Getting in on the Green Ground Floor

African Americans have traditionally been last in line for America’s economic advances. The burgeoning green movement offers an opportunity to change that.

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This transition will spur new industries and markets, from solar panels and wind farms to green construction and retrofits to new technologies like hybrid cars. Each of those mean business opportunities, jobs, and better products and services for our nation.

That is exactly what the doctor ordered for African-American families. Our communities have had to fight tooth and nail for every opportunity we’ve had in the pollution-based economy. Even so, those opportunities have been skimpy. We have been last in line for jobs, careers and educational opportunities—and first in line to bear burdens like pollution, economic downsizing and social service cuts.

With limited access to opportunities, many of our communities have turned on themselves, further destroying their neighborhoods, homes and families.

But other parts of our communities have created gardens, restaurants and industry to heal the wounds from a pollution-based economy. More recently, black-owned solar companies, food cooperatives and green-training programs have started to widen the playing field for the green revolution. These businesses need investment and support to usher in a new era of green prosperity.

Black Americans need to be leading the charge for the new, green economy. If we help set the ground rules, we can make sure our communities get equal access to the opportunities of the new economy—and equal protection from the burdens of the climate crisis. In all of American history, we have never had a chance to do that.

If we let that chance pass us by now, African Americans just might spend the new century exactly where we spent the last one: locked out of the American economy.

But if we seize this opportunity, we will reap immeasurable rewards. We will have more than jobs, or successful businesses, or new homes, or clean air and water, or any of the most obvious material benefits that will flow from green investment. We will have greater stability, in our homes and in our neighborhoods. We will have the economic strength to match the strength of our hearts and our hopes.

We can finally have the safe, strong, healthy communities for which we have struggled for generations. That is the promise of the green revolution.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is the CEO of Green for All, a national organization building a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.