This month, we celebrate Black History and recognize the lived adversity and accomplishments of those in the Black community. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Warren Washington, Black leaders have had an immeasurable impact on American history. While we honor the work of many distinguished African Americans, we also acknowledge that the struggle for racial justice and equity is far from over. One area in particular that this struggle impact is the climate crisis.

Climate change and all of its effects – increased heating, pollution, health degradation, etc. – are not uniformly felt by everyone, and they never have been. Historically, Black people are more likely to breathe in polluted air, live in flood-prone areas, and reside near toxic sites. From freed slaves being given land that would eventually be surrounded by petrochemical plants, to redlining and discriminatory housing policies, the historical injustices continue to have an impact on the Black communities. Due to certain actions like the discriminatory housing policies, predominantly Black neighborhoods often have more pavement and concrete, fewer trees, and higher average temperatures. These “developed” neighborhoods can get up to 27 °F hotter than most rural areas.

GRI Distinguished Senior Fellow, Harold Brooks, grew up experiencing the repercussions of climate change firsthand. As a child in elementary school, Brooks and his classmates would be ushered into the building after smog alerts would sound while they were playing outside. “The smog was so dense in Los Angeles,” Brooks explains, “that the sky would be kind of a yellowish-grayish color.” Brooks thought that the persistent burning in his lungs that he and others felt when playing outside was normal. This experience eventually led Brooks to begin working in the climate space. Since then, he has served over 40 years as an executive with the American Red Cross, is currently the Chief Resilience Officer at the Global Community Resilience Institute, and sits on TCI’s Board of Directors

While Brooks was able to dedicate time and energy towards disaster relief and climate-related issues at a relatively young age, not all Black youth have the same opportunity. “When you put together your hierarchy of needs and concerns,” Brooks pointed out, “often there are so many things that seem to be more in the face of the black youth, particularly in the inner cities, that they don’t stop to think about the continuum that includes climate and climate change.” With plenty of other hardships in the way, the climate crisis can often take a backseat. One of the ways Brooks believes we can try to combat this situation is through education.

“The more education, the more thoughtful ways that we can get these messages and information into the hands of more Black youth challenging inequities by finding climate solutions.