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Scrapbook: 'Blacks Living Green' Honors African American Activists

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

April 21, 2009

'Blacks Living Green' Honors African American Activists

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On April 9, author and publisher Sharon T. Freeman, PhD, spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 people in Memphis about her new book, "Blacks Living Green," and her work as an African American publisher. Above, Shelby County (Memphis) Mayor A.C. Wharton presents Freeman with a Key to Shelby County.

The event was organized by Memphis Sierra Club Environmental Justice Coordinator Rita Harris and co-sponsored by the EJ program, the Club's Chickasaw Group, and Caritas Village, where the event was held. The foreword to "Blacks Living Green" was written by Club Executive Director Carl Pope. (Scroll to p.2 of above link to read Pope's foreword.)

Freeman, who lives in Washington, D.C., has served as consultant and advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Trade Representative, and a member of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps. "Blacks Living Green" highlights the stories of black Americans who have chosen environmental careers or avocations, and who are taking steps to sustain their local environment.

"It should be noted that 'Blacks Living Green' is not about environmental justice, but about remarkable people doing remarkable things that are not limited by artificial barriers of race, class, or culture," Harris says. "This book goes a long way to dispel the myth that African Americans aren't interested in environmental or 'green' issues. There has always been an interest—it just manifests differently for many of us."

At the event, Green Role Model awards were presented to ten local residents, pictured below. "Through their work and activities, these role models promote a better quality of life for everyone and encourage environmental sustainability in the Memphis area," Harris says. The Memphis Commercial Appeal found the local award winners' stories to be the most moving part of the evening.

"You'll find these same types of people in all our major cities—places where we have Sierra Club groups," Harris says. "There are many black professionals out there who for some reason haven't been invited to join the Club and participate in the wonderful work we’re doing. Our challenge is to reach out and invite them into the Club so we can make better use of their expertise and ideas to make our organization stronger."

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Pictured above, nine of the ten Green Role Models award recipients. (Scroll to p.5 of above link to read details about each award winner.) Front row: Sandra Upchurch, Andree Glenn, Hazel Burks, Pearlie Estes. Back row: Shawn Posey, Rev. Ralph White, Dr. Stanley Abell, Calvin Robinson, A.C. Wharton. (Frank Robinson was not present.)

Harris notes that the week after the event, award winner Hazel Burks sent her a note saying she'd just joined the Sierra Club, and her sister planned to do so. "It wasn't because I asked her to, either," Harris says. "It just goes to show we need to do a better job of letting people know we're here. Sometimes folks equate people of color with environmental justice issues, but it's not just about that. There are many, many black Americans who have the same interests as the traditional constituency of the Club."

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