Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.

Great strides are being made in the environmental space with political actions such as President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and we expect more to come out of the UN Climate Talks in Paris later this year at the COP21.

Every day we see studies being published on what our earth will look like 50 or 100 years from now if we don’t work to reduce carbon emissions. But what we still don’t see in this fight towards a healthier earth, is urban communities having a prominent voice in the conversation, even when our communities continue to be disproportionately affected by the pollution and subsequent climate change caused by the fossil fuel industry.

In fact, I, like many in the environmental justice movement are used to the question “do people of color care about climate change?” when the significance of organizing people of color around pollution and climate change is brought up.

The answer is yes; we do, an answer that may be apparent to those that have fought in the environmental justice movement to protect our communities from being further polluted and made sick by dirty power, but less apparent to those who think of climate change only in terms of rising sea levels and extreme weather.

This lack of representation and understanding is why it is so important to organize urban communities around the climate movement. After all, we already see that it is our communities where coal-fired power plants are built and pollute our air causing thousands of premature deaths, higher risks of asthma attacks and respiratory disease among our friends and families. From my work in this area, I know that stories of mothers having to bury their children because they are unable to afford the medication needed to treat asthma caused by air pollution are too common and rarely any see justice.

Strengthening our communities’ knowledge and leaders in the climate movement is crucial. Especially, as the fossil fuel industry continues to put false money into our communities and create fear about jobs insecurity and less opportunities. Organizing around this issue allows us to inform our communities about the importance of divesting from the fossil fuel industry and investing in clean and renewable energy that is already creating jobs across the U.S.

Through the Hip Hop Caucus and the People’s Climate Music “Act on Climate” National Bus Tour, we have traveled across the U.S. and seen the direct impact and significance organizing our communities through hip-hop music and hip-hop culture has on making the climate movement more diverse and inclusive. We can and should speak for ourselves about climate change. It is important for young people of color to see other people of color using cultural expressions, such as music, to talk about the importance of this issue.

Already, one of the most amazing things we are seeing, as a direct result of organizing in urban communities, is that a whole new generation is working for the solutions and our efforts help reveal these solutions by connecting the dots between the desire to act, and the tools needed to spark their action.

The more we continue to organize our communities around ending pollution and climate change, the more the question “do people of color care about climate change?” will subside. Instead, more people will ask “what is the next step we all need to take to solve this issue of climate change?” because this issue is not just about being white or being black. It is about being human.

Our past generations fought for equality, we are now fighting for both equality and existence. The only way we will win this fight is by making the climate movement more diverse and inclusive — that starts with organizing urban communities around pollution and climate change.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. is the President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. The Hip Hop Caucus is currently on a multi-state bus tour with musicians, actors, environmental leaders and community activists drawing attention to the injustice inherent in the fossil fuel economy and calling for a just and rapid transition to a clean energy future. For more information go to