I’ve always loved being outdoors, but these days, I’m taking walks for my sanity’s sake. Between the pandemic and our national reckoning with racial justice and equity, feelings are running high and can be overwhelming. Getting outside — for those of us who can do so without fear, at least — is essential self-care.
I feel joy riding a bicycle. Ever since I was a kid playing on public golf courses, I’ve loved hitting the links — and I’m working with the USGA to advocate for more sustainable golf courses. From the Colorado mountains I lived by as a child, to beautiful landscapes in Africa and New Zealand that I’ve been fortunate to visit as an adult, I experience nature as something that nurtures, and I want everyone to be able to experience the Earth that way. That’s one part of what drives my environmental activism.
Humans are earthly beings and right now, we need nature. That’s why it’s especially important to listen to leaders like Angelou Ezeilo, CEO and founder of the Greening Youth Foundation, which engages under-represented youth and young adults and connects them to the outdoors and careers in conservation. It’s important to learn from Rue Mapp, CEO and founder of Outdoor Afro, whose volunteer leadership team of nearly 90 men and women in 30 states across the U.S. celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature and helps people take better care of themselves, communities and the planet.
These women — and so many other leaders in the Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian communities — understand that taking care of the planet is synonymous with taking care of our communities. That’s why Angelou, Rue and host Sean A. Watkins and I will be talking about "Our Soulful Nature and The Earth" on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on the livestreamed show Climate Curious, produced by The Solutions Project. You can join our discussion on The Solutions Project’s YouTube and Facebook channels, and on NowThis’s Facebook channels. Climate Curious aims to elevate the voices and work of frontline nonprofit organizations — the majority of which are led by people of color — who are successfully working on climate justice and solutions.
Black people have always held a soulful connection to the land. Mother Earth is tied to our history, from before Africans were stolen from their lands and enslaved by plantation owners in what became the United States. Surviving that brutality, millions of our ancestors cultivated the land and sacrificed their lives fighting for the right to live on U.S. soil as equal and not separate citizens.
Today, Black people advocate for clean energy, safe drinking water and fresh air. We stand up against systemic racism that keeps us from our history, lands us in toxic zones and threatens our safety in nature. And still we rise. We are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors who devoted their lives to moving the country closer to its founding promise of equality and freedom.
That’s also why I work as a Global Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. Environment Programme and serve as a board member at The Solutions Project. I believe we must all strive to create a world that is in harmony with the environment.
I work toward a world where we abolish destructive racist, sexist, classist and homophobic government policies, and are liberated from the social constructs that support their existence. I want to see a world in which the air we breathe fills our soul with joy and not chemicals, where wildlife is protected and we can walk and live on our land and breathe free.
As we reflect on the loss of the great Rep. John Lewis and carry forward his commitment to racial equity, we must also live up to his keen understanding of our relationship to Mother Earth. Rep. Lewis said, “It is my belief that our country needs better environmental protections and that real protections do not have to come at the expense of jobs or our economy. Whatever we do to the earth, we do to each other.”
____Don Cheadle is an award-winning actor and environmental activist. Cheadle currently stars on Showtime’s hit show ‘Black Monday’ and will be a guest on ‘Climate Curious’, presented by The Solutions Project, live on Tuesday, July 28 at 1 p.m. PDT / 4 p.m. EDT on its YouTube and Facebook channels.