History proves that an occasional revolution is good for the soul. In fact, they can be critical to our society’s survival.
My big sister Gail first got me thinking about revolution when she was in college and I was only about 10.
Up until then, years of Catholic school dictated Gail’s daily dress code: Tartan plaid skirt, green vest, penny loafers and a sensible bob hairstyle that – except for her skin color – rendered her indistinguishable from her white classmates.
Then, all of a sudden, my big sister changed on me.
Her loafers were replaced with leather boots that weren’t only made for walking, but were good for marching too. The staid uniforms she’d grown up with gave way to hip-hugging bellbottoms and (gasp!) braless halter tops.
Instead of singing soprano in the school’s glee club, Gail began studying African dance. And of course, her straightened hair gave way to an oversized Afro. She adopted the lingo of the revolution and, more than once, I heard her utter the phrase “Right On.”
The metamorphosis Gail underwent back then wasn’t merely cosmetic. It was an often militant expression of her newfound pride. More importantly, it symbolized the idealistic recognition of her duty to make her community, and her country, a better place to live. And yes, by any means necessary.
That was 40 years ago. My sister’s ‘fro is much shorter now and streaked with gray. She wears “mommy jeans,” prefers more comfortable shoes and takes jazzercise classes to keep fit.
But that doesn’t mean that Gail and her peers are too old to join another revolution. This time around, instead of taking to the streets shouting “Black Power!” the new rallying cry should be Green Power!”
The Green Revolution I’m referring to is already well underway, of course. But while many other sectors of our society have signed on to be part of this transformational movement, many people of color are still sitting on the sidelines.
Not very long ago, “going green” was dismissed as a passing fad promoted by aging hippies, tree-huggers and assorted cranks. No longer. Nowadays, the Green Revolution has become mainstream. Suddenly it seems everyone is jumping on the cleaner, greener bandwagon – and that’s a good thing.
But in metro Atlanta and elsewhere, the green movement hasn’t been especially popular in communities of color.
Although there’s sparse research on the subject, a 2004 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that support for environmental regulations was lower among African-Americans and Latinos than it was for other ethnic groups.
There may be some solid reasons for the racial disconnect according, to Van Jones, founder of a Oakland-based organization called Green for All.
In a 2007 article for the magazine “Color Lines,” Jones said, “Too often (Blacks and minorities) have said: ‘We are overwhelmed with violence, bad housing, failing schools, excessive incarceration, poor healthcare and joblessness. We can’t afford to worry about spotted owls, redwood trees and polar bears.”‘
Jones went on to explain why he believes that racial dynamic is changing.
“Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath taught us that the coming ecological disasters will hit the poor first and worst.” Jones wrote. “More of us are beginning to see that there can be no separation between our concern for vulnerable people and our concern for a vulnerable planet. “
Jones, along with Majora Carter who founded a separate group to improve environmental conditions in her south Bronx neighborhood, have emerged as nationally recognized figures who are helping to diversify the complexion of the green movement.
But here in Atlanta, which is home to one of the most affluent African-American communities in the country, the Green Revolution still hasn’t gained much momentum — not yet.
There are a few notable exceptions of course. Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, has long been a leader in research that helps to improve the quality of life in poor and minority communities that that have been overwhelmed by landfills, garbage incinerators and toxic dump sites.
Last year, Newsweek magazine named Bullard one of the “Environmental Leaders of the Century,” and the center’s small but dedicated staff has done ground-breaking work on sprawl, air pollution and global warming.
Kwabena Nkromo, chairman of Neighborhood Planning Unit-T has started a community supported agriculture program in his West End neighborhood that’s growing healthy, organic food on a two-acre, urban farm. The project is funded in part by a grant from the Community Foundation of Atlanta and has become a regional resource for locally grown food.
Audrey and Frank Peterman, are a husband-and-wife team who founded Earthwise Productions, Inc. The mission of their Atlanta-based company is to introduce African-Americans and others to experience the beauty of our state and national parks system by leading groups on extended hikes and walking tours for “adventure, recreation, restoration and spiritual growth.”
There are other people of color in the Atlanta region who also understand the importance of becoming champions and loyal foot soldiers who are willing to fight for important environmental issues. But, at the moment, they’re only a handful, a minority within a minority.
Still, there’s a sense that change is in the air. Atlanta, which is the cradle of the civil rights movement, can once again take its place as the epicenter of a Green Revolution that will help eliminate the racial, cultural, ethnic and class barriers that continue to separate us.
In a video interview on YouTube, Nkromo of NPU-T explained why he’s compelled to play a key role in making his urban Atlanta neighborhood greener and, hopefully, healthier.
“This is me being the change I want to see in my own community, he said. “It makes you feel like you’re in charge of your own destiny and that’s very empowering. Whatever paradise is it’s something we have to create ourselves.”
I know exactly what my big sister Gail would say to Nkromo, even now: “Right On, Brother. Right On.”