On Tuesday, May 17, Interfaith America and The Center for Earth Ethics hosted Black Interfaith in the Time of Climate Crisis, a conversation about the crucial role of Black faith leaders and spiritual traditions in the environmental justice movement and the unique challenges climate change poses to Black communities.
Former Vice President Al Gore and author and consultant Ibrahim Abdul-Matin offered keynote addresses at the event at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
The Rev. Alexis Vaughan of Interfaith America lead a panel discussion with Karenna Gore of The Center for Earth Ethics; William J. Barber III of The Climate Reality Project; Pamela Ayo Yetunde, author of “Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation and Freedom“; and Crystal Cavalier-Keck, co-founder of Seven Directions of Service, a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation in Burlington, North Carolina, and Chair of the Environmental Justice Committee for the NAACP.
Here are some highlights from the conversation:
Fred Davie – “It’s really important to for us to center and understand Black interfaith cooperation as a phenomenon unto itself. It started with Black people, people of African descent on the shores in the 1600s, as our friend and colleague Dr. Yolanda Pierce reminded us, that we did not come to the shores as empty vessels. We came with traditional African religions, we came with Islam. And all of that had an impact on how we evolved and developed as a people.
The nation has not spent a lot of time focused on that history and its influence and impact. And part of the genius of this work, I think, is the fact that we’re doing that now. Not only just to look at history, and understand that history, but to see how it’s working and playing out now in our current realities, to see how it intersects with the many different aspects of American life and the life of the world. And then to share how we can continue to resource this experience of Black Interfaith cooperation and can continue to resource the nation, as we move forward and find our way in these very troubled times. One area where that is really important is in the area of the climate crisis. The Black presence around and in this issue has not been as prominent And as significant as it perhaps could have been. we’re seeking to change that. And we’re particularly seeking to change it not just from one faith perspective, but from the many faith perspectives that make up the Black community in America.”
Crystal Cavalier-Keck – “For the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate Extension Water Walk, we all started out with an interfaith prayer, because we believe that everybody prays to whoever you want to pray to, or whatever. But if we do it in unison, we can just be better. And then once people feel comfortable and trust each other, it is a lot easier to organize in our communities, especially when it comes around the Earth, environmental degradation and how we all have to stand up and fight back.”
Alexis Vaughan – “Something that was alluded to in both keynotes … is this unique moment that we’re in, it’s a moment of greater attention being given to Black leadership, and Black-centered storytelling, perhaps inspired by the 1619 Project, centering Black perspectives in the telling of American history. And one thing that that uncovered is just how deeply intersectional and diverse Black life is. For example, some folks might assume that Black people of faith are new to interfaith cooperation, but we’ve been out here. Interfaith is who we’ve been all along as a people of diaspora and largely disenfranchised all over the world.”
William J. Barber III – “James Palmer, Jr., the founder of CORE, the Congress for Racial Equity, … stated in the height of the civil rights movement, that whatever we do in civil rights would be of no meaning, if we did not save the environment, because we would all have the equality of extinction. Drawing these connections, and it makes sense, because the presence of the Black faith community, in the inaugural stages of the environmental justice movement, make us realize that faith traditions had and continue to be some of our greatest bastions of activism. Their engagement literally laid the foundation and the skeletal framework for the activism around climate justice we see today.”
American Civic Life