Adding Color and Culture to Climate and Conservation Conversations by Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee Nation

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“Posts by Gullah/Geechee Nation” ♦ September 19, 2015 ♦

As always, I give thanks for Divine Timing!  Given the journey that took me once again over the Mason Dixon line, I knew Divine Timing was wherein lied the credit for this opportunity.

As I prepared for “Climate Week” in New York City which would bring together numerous international and national voices speaking out on the topic of climate change and its existence and impacts on communities and the tangible resources of those communities, I also packed for my journey to Washington, DC to bring the voice and the lifestyle aspects that are often considered to “intangible cultural resources” to the discussion of “Public Lands, Environment & Conservation.”  This was the theme put forth by the founders of the Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers’ Bureau, Audrey and Frank Peterman and my DEL team members and I were to present on the “Peril & Opportunity for African Americans” as it related to this overall theme which was a session for the 45th Annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference which asked a question through its theme: “With Liberty and Justice for All?”.

Every word uttered regarding the synergistic impact that our presentation had on the audience and on Majora Carter, Jarid Manos, Dorien Paul Blythers, Jacqui Patterson, Aaron Mair, and I seemed to only add to the power of the impact that our cumulative work had already had in making positive change and providing opportunities for people of African descent in America in regard to environmental issues.  Nonetheless, had our work been complete, we would simply have been attending this national event in celebration and not still for further presentation.  We clearly recognize that there are still issues of environmental equity that must be addressed in numerous communities in regard to United States public land issues and management of said lands.  To that end, the DEL speakers had come together in this session with Jacqui Patterson, who is the Director of Environmental and Climate Justice for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Aaron Mair, who is the first person of African descent to have ever been elected to be the President of the Board of the Sierra Club, to address the unfortunate peril that still exist and to offer solutions for engagement with those of us that have lived to successfully overcome environmental challenges in our own communities and who have the capacity to engage more people of color in environmental issues and conservation.

Audrey & Frank Peterman, Majora Carter, Jarid Manos, Queen Quet (www.QueenQuet.com), Dorien Paul Blythers, Jacqui Patterson, and Aaron Muir at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference 2015.

While we were on the Hill, no one could watch the national news and say that “the coast is clear” given the reports of wildfires, flooding, and earthquakes that were being shown and which are many of the tell tale signs that climate science specialists are tracking and studying as part of their climate related incident reports as well as climate adaptation and sustainability studies.   In spite of this, we could say that the coasts were represented in this two hour long session given that the speakers reside in the northeastern United States along the coast, on the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, in California along the coast, in Florida’s coastal cities, and several have engaged in work in the Gulf Coast and some have family ties there and grew up there.   Each speaker was able to bring to the Congressional Black Caucus Session a sense of personal connection to the lands of which they spoke.  They could speak from the perspective of being community members that sought to increase the quality of life for their people by remaining in these communities and seeking to heal the communities by building them into the type of places that they wanted instead of moving out to somewhere that looked like where they wanted to live. 

Each and every presenter was able to speak of their journeys from their homelands to their engagement in and enjoyment of public lands.  The United States Secretary of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis nodded, smiled, and thought throughout the presentations.  Congressman Alcee Hastings, who co-sponsored this session along with the other US Congressional Representatives of lands that are within the Gullah/Geechee Nation and Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, Congressman G. K. Butterfield, Jr., Congresswoman Corrine Brown, and Congressman James E. Clyburn, opened the session with powerful words that resonated with the entire audience and was a call to begin to insure that more people speak of climate science.   I greatly appreciated this since I am both a “native” and a scientists!  So, his words caused me to not only join Director Jarvis in nods and thoughts, but it also immediately added new vocabulary to my repertoire of words that I will use not only for climate week, but in the numerous discussions that I engage in concerning these changing dynamics affecting and infecting our lands that are both public and private. 

The big issues in all of these talks of climate science is getting people to realize that people of color are a major part of the global public which is being impacted by every decision that we make individually and collectively when it comes to healing the land or mistreating the land.  We can no longer afford more of the latter!   So, Frank Peterman and DEL has called upon the government to protect and restore the “Land & Water Conservation Fund” which sunsets on September 30th. While providing governmental officials from President Barak Obama to the US Congress with a call to action, we were all here to do what Jacqui Patterson stated

“We’re not just leaving this to the government, we’re driving our solutions ourselves.”

I am always about creating and driving solutions until we get to a destination that is beneficial for all of us.  So, I will be taking the words from this session further as we seek to prevent the oil exploration off the Gullah/Geechee Nation’s coast and as we continue to act in ways that can mitigate the damages of sea level rise on historic cultural coastal communities such as those in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  I will also take these words and the energy of this powerful session into Climate Week and add more culture and color to those discussions as well.  May the conversations flow from peril to opportunity and to liberty, justice, and progress for us all.

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)

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