At the tender age of 15, Wanjiku “Wawa” Gatheru’s life in Connecticut took a dramatic turn after she took a pivotal environmental science class that altered her worldview significantly.
“I started to realize that Black people, and Black women in particular, are at the forefront of climate justice and environmental degradation, but we’re simultaneously amongst the least empowered and supported in climate leadership and in the green workforce in general,” the Rhodes Scholar and youth climate activist revealed.
After the global COVID-19 pandemic restricted in-person environmental advocacy and collaboration, Gatheru created a digital community for Black women in the environmental space to network and remain interconnected.
Thus, “Black Girl Environmentalist” was born in 2021, with Gatheru leading the initiative.
Black Girl Environmentalist, or “BGE,” is a notable network that brings together women and non-binary individuals with a shared interest in environmentalism. It connects professional environmentalists, passionate advocates students, and newcomers who are just beginning their journey in environmental activism.
Because of her “unique” position as a Black woman at the forefront of environmentalism, Gatheru experienced feelings of solitude and marginalization. It became evident to Gatheru that the sustainability sector had a significant underrepresentation of Black individuals. She realized that something was amiss and proceeded to take action.
“I put a call out on Instagram saying, ‘calling all black girl environmentalists.’ I just wanted to do a Zoom call to touch base,” the BGE founder said.
“Over 80 people showed up on a Zoom call, literally four days after,” Gatheru added. “From there, I was like if people are congregating for a Zoom call, including people all the way in Tanzania and Kenya, there’s a need for more space for us by us.”
Today, BGE has a social media network that surpasses over 20,000 followers, and has nine community hubs in cities across the United States and the United Kingdom, with plans to expand to other countries as well.
BGE sponsored a meet and greet recently in Washington, D.C., at the Georgetown location of “Patagonia,” an outdoor clothing retailer.
Welcome to Black Girl Environmentalist✨ Follow us on IG (@blackgirlenvironmentalist) and stay up to date with our 9 HUB cities! This footage is from our DC HUB meeting this past weekend! #dmvtiktok #blackgirltiktok #blackenvironmentalist #blackgirlmeetup #blackhikers #blackgirltiktok
The meet and greet allowed BGE members and other interested individuals to fellowship, learn about one another’s interests and connect with other like-minded people with a passion for environmentalism.
Lia Totty, BGE’s Washington hub leader, is an environmentalist who practices sustainable fashion.
After watching “The Story of Stuff,” a documentary that explores the life cycle of material goods, the impact of excessive consumerism and the consequences of fast fashion, Totty felt inspired to contribute to the fashion industry more sustainably. The D.C. native launched “Impact Luxury,” a conscious and ecologically reverent clothing brand.
“I was hooked ever since watching. I told myself, ‘I’m not just going to be a fashion designer; I’m going to be a sustainable fashion designer,” the eco-friendly creative affirmed.
Totty uses recycled and ecologically safe materials to create garments such as leggings, dresses and even crop tops.
To learn more about Impact Luxury, follow the Instagram @impactluxe.
At the Black Girl Environmentalist networking event in D.C., individuals from different perspectives of environmental advocacy connected and shared their experiences, united by their commitment to preserving the environment.
“I didn’t know much about sustainability, and then I started reading up on it during the pandemic, and now I’m a tree hugger,” said Moriah Hamilton is a third-year student studying civil and environmental engineering at Howard University.
With a focus on promoting sustainable infrastructure, Hamilton has aligned her passion for advancing a healthy and inhabitable planet with her academic endeavors.
Arielle King is the director of programming at Black Girl Environmentalist, where creating a space for excluded community members to thrive and convene is her top priority.
King has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, followed by a Master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy, and culminating in a Juris Doctor degree that specifically emphasized environmental justice and civil rights law.
“Everyone is an environmentalist,” she said in discussing how individuals can get involved in the green space. “We all live on this planet. We all are experiencing and living with the environment, so it’s really a matter of unlearning that we aren’t environmentalists.”
The Black Girl Environmentalist community believes that health and wellness are closely intertwined with environmentalism. As humans are accountable for the preservation and care of our planet, it is impossible to maintain a healthy environment without taking care of our own health.
“The more that we are nurturing and loving on ourselves and making sure that we are being good to the whole of our bodies and the whole of our experiences, that will pour out into the love that we show the earth,” expressed King, a firm believer in the concept of “eco-womanism,” a framework that outlines the distinctive ways in which Black women contribute to the environmental justice movement through theological, theoretical and spiritual practices.
Kynadi Hyde is a reporter and social media editor for FierceforBlackWomen.com.