The issue of environmental racism has been a point of contention that the U.S. has grappled with for decades. For generations, underrepresented communities have been fighting for equal access to clean, safe and healthy environments that other communities often take for granted.
Although progress has been slow, new actions and commitments in the form of environmental justice efforts from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the U.S. government show renewed promise.
New NAACP and Governmental Environmental Justice Commitments
In 2022, environmental racism and neglect led to a water crisis in Jackson, MS, when flooding knocked out a faulty water treatment plant. As a result, 150,000 residents, of which more than 82% are Black, were left without access to clean water. Not only did the issue inspire the NAACP to file a civil rights complaint, but the organization took measures to expand its civil rights efforts.
As a part of its new measures to combat environmental racism, the NAACP hired attorney Abre’ Conner as its first Director of Environmental and Climate Justice. As part of her efforts, Connor plans to partner with communities most affected by giving them a chance to identify solutions and to connect with policymakers and other leaders to spark change.
In addition to the NAACP’s new appointment, the federal government has been taking steps to alleviate further inequities caused by environmental racism. In April 2023, the government signed an order to establish the Office of Environmental Justice in the White House. According to the fact sheet released by the White House, the office is solely dedicated to organizing environmental justice efforts throughout the government. Additionally, it will require federal agencies to communicate with local communities if harmful substances leak from government-owned or operated facilities.
Why Are These Efforts Important?
Underrepresented and underserved communities have been fighting inequities stemming from environmental racism even before the Civil Rights Movement. For decades, Americans across the country have been victimized by environmental racism through issues including pollution and a lack of proper infrastructure due to discrimination.
Fighting environmental inequities is critical because it protects basic human rights. Without environmental justice, the health and wellness of communities are put at risk due to the actions of individuals or organizations that prioritize profits over people.
The actions being taken by the NAACP and the federal government are important steps in the right direction to combat longstanding environmental injustices. With time, these efforts will help communities gain more access to clean air, safe water, green spaces, affordable housing and clean transportation.
Robert F. Smith’s Commitments to Environmental Justice
Achieving racial equity and protecting human rights have been core areas of focus for entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert F. Smith for decades. Under Smith’s guidance as founding director and President, Fund II Foundation has donated almost $250 million to organizations furthering those causes since its inception in 2014. Other critical initiatives Fund II Foundation works towards include preserving Black American culture, providing music education and fighting for safe living environments.
Smith also supports underserved and underrepresented communities through his commitment to the Giving Pledge. Through this commitment, Smith made a commitment to donate the majority of his net wealth throughout his lifetime.