Photo credit: Shoog McDaniel

It was the summer of 2009 when Black and queer activist Jeannine Kayembe Oro first got involved in the fight for climate justice. The environmental advocate headed to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts. What started as temporarily helping a local community turned into a lifestyle committed to Black liberation and climate activism on a national scale. 

The activist’s trip to New Orleans deeply impacted her perspective. In 2010, Oro founded Urban Creators, an organization that uses food, art, and education as tools to nurture resilience and self-determination in Black neighborhoods.

With Urban Creators, Oro worked to create more green spaces in Philadelphia, where 44% of the population is Black. Now, she works with Indigenous communities, and is currently shooting a short film in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to document climate solutions for Indigenous folks. 

“This next iteration of my career is really documenting and creating space for a narrative shift for Black Indigenous women of color to have their climate solutions documented. The solutions live within the matriarchs’ work,” she says. 

Like many Black and queer activists, Oro believes Black liberation can’t be acquired without queer liberation.

Word In Black spoke with Oro about the most pressing environmental issues for queer people, the importance of acknowledging queer voices and identities year round, and how climate justice can contribute to queer liberation. 

Word In Black: Where do you currently live?

Jeannine Kayembe Oro: Me and my partner are stewarding seven acres of land in Joshua Tree, California. We are not doing European-based agriculture. We are stewarding native plants that already lived there because they’re medicinal. 

WIB: You founded Urban Creators. What has the organization done for climate justice? 

JKO: When I was there, my specific work had to do around the intersection of art and the transformation of green space in Black neighborhoods. What does it look like to transform specifically Black and Brown communities using art and urban farming? The work at the center was at the intersection of agriculture and racial justice. 

WIB:  Can you tell me a little bit about your work in climate justice activism?

JKO: I work at The Center for Cultural Power, where my work around climate justice is around narrative change. I just created a film called The Aunties. I would say that my biggest work in climate is capturing these stories. Black farmers own Harriet Tubman’s ancestral land. They’ve been together for 50 years. They’ve been stewarding this land in Preston, Maryland, for half of that time, so for almost 25 years. 

WIB: How long have you been involved in environmental activism? 

JKO:  I have been involved in environmental activism since 2009. I really started my work around climate disaster relief in New Orleans. I learned a lot about urban farming and the intersection of urban farming and African spirituality. 

WIB: Why should Black and queer folks care about climate change?

JKO: Black and queer people, we are the most marginalized and the most impacted. That means we have the best solutions. We are the most innovative in the things that we do to survive. Look at who’s the head of all of it. It’s Black, queer people because we’ve been doing it since our inception. We have chosen family. Chosen family becomes mutual aid, and mutual aid is a solution to the climate crisis.

WIB: Do you think fighting climate change contributes to queer liberation?

JKO: One hundred percent — I think it’s the intersection of life. In order to have liberation, we need to see the intersection between identity, race, class — all of these social identities. The more we disrupt the systems that oppress us, the more we’re free. 

WIB: What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue for queer people?

JKO: It’s so hard for Black trans people to find housing. It’s so hard for Black people to be food secure. The climate crisis issue, that’s all back to capitalism and extraction. There shouldn’t be a reason why our relatives aren’t eating.

WIB: Do you think queer activists should be recognized outside of Pride month?

JKO: We should be celebrated every single day. There’s too many Black queer folks who have not been celebrated in our history. 

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