Reflections for Black History Month

February 5, 2024

By Riley Weeks and Ander Russell

February 1st marked the first day of Black History Month.

Started in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a historian and once president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the second week of February was once called “Negro History Week”.

From the very beginning, Woodson and others made it clear that the intention behind a designated time to celebrate Black history and culture was not to limit its exploration to just one timeframe. Instead, the emphasis was on broadening American history and culture to include Black contributions and history too. The month of February was chosen to celebrate Black history because both Abraham Lincoln (American president and signer of the Emancipation Proclamation) and Frederick Douglass (formerly enslaved leader in the abolitionist movement) were born in its second week.

Black communities in America have historically and continually worked to protect their communities from poor air quality, water pollution, and climate impacts in the face of systemic racism that has perpetuated and magnified disparities.  

This is no accident. Policies like redlining deliberately placed Black communities in areas with high levels of industry and pollution. 

Now, Black individuals are more likely to live in areas with higher percentages of child asthma due to climate-driven changes in particle pollution. They also experience higher mortality rates due to climate-driven changes in extreme temperatures; and the highest rates of lost income for workers due to extreme weather, according to the EPA.  

Black History Month also celebrates a long history of activists who have resisted racist policies that contribute to environmental injustices, and continue to do so to this day. 

What Black History Month means to us 

It can feel very uncomfortable to face the reality that you benefit from systemic violence and oppression. Yet, as a primarily white-led organization in a predominantly white (by design) part of the world, RE Sources also benefits from the same unsustainable and entangled systems we seek to replace. 

We see Black History Month as a time to look critically at our complicity — a time to think deeply about the intention we must bring to untangling ourselves from systems that inflict harm on (and reap profits from) people and land. This means identifying ways we can disrupt the merry-go-round of feel-good solutions that ultimately uphold the status quo and run the risk of tokenism and transactional engagements driven by optics — which in turn lead to narrow thinking about what is possible, further entrenching the status quo. We can not get ourselves out of this mess with the same tools that got us here. We must compost this mess and grow something new. 

Driven by our values, this month offers us a time to recommit to approaches that center equity, acknowledge history and our complicity, and incorporate authentic relationship-building.

In 2021, we adopted a strategic framework that prioritizes embedding equity and justice into all aspects of our work and internal culture. In practice, this means our work planning involves proactively answering questions like: who is most impacted/who benefits most from this work? Whose voices are missing or under-represented? What efforts are already underway that we can support and share resources with? Where are the opportunities to center the voices of Black, Latinx, Asian & Pacific Islander, and Indigenous communities, and others that are most impacted? Our aim is to avoid the reactionary solidarity that plagues many white-led environmental groups, and move towards programmatic efforts that redress past harms from the start.

Staff and board committees examine how to better integrate justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in our internal policies and external work. These committees provide the broader organization opportunities to learn, unlearn and discuss the successes and challenges of authentic intersectional work.

This is also a time to express our profound gratitude to the Black leadership that is central to the ongoing efforts to address environmental degradation and injustice. We invite you to also see this as a time to continue your journey of learning, unlearning, and gratitude.

Some resources to read and follow: