As a freshman at Howard University, I joined friends on the National Mall for the 1971 Earth Day celebration, a day of speeches, chants, and live music. "What are you black guys doing here?" one woman asked. "This isn't a civil rights demonstration."
Grappling with environmental issues has never been a concern separate from African American communities. Black America has often borne the brunt of environmental injustice, facing pollution, neighborhood division by highway construction, and graver risks from natural disasters.
African Americans have also led sustainability movements. In agricultural communities, dependence on the land led to earth-friendly cultivation techniques. Recycling and reusing were daily practices. This has made America better, a fact we highlighted in #CreatingNMAAHC.
@NMAAHC's LEED Gold building remind us of African American engagement in environmentalism and sustainability movements. The struggle to protect the planet and address climate change is one that is inextricably linked to civil rights, migration, fair housing, and many others.
The Smithsonian is committed to having these conversations, raising awareness, and making strides in conservation science. Look around the Smithsonian and you'll find many other examples of sustainability in our buildings and operations.
Our @SIGardens sees its orchid seedlings grow up to three times faster because we use reclaimed rainwater, reducing reliance on municipal water. With over 4,000 orchids in our collection, this saves us a lot of water and results in unblemished foliage.
The Smithsonian's first LEED Platinum building is our Mathias Lab at @SmithsonianEnv. With 250 geothermal wells, solar panels, and acres of wetland to capture stormwater, it was designed to emit 37% less CO2 than a similar lab that is not LEED certified.
It is with this history and forward-looking attitude that we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Day next year. I am eager to continue the @Smithsonian's #EarthOptimism conversation. Let's re-frame the way we think about conservation and remember that success is possible.
@EarthOptimism is an opportunity to harness the whole of what the Smithsonian has to offer. It’s an opportunity to use our power as a convener to bring together scientists, stakeholders, cultural partners, and media to tell the wide range of stories that need to be told.