Bio: Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Gerogia
1. How did you get involved in environmental justice?
About six years ago, Laura Seydel, Ted Turner’s daughter, invited me to see a movie, The Great Warming. At the time, the environment was the last thing on my mind. I was more concerned about HIV, cholesterol, diabetes, unfair jail sentences, disparity in drug sentencing—these kinds of things. But I went to see the film.
The next thing I knew I was talking to African-American pastors about something that was not on our screen: Earth Day. If we understand that God created a perfect earth and that we’re destroying it, then we have an obligation to enlighten our people about this and find out what we can do. And I had to tell the people in the old environmental community that this is not a campaign—it has to be a movement, similar to the civil rights movement. People must be involved, knowledgeable, aware.
2. Why have you used the word “conversion” to talk about your awakening to environmental needs?
I could not make the connections initially between my community and polar bears, so I began to read about it. Once I began to understand, I took it from 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people will humble themselves and seek my face, turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and heal their land.” I saw the land as bigger than just the ground; I saw the land as being all of us, as one. If God can create a climate where animals and plants and human beings work together, we have a responsibility to try to maintain that balance. That’s when the “conversion” really hit me.
3. Was environmental justice work picking up steam in the African-American community?
It was picking up quite a bit of steam—many of us began to talk in terms of light bulbs, carbon emissions, health issues around asthma, and all of that. But when the economic downturn hit, people naturally began to think about employment, health insurance—“bread and butter” issues. When you talk about, let’s say, a nuclear plant that won’t be built for 10 years, that’s on the back burner. What we’re doing is showing that there is no disconnect between the two.
4. What gives you strength in your ministry?
God is the God of all people. God is the kind of God that would not put us someplace without a way for us to survive. And that’s where faith comes in—the same way that we fought for the right to vote in ’64 and ’65, now we’ve got to stand up for clean energy, clean air, and clean water, as a right for people. If it means marching, if it means petitioning, if it means raising funds, if it means preaching, then we’ve got to use those avenues. We serve a sovereign God that will always be there for the uplifting that we’re called to do: the uplifting of God’s people here on earth.
—Interview by Anne Marie Roderick