Founder of Intersectional Environmentalist
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Leah Thomas, founder of The Intersectional Environmentalist, has always considered herself an environmental advocate, marching alongside fellow activists to call for climate justice. But it was a combination of personal experiences and mounting frustrations that Black and Brown communities were disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis that has landed Leah on a new journey — leading the charge in the intersectional environmentalism movement.
Growing up in the Midwest, Leah left home for college in California, where she decided to study environmental science. During one break just as she was set to return back to school, Michael Brown was fatally shot by the Ferguson police, which ignited citywide unrest and garnered national attention. Forced to be away from her family in St. Louis, Leah was distracted by the racial injustice happening so close to her family and friends.
“I couldn’t really focus on my classes because my family was back home — my sister was getting tear gassed. I mean, I was getting my hair braided and I saw my parents on CNN in a protest. I was learning about the Clean Air Act, and I would scoff and say, ‘What about my community back home because they’re drowning in the smoke of tear gas.’ Also, I was reading all of this data in my classes about Black and Brown communities being disproportionately impacted by environmental racism and injustice. Around the same time I was learning about intersectional feminism, which differs from mainstream feminism, which is not always inclusive of BIPOC communities. That’s what led me to intersectional environmentalism and defining what it meant to me. I just realized if my feminism is intersectional, then my environmentalism should be intersectional.”
"I was learning about the Clean Air Act, and I would scoff and say, ‘What about my community back home because they’re drowning in the smoke of tear gas.’ Also, I was reading all of this data in my classes about Black and Brown communities being disproportionately impacted by environmental racism and injustice."
"I just realized if my feminism is intersectional, then my environmentalism should be intersectional.”
On top of that, Leah had worked at prestigious environmental organizations early in her career. Despite the companies having reputable certifications (like B Corp, 1% for the Planet and Fair Trade), Leah realized there were no protections in place that protect people of color within the organization.
“It just felt like there was something missing. I was at my dream company that I idolized for being this perfect environmental company — and they are, but the diversity component was missing. That made me realize that there was a gap here.”
So, Leah founded the Intersectional Environmentalist, a platform for resources, information and action steps that dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement. “With the Intersectional Environmentalist platform, we’re finding a way to 1- create a community of people from different backgrounds to share stories that show that we all have our own cultural traditions and connections with the lands that are valid and 2- create a certification and partnerships process for businesses that fills in the gaps other certifications have.”
“I don't want this just to be a social media moment."
“I don't want this just to be a social media moment. I saw a lot of companies sharing my graphic as a way of saying, ‘this is what we stand by,’ but not doing any internal work. I don't want an organization to be able to be certified if their internal diversity isn't there or if the only positions where there's diversity are entry-level or service positions — that's not cutting it.”