Black Faith Leaders Turn Focus to Next Generation

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Recently we were moved by Zianna Oliphant — a brave young girl who spoke to the Charlotte City Council after the death of Keith Lamont Scott: “We are Black people and we shouldn’t have to feel like this. We shouldn’t have to protest because ya’ll are treating us wrong.”

That is courage in the face of fear. In the face of injustice. Can we please offer this girl a microphone every day?

Ambrose F. Carroll and Kevin Slayton, Sr. (Twitter and Courtesy Photo)
Ambrose F. Carroll and Kevin Slayton, Sr. (Twitter and Courtesy Photo)

Black voters have been a particular focus of this election. However, it is about time politicians and the media expand their view of our people beyond that of victims and perpetrators.

Before Charlotte, America watched a Black mother in Flint reveal a rash on her two-year-old boy’s legs after he’d bathed unknowingly in poisoned water. Estimates are that between 6,000 and 12,000 children in Flint have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead. Politicians like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and polluters who have contaminated the Flint River for decades are responsible. In response to the water crisis, 8-year old Mari Copeny, “Little Miss Flint”, wrote this to President Obama before traveling across the country to meet him: “I’ve been doing my best to march in protest and to speak out for all the kids that live here in Flint.”

Of course, Flint is no outlier. Last year we learned that nearly 5,000 children in Baltimore had been poisoned by lead in the last decade and many others before that, including young Freddie Gray. Maryland has its own young Black hero in Destiny Watford, who this year won the international Goldman Environmental Prize for organizing Baltimore residents to defeat plans to build the nation’s largest incinerator less than a mile from her school.

Like Zianna, Mari, and Destiny, African American faith leaders are taking action in the face of crisis.

Our great city of Baltimore will host an important gathering of African American faith leaders with the partnership of Green For All and Interfaith Power & Light at Gwynn Oak Methodist Church – the third annual Green The Church National Summit Oct. 25 and 26. Then, on Nov. 13, hundreds of Maryland pastors will preach climate justice from the pulpit as part of the second Climate in the Pulpits weekend.

Our Green The Church Summit could not come at a more opportune time for the country to turn toward the prophetic tradition of the Black Church.

Since its inception in 2010, Green The Church has brought together more than 400 Black Churches with three goals: 1) Amplify Green Theology, 2) Promote Sustainable Practices, and 3) Build Power for Change.

Now is the time to build power for change; before, during, and beyond this election. One way we can do so is by voting. But the voting booth is not the only place our voice matters right now.

In the coming weeks, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and eight Northeast Governors will make a decision that will impact millions of dollars in annual funding for utility bill relief, tens of thousands of good green jobs for a decade, air quality in our most polluted communities, and the strength and speed of our changing climate. That decision is whether to extend and strengthen the carbon pollution cap in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Governor Hogan’s administration has been supportive of RGGI. In recent weeks they have expressed disappointment at their portrayal in the media as being prepared to potentially withdraw from the program, assuring advocates that they will not do so. They do maintain a concern that stronger pollution limits could harm the economy and put Maryland at a disadvantage in the region. The evidence suggests otherwise. In 2015, the Analysis Group reported that Maryland had gained $213.8 million in net economic benefits and 2,475 net jobs through RGGI from 2012-2014. They also concluded that the net impact on consumer utility bills was a decrease of over $100 million, not an increase. With the green economy growing and polluting power becoming more expensive worldwide, the benefits of a stronger RGGI will only grow.

More than most, African Americans understand the threat of climate change and the opportunity of green jobs for our communities. However, right now our families are paying the health, economic, and environmental costs that polluters should be paying, given their emissions. That is one reason why President Obama and Black leaders around the country are speaking out on this issue. And that is why, in the spirit of building power for change, today we are announcing that Green The Church is joining the call for Governor Hogan and all RGGI decision makers to support a stronger, 5% declining annual carbon pollution cap from 2020 to 2030. We pledge to continue to lead the way as our state and our country transitions toward a green economy.

The Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll is the founder of Green The Church (greenthechurch.org) and senior pastor at the Church by the Side of the Road in Berkley, Calif. The Rev. Kevin Slayton, Sr. is president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Metropolitan Baltimore and senior pastor at New Waverly United Methodist Church in Baltimore.