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The National Black Environmental Justice Network: Uniting for Change

Formed in December 1999 during an urgent gathering of nearly 300 Black grassroots activists, environmentalists, and champions of economic justice, the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) represents a nationwide coalition of environmental justice organizations and advocates of African descent.

With the overarching goal of enhancing the well-being of Black individuals and confronting the systemic racism that obstructs equitable access to environmental, climatic, racial, and economic justice, health parity, political influence, civil rights, and human rights, the network has evolved into a transformative force.

The National Black Environmental Justice
The National Black Environmental Justice | photo courtesy | Twitter 

In this article, we will delve into the history, principles, objectives, and accomplishments of the NBEJN.

The National Black Environmental Justice Network’s Historical Background

Emerging from the environmental justice movement that was catalyzed in the 1980s as a response to the disproportionate exposure of communities of color and those with lower incomes to environmental hazards and pollution, the NBEJN challenged conventional environmentalism, which concentrated on preserving nature while overlooking the social and racial aspects of environmental issues.

Additionally, the movement advocated for the engagement of communities of color and low-income groups in decisions impacting their environment and health.

Recognizing the imperative for a nationwide network capable of coordinating and amplifying the voices and initiatives of Black environmental justice activists across the United States, the NBEJN was established by a cohort of African American leaders.

This group was motivated not only by the struggles of people of African descent against colonialism, apartheid, slavery, and racism, but also by the global context.

Visionaries such as:

  1. Dr. Robert Bullard.
  2. Dr. Beverly Wright.
  3. Dr. Bunyan Bryant.
  4. Dr. Dorceta Taylor.
  5. Dr. Charles Lee.
  6. Dr. Vernice Miller-Travis.
  7. Dr. Damu Smith.
  8. Ms. Connie Tucker.
  9. Ms. Donele Wilkins.
  10. Ms. Deeohn Ferris.
  11. Ms. Peggy Shepard.
  12. Ms. Vernell Thompson.
  13. Mr. Norris McDonald.
  14. Mr. Jerome Scott.
  15. Mr. Richard Moore.
  16. Mr. Gary Grant.
  17. Mr.Leslie Fields formed the founding membership of the network.

The National Black Environmental Justice Network’s Core Principles

Guided by a comprehensive platform detailing its vision, mission, theory of change, and requisites for environmental justice, the National Black Environmental Justice Network stands on the Principles of Environmental Justice ratified at the inaugural National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991.

The platform outlines the network’s dedication to fostering an environment where Black communities thrive without enduring the remnants of systemic racism and environmental deterioration, all while enjoying unrestricted access to opportunities that promote a quality life for Black families and children.

The National Black Environmental Justice Network also aims to elevate awareness of environmental matters within African American and African descent populations worldwide, who are affected by environmental racism.

This term denotes the deliberate or inadvertent targeting of communities of color for exposure to toxic waste facilities and other undesirable environmental uses.

Furthermore, it encompasses the exclusion of people of color from public and private decision-making bodies related to environmental matters and the denial of equitable enforcement of environmental policies.

Expounding on its commitment to combat environmental racism, the NBEJN implements a four-pronged strategy encompassing:

  1. Fostering safe and healthy communities, which involves securing access to clean air, unpolluted water, nourishing food, quality employment, clean energy, environmentally-friendly and affordable transportation. This includes restoring regulatory measures such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and enacting federal regulations that mitigate health inequalities and preserve Black communities. The network calls for authentic climate solutions to mitigate greenhouse gases and substantial investments in Black communities.
  2. Cultivating sustainable development, climate justice, and clean production, where the emphasis lies on ensuring dependable, economical, and sustainable energy, water, and transportation for all communities. The aspiration is for an inclusive, equitable energy economy that generates valuable employment, fosters safety and health within communities and infrastructures, and directs considerable investments towards Black communities.
  3. Safeguarding civil rights and equal protection laws and policies, which encompasses advocating for equal legal protection irrespective of race, color, or national origin. The NBEJN underscores the importance of upholding existing civil rights laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while fortifying anti-discrimination statutes like the Environmental Justice Act. The network also calls for holding those who pollute the environment accountable and advocating for reparations for Black individuals.
  4. Advocating for international human rights protection, which calls for the upholding of human rights and dignity universally. The network encourages solidarity among people of African descent, opposes colonialism, imperialism, militarism, and neoliberalism, and works towards global peace, justice, and democracy.

NBEJN’s Demands

The National Black Environmental Justice Network has articulated numerous policy statements and demands concerning various facets of environmental justice.

Among these are:

  • Demanding an end to police brutality and systemic racism in response to the deaths of individuals such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of law enforcement officers.
  • Insisting upon a cessation of fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters and an orderly transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
  • Advocating for a Green New Deal that confronts the climate crisis, fosters millions of well-compensated, unionized jobs, and secures racial and economic equity for all.
  • Pushing for environmental justice and health parity in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted Black communities due to factors such as air pollution, insufficient access to healthcare, and poverty.
  • Seeking justice for the victims of environmental racism in Flint, Michigan, where residents faced years of exposure to lead-contaminated water as a result of governmental negligence and corruption.

The National Black Environmental Justice’s Accomplishments

The National Black Environmental Justice Network has played an instrumental role in advancing the environmental justice movement and shaping policies at local, national, and international levels.

Some of the network’s achievements include:

  • Organizing the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 2002, which attracted over 1,400 participants from 50 states and 15 nations to deliberate on the state of the environmental justice movement and devise strategies for the future.
  • Participation in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, where the network lobbied for the inclusion of environmental justice and human rights on the global agenda.
  • Supporting the formulation and execution of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. This directive mandated federal agencies to identify and tackle the disproportionately severe and adverse effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations.
  • Contributing to the production and dissemination of knowledge and research on environmental justice matters via publications, reports, workshops, conferences, webinars, podcasts, and social media platforms.
  • Forging alliances and affiliations with other environmental justice networks, organizations, and movements, including the Climate Justice Alliance, Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, HBCU Climate Change Consortium, Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.


The National Black Environmental Justice Network emerges as a potent catalyst for transformation, endeavoring to enhance the lives of Black individuals while challenging systemic racism that obstructs their access to environmental, climatic, racial, and economic justice, health parity, political sway, civil rights, and human rights.

With a storied history of mobilization, advocacy, and organization spanning various tiers, the network champions a platform that delineates its vision, mission, strategy of transformation, and requisites for environmental justice.

Marked by tangible influence on policy, practice, and public awareness in the realm of environmental justice, the network persists in expanding its outreach, maturing, and cultivating its community of organizations and individuals.

Together, they address critical issues of environmental, racial, economic justice, and health that impact Black Americans and individuals of African descent across the globe.


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