9 Black Environmental Leaders to Follow

Collage of Black environmental leaders
February 21, 2024

To celebrate Black History Month, we are continuing our series spotlighting Black leaders at the forefront of important conversations around sustainability and climate justice. Among these nine leaders are academics, forestry experts, activists, sustainable fashion entrepreneurs, and government officials—four of whom are Yale alumni.

Read below to learn about these trailblazers, and click here to catch up on last year’s article, “15 Black Environmental Leaders to Follow.”

Wawa Gatheru grew up in rural Connecticut on Mashantucket Pequot land. As the daughter of Agĩkũyũ Kenyan immigrants, Gatheru grew up with a deep connection to the land. She is the founder of Black Girl Environmentalist, empowering Black girls, women, and non-binary individuals in the climate movement. As the organization’s executive director, she oversees programs fostering emerging climate leaders of color in community building, green workforce development, and narrative change. Her work has earned her recognition as a Climate Creator to Watch by Pique Action and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Wawa Gatheru on Instagram

Nyombi Morris is a 24-year-old climate activist from Uganda, the CEO of the nonprofit organization Earth Volunteers, a UNOCHA Ambassador, and a CNN Environmentalist of Tomorrow. He began his activism after flooding disrupted his parents’ source of livelihood, forcing them to find a new place to call home. Morries has since appealed for more urgent action from world leaders to take climate change more seriously and to discourage polluters through policy development. His story has been featured on the BBC, CBC, CNN, The Verge, Global Citizens, Reuters, and Earth.org among others.

Nyombi Morris on Instagram

Yale alumnus Dr. Michael K. Dorsey ‘96 MFS is co-founder of the Sunrise Movement and several other organizations and businesses, and is a faculty member at Arizona State University. He is widely published on the environment, development, and sustainable finance. Dorsey has had a significant environmental advisory role in the U.S. government under presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. He received the Rotary International Paul Harris Medal for Distinguished Service to Humanity and National Journal recognition as one of 200 national “energy and environment expert insiders.”

Dr. Michael K. Dorsey on Instagram

Over the past decade, Dominique Drakeford has dedicated herself to reshaping sustainability by infusing it with transformative justice and creative innovation, all while maintaining a stylish presence. With a B.A. in business environmental management and a master’s degree in sustainable entrepreneurship and fashion from NYU, Drakeford has become a notable social sustainability writer and ethical street-style influencer. She has been featured in Elle Magazine, Teen Vogue, and other major publications, and has partnered with brands like Timberland and Swarovski. Her work spans historical land-use systems, equity in sustainable fashion, daily sustainable living, sustainability literacy, anti-racism, and community building. As the co-founder of Sustainable Brooklyn, Drakeford endeavors to bridge the gap between the sustainability movement and marginalized communities, advocating for regenerative solutions and equitable partnerships to combat ecological anti-Blackness and elevate Black and Brown Indigenous voices in sustainability dialogues.

Dominique Drakeford on Instagram

Yale alumna Michelle Lewis ‘13 MDiv, MESc is a renaissance woman interested in the intersectionality between justice issues and spirituality. She is a reverend, food justice advocate, founder of the Peace Garden Project, U.S. Senate candidate, and former U.S. Park Service ranger and law enforcement officer. She counseled families following Sandy Hook, did community aid during COVID, is an accomplished seamstress launching a line of clothing, and still preaches and advocates actively. She holds an MESc from Yale School of the Environment and a master of divinity from Yale Divinity School and a certificate from Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

Michelle Lewis on Instagram

Samata Pattinson, the CEO of Black Pearl, is a British-born Ghanaian entrepreneur passionate about cultural sustainability and connecting communities with the planet. Her initiatives, like Red Carpet Green Dress, have brought sustainable fashion to the Oscars and garnered recognition worldwide, including her authoring of the Sustainable Style Guide for the 95th Annual Academy Awards. Pattinson’s contributions extend to influential film projects like Texas, USA and climate change events like Billie Eilish’s “Overheated.” She was also involved in the COP26 and COP27 global climate summits, and has spoken at Yale School of the Environment and other institutions.

Samata Pattinson on Instagram

Yale alumnus Terry Baker ‘07 MF is CEO of the Society of American Foresters, the first African American to lead the organization in its 118-year history. A respected expert in forestry, and the environmental field more broadly, Baker spent 17 years with the U.S. Forest Service as a forester, supervisory forester, district ranger, and deputy forest supervisor. He earned a master of forestry from Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (since renamed Yale School of the Environment) and has worked to raise the profile of forestry and foresters, including featuring in the Colorado episode of “American Forests with Chuck Leavell.”

Terry Baker on Twitter/X

Yale School of the Environment alumna Olivia C. Glenn ‘03 MEM serves as the EPA’s senior advisor for Equity and chief of staff to Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. A longtime advocate of ensuring that underserved communities have access to the outdoors, Glenn believes all people have a right to experience and enjoy the benefits of nature. She previously served in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, where her work to make natural spaces and trails more accessible earned her the Camden Environmental Hero Award. 

Donnel Baird is the founder and CEO of BlocPower, an early-stage startup dedicated to marketing, financing, and installing solar and energy-efficiency retrofits primarily in financially underserved neighborhoods, which it does by engaging churches, synagogues, nonprofits, and small businesses. Through BlocPower, Baird aims to improve energy efficiency and expand access to renewable energy sources in underserved communities, driving positive environmental and economic impacts. As CEO, Baird leads efforts to address energy disparities by providing sustainable solutions tailored to the needs of marginalized groups and small enterprises.

Donnel Baird on Facebook