A quiet but powerful march took place in Philadelphia last week, indicating a new direction in the faith-driven environmental justice movement in America.
A coalition of climate activists and poverty activists walked through five counties and ended in Philadelphia to demand increases in solar power and the jobs it provides. The event, called Power Local Green Jobs, was the brainchild of Earth Quaker Action Team (EQUAT ) and Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), a group consisting of more than 40 congregations around the city and led by Reverend Greg Holston, an African American pastor who is intent on making the connection between economic and environmental justice.
“Every single day, folks tell me about struggling to support their families. They need jobs, not programs. It’s time to build a green city that works for all,” ― Rev. Greg Holston
Rev. Holston was joined in the march by Bishop Dwayne Royster of Living Water United Church of Christ, another Black faith leader from Philadelphia whose congregation is deeply rooted within the traditions of the African-American Church.
Pastors like Holston and Royster view environmental justice as a spiritual and justice issue, and are among a growing number of faith leaders of color who are taking leadership roles within the environmental movement.
Bill McKibben, a White environmental justice advocate and founder of the climate-focused grassroots organization 350.org, was marching in Philadelphia alongside Rev. Holston and Bishop Royster. He is happy to see that leadership is changing to include more people of color.
“The first in line for the power and jobs would be frontline communities. That’s who was leading the way at the big climate march in Washington D.C. on April 29. I hope this change continues,” McKibben said.
This change is happening in part because of increasing recognition that communities of color are often most adversely affected in cases of environmental injustice. When Melissa Mays of Flint, Michigan, had had enough of the foul-smelling brown water flowing from her tap, one of the groups she turned to was Concerned Pastors for Social Justice, a network of religious leaders from more than 30 predominantly African-American churches in Flint and surrounding communities.
Formed more than a half-century ago to safeguard the lives of the underserved in the city, the network fought hard alongside the residents of Flint, who are over 60 percent African American or Hispanic, during water crisis that has been engulfing the city since 2014.
Last year, Concerned Pastors became one of the plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the state and city officials requiring them to comply with Safe Drinking Water Act.
Just two months ago, plaintiffs and the state of Michigan agreed to settle the lawsuit for almost $100 million, and to replace miles…