The environmental justice movement has been led by powerful women from diverse backgrounds, including black women. We have been at the forefront of fighting for environmental justice in our communities. In this blog post, I will highlight the incredible work of black women environmental justice organizers and our impact on the movement.
One of the most influential black women in environmental justice organizing is Dr. Beverly Wright. She is the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) and has been at the forefront of addressing environmental racism in the Gulf South. Dr. Wright's work has helped to bring awareness to the health disparities and environmental injustices that communities of color face due to toxic pollution.
Another black woman who has made significant contributions to the environmental justice movement is Sharon Lavigne. Sharon is an environmental justice activist in Louisiana focused on combating petrochemical complexes in Cancer Alley. She was the 2022 recipient of the Laetare Medal, the highest honor for American Catholics, and a 2021 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Colette Pichon Battle is a generational native of Bayou Liberty, Louisiana. She is the founder and Co-Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP), a climate activist, a TED speaker, and a 2019 Obama Foundationfellow. Colette is the Vision and Initiatives Partner for Taproot Earth. She spearheaded efforts around equitable climate disaster recovery, global migration, community economic development, and energy democracy. She serves on the governance council of the Southern Movement Assembly, co-chairs the national Water Equity and Climate Resilient Caucus with PolicyLink, serves on the steering committee of the Ocean Justice Forum, and is a lead architect of the 5-state, multi-issue initiative Gulf South for a Green New Deal.
She also helped to develop the 13-state Southern Communities for Green New Deal with the Southeast Climate & Energy Network and the Red, Black & Green New Deal, the national climate initiative with the Movement for Black Lives. In 2022, Colette received the William O. Douglas Award-recognizing individuals who have made outstanding use of the legal /judicial process to achieve environmental goals, particularly those with national significance.
Then there’s me. Roishetta Sibley Ozane. I was born in 1984 in Ruleville, MS, home of Fannie Lou Hamer. Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer was a Civil Rights leader and Champion for Women’s Rights. Hamer was born in Ruleville in 1917 and worked as a sharecropper for most of her life. She became involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which aimed to challenge the all-white state Democratic Party. Hamer's powerful testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention helped bring national attention to the struggle for voting rights in the South. Ms. Hamer was also a champion for the environment.
She is my inspiration and one of the many reasons I do what I do.
I grew up in single mom household and I’m the eldest of 5 children. From a very young age, I showed a keen interest in social justice and activism. I was always curious and asked questions about the world around me, particularly about the inequalities and injustices I saw. I moved to Southwest Louisiana in 2003 and this is where I currently live.
I attended McNeese State University and earned a Bachelor's degree in General Studies with an emphasis in Behavioral Science and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. During my college years, I became involved in various social justice organizations and worked tirelessly to raise awareness about issues related to poverty, racism, and inequality. I am a frequent speaker at rallies and protests, and my passion and dedication quickly earned me a reputation as a fierce advocate for justice.
After graduating, I worked for several non-profit organizations, including Healthy Gulf and currently Texas Campaign for the Environment where I am the Gulf Fossil Finance Coordinator. I focus my her efforts on fighting against discrimination and fighting for the rights of marginalized communities but my main focus is fighting for environmental justice and the right to clean air and clean water. My work often takes me to different parts of the country and all around the globe, where I work with grassroots organizations and activists to promote environmental and social change.
In 2021 I founded my own organization, The Vessel Project of Louisiana. The organization's mission is to address the unique challenges faced by low income and BIPOC people. Vessel Project provides mutual aid, emergency assistance, education, and community outreach services to low income, BIPOC people living in EJ communities in Southwest Louisiana.
My environmental Justice work has gained national recognition and I have become a sought-after speaker and commentator on issues related to climate and environmental Justice, race, and gender. I’ve appeared on numerous podcasts, radio shows, and I’ve been featured in several publications, including The Illuminator.
Along with being a tireless advocate for environmental and social justice and equity I am a mom of 6. 3 girls and 3 boys. They are the reason I want to see change in this world. They are my why.
I hope to inspire countless individuals to stand up for what is right and fight for a more just and equitable world.
In addition to these leaders and myself, there are countless black women who are making a difference in the environmental justice movement at the grassroots level. Women like Catherine Flowers, who founded the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise. Catherine Coleman Flowers is an environmental health researcher and writer. She was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2020. Her first book, Waste: One Woman's Fight Against America's Dirty Secret, explores the environmental justice movement in rural America.
Another powerful voice in the movement is Jacqui Patterson, who is the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program and has been working to address the intersection of race, gender, and climate change. Since 2007 Patterson has served as coordinator & co-founder of Women of Color United. Jacqui Patterson has worked as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate, and activist working on women’s rights, violence against women, HIV & AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice. Patterson served as a Senior Women’s Rights Policy Analyst for ActionAid where she integrated a women’s rights lens for the issues of food rights, macroeconomics, and climate change as well as the intersection of violence against women and HIV & AIDS. Previously, she served as Assistant Vice President of HIV/AIDS Programs for IMA World Health, providing management and technical assistance to medical facilities and programs in 23 countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Patterson served as the Outreach Project Associate for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Research Coordinator for Johns Hopkins University. She also served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica, West Indies.
These women are working tirelessly to address the lack of access to safe and clean water in rural communities.
Black women have been at the forefront of the environmental justice movement, and our contributions cannot be overstated. We have fought hard to bring awareness to the injustices that communities of color face due to toxic pollution and lack of access to clean water and air. As we continue to work towards a more just and sustainable future, it is critical that we uplift and support the work of black women in environmental justice organizing.