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These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Tyjana Connolly increases inclusive environmental leadership through Black women-led climate action. As co-founder and executive director of Black Eco Bloom, this 25-year-old lifts up Black womxn’s voices, raises awareness about the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Black communities and builds resilience through knowledge-sharing.

Tell us about your project.

Our Triple EEE program educates Black women about pathways to green careers. Guest speakers discuss removing systemic barriers and give practical advice about the education one might need.

Participants in our STARCAP partnership relate general environmental and justice education to their own lives and communities from Canada to African and Caribbean countries. One participant proposed a systemic change to address food insecurity caused by lower crop yields in Zambia.

The Climate Crisis from the Black Perspective is a social media series where we present our research on the intersectional experiences of Black people and the environment. Our Instagram page (Child Marriage and Climate Change) has more than 1,000 followers, almost all of whom are Black womxn and their supporters.

We employ people who learn administrative, research and communications skills, as they build their own capacity to support Black womxn to be green leaders.

How did you get into this work?

My co-founder Leila Cantave and I met during an internship and attended COP26 in Scotland. We were both upset by the failure of the gathering to amplify voices like ours. There was representation, but it was disorganized. We also shared a desire to do sustainable work in our communities but lacked access. We came home and formed Black Eco Bloom, used our networks to hold our first webinar and the rest has evolved. Leila is from Haiti and my family’s from Jamaica. Climate change severely impacts our communities and families. This heavily influences the work we do.

As co-founder and executive director of #BlackEcoBloom, Tyjana Connolly, 25, lifts up Black womxn’s voices and raises awareness about the disproportionate impacts of #climate change on #Black communities. #youth

How did your background influence you?

My grandmother told me their house in Jamaica was very small because they did most of their living outside. The land provided for them. She would sell extra produce at the market to buy things they could not grow. When she came to Canada, her vegetable garden sustained her all summer.

She also taught me that the land provided medicine for both body and spirit. She talked of making “blessing baths” with herbs to banish evil spirits and feelings that did not serve us. Black people’s relationship to the land is often described in terms of human labour, but she always knew that it’s much deeper than that.

In university, I learned the term "environmental racism," which puts a name to the disproportionate impact pollution, extractive industries and segregation have on racialized communities everywhere. That was the spark. I decided to spend my life working to correct that injustice.

What makes your work hard?

A funder turned us down, saying we should seek funding from Black-run foundations as ours was a niche concern. This kind of thinking is not uncommon, but it is the polar opposite of what we need to solve the climate crisis.

Tyjana Connolly speaking at a panel at COP27 in Egypt at the Canadian Pavilion. Photo submitted by Tyjana Connolly

What keeps you awake at night?

I live in Calgary. Alberta is already dramatically impacted by climate change and the impacts on racialized communities are clear. For example, heat mapping shows how much worse it is to live near industrial plants or highways, where a lot of racialized communities are situated. The amount of flack our city council has endured for a simple ban on plastic straws is unbelievable. There is so much work to do, and figuring out how to navigate this often hostile culture is tiring.

It is complicated. In Alberta, oil and gas funds our libraries and recreation centres but it’s also responsible for a declining work sector, violence in rural communities and the obvious devastating impacts on our planet. At a certain point, we have to understand the benefits don’t outweigh the costs. Where do you begin?

What gives you hope?

The people with whom we engage at Black Eco Bloom are such an inspiration and joy.

What do you see if we get this right?

My dad worked in oil and gas. I could see how hard that was on his body and mind. I dream of a world of good, safe jobs close to home that repair and restore both us and the planet.

What advice do you have for other young people?

It can feel hard and scary to engage but you are not alone. Find your community and the way you can contribute will find you.

What about older readers?

Thank you to my grandma and the women before her for passing on their knowledge. This is the knowledge that saves us.

Thank you to those of you who support us.

Even if you do not support us, we have so much to learn from your fears. I am so curious to understand how the loss of a plastic straw is seen as an unacceptable price to pay to begin our reconciliation with the planet.

Keep reading

It has been my observation over a period of about 50 years that the risky and hazardous residential areas are also generally where poor people live. I sometimes wonder if "of color" isn't a more socially acceptable way of saying "poor."
I also wonder why it is that "the young environmentalists" seem to believe that the "old folks" don't care about climate, and have little (or perhaps nothing) to offer. It's also interesting to note that while the elders of people of color are held to have important knowledge, the "colorless" don't.
Personally, I've always considered drinking straws to be reserved for rare occasions, if for no reason other than that's how it was when I grew up. Mind you, back then the straws were made of waxed paper.
Recently I did hear of something, though, which is that some people with swallowing difficulties can drink through a straw. If I were one such, or a child or caregiver, I might not find straws to be one of the ultimate evils.
I saw for sale recently "permanent" straws, made of glass or bamboo. They're difficult to make/keep clean -- but the problem was provided for, with a tiny-gauge bottle brush. Made with plastic bristles.