Creating a more just environment for all

Young people outdoors using binoculars
© Bob Perkoski

A guest blog from Black Environmental Leaders

What do we mean when we talk about environmental justice?

It starts with an acknowledgement, for instance, that African Americans are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants, oil and gas refining plants, and other generating facilities while disproportionately suffering their ill effects. But that acknowledgement must be followed with a call to action that demands change—change to the legacy of employment discrimination, redlining and predatory housing practices that often trap many people of color in older homes, increasing energy costs nearly threefold for low-income, African American and Latinx households compared to higher-income white households.

Organizations such as the Black Environmental Leaders (BEL), which represents roughly 20 organizations dedicated to environmental justice, create a safe space for multigenerational environmental leaders in the Black, Indigenous and people of color communities to grow and inform members on what matters impact them the most. Our mission is to advocate, incubate and inform—ensuring we provide our members with accurate and relevant data while facilitating opportunities to explore racial justice through authentic engagement. Together, we can organize and demand action.

That is exactly what we are striving to achieve through our partnership with the Cleveland Foundation and the Greater Cleveland Environmental Justice Local Journalism Collaboratives. BEL joined the project to inspire both traditional media and grassroots organizations to elevate the voices and stories from communities most impacted by effects of environmental apartheid through ‘solutions journalism,’ which reports on solutions to social change.

The partners that were selected were found to contribute to a deeper understanding of and commitment to climate, land, water, air, transportation and energy issues that impact the quality of life in Northeast Ohio, through the lens of health, equity and racial justice.

Those selected include:

  • Healing Spaces, a collaboration between Cleveland Documenters, Neighborhood Connections, Black Girl Media, WOVU and A Greater Buckeye
  • Ask the Land Environmental Reporting Initiative, a collaboration between Collaborative NewsLab at Kent State University, The Land, Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, ideastream and WKSU, and La Mega Media
  • Forming an Emerald Necklace, a collaboration between A Greater Buckeye, Korey Smerk, Black Valve Media and Cleveland Documenters

These collaborations represent a partnership of trusted community voices and media outlets, lifting up perspectives that are often not reflected in the traditional news media. More information about each of the selected projects is available here

Those of us at Black Environmental Leaders look forward to seeing the work produced through these collaborative efforts. Traditional media has long reported pollution and climate-related issues through a one-size-fits-all style. Nonprofit health organizations report on the nearly 93,000 adult asthma cases currently identified in Cuyahoga County without detailing the disproportionate impacts being felt by the non-white population in an area that consistently fails to meet ozone pollution standards.

We applaud the regional partners involved in this project for seizing the opportunity to change the face of journalism by elevating the voices of advocates already leading the charge around environmental justice in their own communities.

Jacqueline Gillon, David Wilson and SeMia Bray



  1. Annie J Anderson

    Awesome 👍👌👏

  2. Richard “Buster” Banish

    I would love to become involved, but I am white. I currently run a school club out of CMSD called the East Clark Bird Nerds end we have quite a bit of notoriety in the birding world in the state and beyond. I currently have 15 active members, all of which is Black. How can WE assist? We’d love to spread the word and share what we do and know.

  3. Cleveland Foundation

    Hi Richard – Thank you for reading our blog and for your interest in the work of Black Environmental Leaders! We suggest you connect with Black Environmental Leaders via to learn how your organization might get involved.

  4. Sheela Das

    This is amazing work – thank you for helping Cleveland communities!

  5. Teela Patterson

    Hi Richard!

    Thank you for your interest. We would love to talk to you at Healing Spaces about how our groups could work together. We’ll be in touch!

  6. Lee Chilcote

    Hi Richard – Please contact me at

    Lee Chilcote, The Land

Comments are closed.