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6 Black Philadelphians leading the environmental movement

6 Black Philadelphians leading the environmental movement

Meet these local leaders in Philly food justice and sustainability

Every day, Black Philadelphians lead the charge in promoting sustainability, food justice, and environmental education to the people of our city. Here are 6 incredible Black leaders in Philly’s environmental movement whose outstanding achievements help communities across Philly access nutrition, green space, educational programming, and more.

Arnett Woodall

Image courtesy of Facebook

Arnett Woodall, voted activist of the year at Green Philly’s SustainPHL awards ceremony in 2019, is committed to promoting the health and vibrancy of his community. As the owner of West Phillie Produce, Woodall offers up nutritious, affordable food and open space for community gathering with the goal of getting his neighbors — especially youth — excited about eating healthy food. In 2009, Woodall transformed the spot from an abandoned drug corner to a thriving storefront, training the neighborhood youth in construction and landscaping along the way. Today, the store continues to operate as a safe haven for community members, and Woodall donates pounds of produce on the regular. He hopes to inspire others in food deserts and areas hard-hit by crime to open up their own community grocery stores.

Kirtrina Baxter

Image courtesy of Twitter

Kirtrina Baxter is an urban farmer, Afroecologist, and community organizer with the Garden Justice Legal Initiative and Soil Generation. Her work through the two groups allows her to help other farmers and gardeners gain access to property suitable for gardening. She also advocates and educates urban farmers in Philadelphia. Many urban gardening plots start on vacant land, but developers can threaten the gardens’ existence. Through both organizations, Baxter pushes back against wealthy developers to oppose the harmful effects of gentrification on low-income Black and Brown communities and fight for their access to healthy food and green spaces. Baxter works to preserve cultural traditions through gardening and prioritize nutrition, healing, and Black connection to the land.

“Ya Fav Trashman” Terrill Haigler

Terrill Haigler — a.k.a “Ya fav trashman” — is a sanitation worker and Philly native. But outside of his day job, Haigler is dedicated to giving back to his community. He started his Instagram account in spring 2020 in order to educate concerned and disgruntled Philadelphia residents on the realities of sanitation work in the city during the pandemic. Since then, he has helped raise thousands of dollars to buy PPE for sanitation workers, organized a Thanksgiving food drive for Philadelphians in need, and created community cleanup events where residents helped to pick up litter. He regularly updates his Instagram page with information about cleanup events, trash collection schedules, and more, so be sure to follow for updates and instructions for how you can get involved.

Melvin Powell

Melvin Powell is a Temple University graduate and co-founder of Sunflower Philly, a nonprofit community arts space devoted to music, art, and sustainability. Powell and his partners have transformed the space, located in a small spot of land at the intersection of Cecil B. Moore and Germantown avenues, from a vacant lot into a vibrant venue which sports murals, hosts concerts, and — true to name — contains plenty of sunflowers. Powell also helped start up Trash Club, a group of volunteers who organize biweekly to pick up litter around the city. The organization has recently fought with developers to keep the space and prevent the encroachment of gentrification into the area. Powell’s goal is to make sure the space feels welcoming to neighborhood residents, rather than heightening their fears of gentrification and displacement.

Jerome Shabazz

Image courtesy of Facebook

Jerome Shabazz is the founder and executive director of the Overbrook Environmental Education Center (OECC). Founded in 2002 on a former Brownfield site, the OECC employs green stormwater infrastructure and hosts a wide variety of educational programming. Shabazz has piloted a huge number of programs and projects through the center, from the cleanup of the OECC’s Brownfield site to the O’YES environmental stewardship youth program. In addition to the center’s current programming, he is currently planning a new site, Overbrook Farmacy Philly, which will function as a community wellness center and farmer’s market. 

Jeannine Kayembe

Image courtesy of Facebook

Jeannine Kayembe is an artist, activist, and founder of North Philly’s Urban Creators collaborative. Although she has stepped down from her role at Urban Creators, her impact is lasting. Much of her work centers around her experience as a queer woman of color and her passion for environmental justice. In addition to her work as an artist and farmer, Kayembe has also teamed up with WURD radio (Pennsylvania’s only Black-owned talk radio station) as a project manager for their EcoWURD initiative, which brings news and discussions about environmental justice — especially environmental racism — to the station. Kayembe has made it her mission to get younger listeners interested in their environmental programming.

Cover Photo: Kirtrina Baxter receiving her SustainPHL 2017 award for Soil Generation

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Sophie Brous is an editorial intern at Green Philly. Born and raised in NYC, she now attends Haverford College, where she majors in linguistics. When she's not writing, she can be found exploring cities, making arts and crafts, and finding ways to live a greener lifestyle. View all posts by Sophie Brous
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