I don’t want to read about John Muir anymore. I know his story after studying Environmental Science and Policy because it flows throughout the curriculum. I’ve grown tired of single-lens environmental narratives that prioritize male, mostly white, perspectives. Why are their legacies considered mandatory education while conservationists of color go unstudied and underappreciated?
Since studying environmental science as an undergraduate, I’ve been on a journey to uncover the stories of Black women and their contributions to environmentalism. We’ve always been a part of environmental history, but seldom have our stories told and amplified.
At times, when I was the only Black student in an environmental class or the only Black employee at an environmental organization, it was easy to feel like I didn’t belong. But as I discovered the stories of Black women who had come before me in this space, I began to feel empowered. I developed a deeper understanding that my ancestors were also environmental heroes who cared for the earth in their own way. Today, Black women are reshaping the future of environmentalism in every field, from ecology to fashion and beyond.
These five Black women environmentalists are now my heroes. Their contributions helped propel me to start my own organization, Intersectional Environmentalist.They have served as my role models and some have become dear friends. My hope is that when more Black girls around the world can easily see themselves reflected, they’ll know they belong in the world of environmentalism.
Betty Reid Soskin
In March 2022, just a few weeks shy of her retirement, I went to meet with Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin. At 100 years of age, not only was Betty the oldest full-time National Parks Service ranger, but also one of few Black women in the field—a part of Black American environmental history. She became a Park Ranger at 85 after working as a writer, singer, and civil rights activist. Working at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front park, Betty helped educate visitors on the history of Black Americans in the Bay Area of California during WWII. There are many reasons why Betty is an environmental hero, but I particularly admire her courageousness to begin anew at 85 and dedicate her time to diversifying the stories told at National Parks.