson award from the American Meteorological Society.

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Beverly Wright

Beverly Wright is a professor of Sociology and the founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) at Dillard University in New Orleans. For nearly two decades, she has been a leading scholar and advocate in the Environmental Justice arena. The DSCEJ is one of the few community/university partnerships that addresses environmental and health inequities in the Lower Mississippi River Industrial Corridor, an area commonly referred to as Cancer Alley. After Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Wright advocated for the safe return of residents to their homes in the midst of health and environmental concerns caused by the hurricane and its aftermath.

Wright provided valuable input into President Bill Clinton’s Environmental Justice Transition paper. For her work, she was called to the White House February 1994 to witness the signing of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice. In April 1994, she was named to the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC). She has received numerous awards, including the Environmental Justice Achieve Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wright has also written two books and numerous articles on environmental justice.

Each of these esteemed individuals represent the very best our nation has to offer in meeting the singular challenges of climate change, environmental justice and safeguarding human dignity. We salute them, and all of their peers of every race, creed, and color who devote their lives to the collective fate of ourselves and the environment that surrounds us, serves us—and depends on us.

— Christina Files
Posted on Feb 26, 2018

Summary: During Black History Month, we honor African Americans who have strengthened our legacy of protecting the environment and encouraging others to do the same. Here are just three of those environmental heroes. Thank you, Shelton Johnson, Warren Washington, and Beverly Wright.