The Sierra Club announced this week that it has created a new award named after Dr. Robert Bullard, widely considered to be a “father” of the environmental justice movement. Starting November 21, the club will begin issuing the award each year to a person or group that has done outstanding work to help the people and communities most impacted by environmental degradation — people who have historically been overlooked and excluded by mainstream environmental groups.
“The Sierra Club has long recognized the rightness and necessity of environmental justice work, and we couldn’t be more proud of having Dr. Bullard’s name on our new award honoring those who have followed in his footsteps,” Sierra Club President David Scott said in a press statement.
Bullard has written thousands of articles, studies, and speeches on environmental justice, and has written or contributed to 18 books on the matter. But he was “speechless” when he found out about this latest honor, he said.
Last year, the Sierra Club gave Bullard its highest honor for natural conservation, the prestigious John Muir award. He was the first African American to win the Muir award, which has been handed out since 1961 to such dignitaries as Al Gore and Jacques Cousteau.
One way to measure an environmental group’s commitment to diversity is to look at the people it venerates: Who are its fellowships, professional residencies, and awards named after? The Bullard award shows that Sierra Club shows environmental justice seriously — and it’s not the first sign. The national organization has a dedicated environmental justice program, and works closely with deeply entrenched environmental justice groups like WEACT.
I hope that other mainstream organizations will follow suit. There are people of color who deserve to have awards named after them, both in and outside of the environmental justice world. And while Bullard has earned enough stripes to deserve the Grand Patriarch title, our environmental awards need not be entirely patriarchal in name. I mean, Dr. Dorceta Taylor deserves an award, or department chairmanship, or a fellowship named in her honor for the diversity report she produced this week alone.
Here’s my list of other awards named for people of color that green groups ought to create:
- The Lisa Jackson Award — Named after the first African American to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for outstanding environmental work in the public sector and/or in chemical engineering (Jackson’s academic expertise).
- The Clarice Gaylord Award — Named after the first director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Equity (later Office of Environmental Justice), for breakthrough diversity efforts in the public sector, or for zoology (Gaylord’s academic expertise).
- The Vernice Miller-Travis Award — Named after the pioneering environmental justice scholar who helped produce some of the defining scholarship of the discipline, for outstanding work in developing grassroots and community-based organizations.
- The Damu Smith Award — There is already an award named after Smith among EJ organizations, but the mainstream world would benefit from an award for outstanding work in public health disparities, particularly around cancer, as well.
- The Harriet Tubman Award — As Dr. Taylor explained to me this week, Tubman was pivotal in giving Union forces a naval advantage over the Confederates due to her knowledge of the Chesapeake Bay. This award could be for outstanding work in oceanography, or environmental science in the military.
- The Beverly Wright Award — Along with Bullard, Wright helped pioneer programs to train people of color in the environmental workforce. This award would go for outstanding work in green jobs.
- The Pam DaShiell Award — Known throughout the Gulf Coast for her post-Katrina rebuilding work, Dashiell should be the namesake for an award for outstanding environmental work in times of disaster.
- The Richard Moore Award — After being denied participation in 1990 Earth Day events because he wanted to talk about things like groundwater contamination and sewage plant odors, he deserves an Earth Day award named after him.
- The Dana Alston Award — Read this speech. And then name an award after her for overall environmental leadership.
- The Sheila Holt-Orsted Award — Holt-Orsted exposed how government agencies tested water in white communities and alerted them about harmful toxicity levels, but failed to do the same for black communities. Any Erin Brockovich award that exists needs to be re-named for Holt-Orsted.
- The Hazel Johnson Award — Johnson’s work organizing public housing residents in Chicago against the shoddy, asbestos-contaminated construction of their homes gave one young man his first taste of community organizing. That young man went on to become President of the United States: Barack Obama. Let’s name an award after her for developing leadership in environmental activism.
- The Kari Fulton Award — Fulton is known domestically and internationally for her work around climate justice, and for organizing young people around these issues. Fulton deserves an award in her name for youth organizing in climate change.
- The Majora Carter Award — Carter took her early Bronx environmental activism and turned it into an enterprise. This award will be for green entrepreneurialism.
- The Lil B. the Based God Award — For outstanding environmental social media activism in Hip Hop.
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