Black Environmental Activists to Follow This Juneteenth

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jun. 12 2024, Updated 2:46 p.m. ET

Side by side photos of Wawa Gatheru, John Lewis, Summer Dean, and Ron Griswell.
Source: Wawa Gatheru, John Lewis, Summer Dean, Ron Griswell/Instagram

June 19 marks Juneteenth, an annual African American holiday that commemorates the emancipation of 250,000 enslaved people from Galveston, Texas in 1865, 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863. However, the proclamation was kept under wraps in Galveston until June 19, 1865, when federal troops showed up, took control, and informed the enslaved population that they were free, as per History.

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Of course, the U.S. has put other systems of oppression into place that have essentially kept slavery alive, such as segregation and mass incarceration — but many Black people all across the country joyously celebrate the holiday every June 19.

In honor of Juneteenth, we’ve rounded up seven incredible Black environmental activists who we recommend following on Instagram. Everyone on this list is doing incredible work for the planet, all while celebrating Black joy and educating followers on social injustices.

Wawa Gatheru

Wawa Gatheru smiles on the red carpet at the 32nd Annual EMA Awards Gala on Oct. 8, 2022 in Los Angeles.
Source: Getty Images for Environmental Media Association

Wawa Gatheru attends the 32nd Annual EMA Awards Gala on Oct. 8, 2022 in Los Angeles.

University of Oxford postgraduate student Wawa Gatheru is best known as the founder of Black Girl Environmentalist, a supportive online community of Black girls, women, and non-binary environmentalists. Gatheru is also the author behind a powerful piece for Glamour titled “Want to Be an Environmentalist? Start With Antiracism,” and she often uses her Instagram page (as well as the Black Girl Environmentalist Instagram page) to discuss intersectionality in the environmental movement.

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John Lewis aka Badass Vegan

Vegan activist John Lewis, aka Badass Vegan, fills his Instagram with memes about veganism and sustainable living, as well as news about the climate crisis and motivational quotes. He and Keegan Kuhn co-wrote and co-directed the documentary They’re Trying To Kill Us, which analyzes the connections between structural racism and chronic disease.

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Vanessa Nakate

Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate is the founder of 1 Million Activist Stories and the Rise up Movement, which both aim to amplify the stories of climate activists.

“I started the Rise Up Movement because I noticed that different voices in Africa were trying so much to get their message out there, to tell their stories, and yet it was almost impossible,” Nakate told Green Matters in a 2020 interview.

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Rue Mapp

Rue Mapp is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit network that “celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature,” with a focus on “changing the face of conservation.” In 2022, Mapp published a book titled Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors, which celebrates Black joy in nature.

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Summer Dean, aka Climate Diva

Climate communicator Summer Dean, better known as Climate Diva, uses her platform on Instagram and TikTok to share her hilarious educational videos about climate change. She is also a big advocate of intersectional environmentalism, and in honor of Earth Day 2021, she exclusively shared her best tip for making your climate activism more inclusive with Green Matters: to educate yourself on the diverse history of the environmental movement.

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“We’re often taught about environmental history from a western, white point of view,” Dean told Green Matters. “It’s crucial to learn about Indigenous histories and ways of building relationships with the earth in order to build a true understanding of what environmentalism and sustainability really are.”

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Ron Griswell

Ron Griswell is an outdoor adventure travel and environmental enthusiast, and he often uses his Instagram page to discuss racial justice, climate action, and the intersection between the two. He is also the founder of HBCUs Outside and a co-founder of Boyz N The Wood. If you’re interested in learning about those topics — or just want to see gorgeous travel photos — you should definitely add Griswell to your feed.

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Aja Barber

Aja Barber — who uses the pronouns she/her/they — is a writer, stylist, and consultant who focuses on sustainable fashion. She’s a must-follow on Instagram for anyone who wants to learn more about the environmental and ethical impact of the fashion industry. A few posts of theirs explain topics like fast fashion stealing ideas from Black designers, unfair pay in the garment industry, and tips for donating clothes so that they stay out of landfills.

This article, originally published on June 16, 2021, has been updated.

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