The Sierra Club's executive director Carl Pope wrote the foreword for the book and sums up its essence quite nicely:
"What Sharon Freeman has done with 'Blacks Living Green' is to try another approach to make visible the invisible, to make familiar the unfamiliar, to show that Barack Obama’s concerns and values about the environment come out of his experience with his community – because his community is seamlessly engaged in the American struggle, and effort, to make the way we live compatible with the future we imagine for our children.I had the chance to ask Dr. Freeman a few questions via email and wanted to share her responses here.
This book does an excellent job of showing that African Americans have always been part of the environmental movement - in fact, in many areas, they started the environmental movement. The stories come from places and people across the U.S. and around the world, all with helpful tips, definitions, guides and inspiring words.
"She does this in the only way that can really change the frame - she tells the story of ordinary people, doing ordinary things, in an intentioned and conscious way - more sustainably. And this is not always easy - the fact that our society doesn’t make sustainability easy is just as true for African Americans as it is for anyone else - and that common struggle is one of the connections that Sharon makes tangible in this book.
"And this book does something else. Because the rest of us don’t usually think about living green as a part of the Black experience, she gives us a fresh look at issues and struggles that we face, but that we may have simply become accustomed to."
Do you have any favorite stories in this book?
a) Fred Carter (Chicago, IL): Because of the breadth and scope of his interventions to bring black urban youth into the world of sustainability. He takes bus loads of Chicago kids weekly out to his permaculture facility in Pembroke and introduces them to concepts of sustainability. It's also a family affair with his wife, Dr. Jafunza Carter, who is a medical doctor who uses her training to help her clients live healthier lives.
b) Malik Yakini (Detroit, MI): Because he integrates concepts of sustainability in everything he does in many facets of life - from urban gardening to the educational system - and because he lobbies the city government to allocate vacant lands for urban gardening for food security.
c) Prince Immanuel Ben-Yahuda in Israel for helping to lead an entire sustainability community of African Americans in Israel.
Is there anything that surprised you while you were researching and writing this book?
Not a surprise - but rather an inspiration that so many ordinary African Americans are doing their parts in "small smart steps" to live more sustainably. It's particularly heartening that in these difficult financial times that people are extending themselves to others to express their concern and their love for their fellow man and all living things to conserve the earth for future generations.
What does it mean to you now to have both the president and the head of the EPA be African Americans? What does it mean for the environmental movement?
Influencing people boils down to inspiration, motivation, and strategy. These leaders are positive role models that inspire us, motivate us, and show us strategies for living more sustainable lives. Not only do they show us "how," more importantly they show us "why" we should care.
What I want readers to know is that African Americans are also leaders in sustainability in their own way and that from them we can learn how to live more sustainability in "small smart steps."