June 2020 – The National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) was conceived and founded in December of 1999, its inception precipitated by a call to Black leaders from diverse sectors in the United States to stop “Toxic Terror in Black Communities.”  NBEJN delegates came together in New Orleans to organize and mobilize black people to fight environmental racism, map out a research agenda, and develop real strategies and plans to eliminate discriminatory policies and practices and toxic threats that sicken and kill black people. Polluting industries such as toxic waste facilities, high-risk chemical plants, oil refineries, and coal fired power plants have turned many African American and poor communities into “Cancer Alleys” and environmental “sacrifice zones.”

Before environmental justice burst on to the national scene, pollution in black communities and poor neighborhoods was largely ignored by the media, industry, government, and green groups. The environmental justice framework grew out of grassroots community struggles committed to one simple principle; ‘All people and communities are entitled to equal protection under environmental, energy, health, employment, education, housing, transportation, and civil rights laws and regulations.  The Network experienced a major setback in 2006 with the unexpected death of our visionary founding Executive Director Damu Smith.

This “assault on Black America” has created a crisis that is fueled by racism, economic greed and reckless disregard for basic civil and human rights. In keeping with Principle 5 of the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice adopted in 1991 at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit,
“Environmental Justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.” As Black people under siege we cannot and must not leave our future in the hands of others to protect. We must lead and we must act now.  The NBEJN is needed to lead during this crisis that threatens our humanity and right to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution enjoyed by White America—rights never realized for the first Africans who landed in 1619 more than 400 years ago to the present day.