Environmental Justice & Racism – Where We’re Starting

July 14, 2020
by Kerri Sorrell, Des Moines Program Coordinator

Last month, Trees Forever put out a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around George Floyd’s murder (“Racism is hurting our cause – and we shouldn’t look away”). In our statement, we acknowledged the historical injustices and barriers that people of color have always faced in the environmental community, which are well-documented and widespread. We know that as we continue to learn and grow in solidarity with environmental justices causes, the work Trees Forever does will better serve the communities we work in and all those who care about our mission.

We also made a pledge in our statement to continue educating ourselves so that we may take action on creating a safer, more representative and inclusive outdoor community. Last week, we provided staff with a list of resources to dig into that explain more fully those injustices and barriers. We had many people reach out and respond to our original blog post who were upset to hear about how racism has impacted our work at Trees Forever. We wanted to share the list of resources we shared with staff so that our supporters and followers can join in this justice work alongside us.

This list is not comprehensive and was compiled by a (white) staff member through their own research throughout the years. We want to acknowledge that most of these resources wouldn’t be available or possible without the amazing Black folks and people of color who have spent years writing, researching and experiencing these topics. We’re grateful to them for their work, and we ask that if you find any of these resources particularly helpful or interesting, please research the authors/creators and consider supporting them and their work. And, if you have other resources you’d like to share with us, we hope that you’ll send them to us so that we can grow our resource list!

Articles for base knowledge

If you care about racism and making things better, but don’t really know the history of how racism was embedded into environmental work or some of the terminology used in things you’re reading/seeing, these are some good articles and resources to get a base working knowledge.

Studies on race & the environment

There have been many people who have been studying diversity, racism and the environment for years. These are just a few of the studies they’ve put together to give us a better understanding of where the environmental field is now in terms of diversity and inclusion.

  • Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Tree-Planting: a look from a group that worked to do tree plantings, thinking they were doing a good thing, but were faced with a lot of resistance. Full research study can be found online, this is an article about the findings.
  • Green 2.0: The most comprehensive report on diversity in the environmental movement. It surveyed 191 environmental non-profits, 74 government environmental agencies, and 28 leading environmental grant making foundations to investigate their gender and racial diversity composition. The study included confidential interviews of 21 environmental leaders from diverse backgrounds and experience. Here’s a summary and link to the report for more info.
  • Diversity and the Conservation Movement: A look at how organizations can work to bring more diversity and equity into outdoor work. (Audubon Society, USFWS, NAAEE)
  • Recreation Visitor Research: A look at how different groups of color interact with the outdoors and what they want to see from public land and recreational spaces (US Forest Service

People to follow / Thought leaders

People of color, many of whom started organizations to bring awareness to POC outdoor enthusiasts or have written books about inclusivity in the outdoors. Some of these folks we follow on Instagram, where they produce excellent educational material.

Shows, Books & Podcasts

Additional, longer-form resources for education and awareness. Trees Forever will be purchasing copies of many of these titles so that staff may read them. Please check your local library or podcast app see their availability.


  • City of Trees – from a peer group in Washington, DC. Check out the trailer. You can buy or rent from YouTube or if you have Amazon Prime, it is available there.
  • 13th – documentary on Netflix


  • Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, Carolyn Finney
  • How To Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander 
  • The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection, Dorceta Taylor
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, Lauret Savoy
  • Many, many more


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