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We shall breathe: Hip Hop Caucus pushes for systemic, equitable environmental change

Holistic environmental change requires equitable solutions that eliminate pollution, poverty and environmental racism in marginalized communities. To illuminate the need for a connection between racial justice and environmentalism and push for environmental and racial justice reforms, Hip Hop Caucus is hosting the first ever “We Shall Breathe” virtual summit on Tuesday, April 20.

The Summit will stream live on April 20 from 7:00 pm ET to 9:00 pm ET on weshallbreathe.com, across all Hip Hop Caucus social media channels and across EARTHDAY.ORG‘s platforms. It will also air on April 22 on WPFW (D.C.’s Jazz and Justice Radio channel) from 10:00 am ET until 12:00 pm ET and WBAI in New York City from 6:00 am ET to 8:00 am ET.

We asked Hip Hop Caucus Think 100% Organizer Nakisa Glover and Digital Director JaRel Clay what viewers can expect from the summit, how racial and environmental justice are intertwined and why they are as important now as ever. Their responses are recorded below.


EARTHDAY.ORG: What were your motivations for planning the “We Shall Breathe” summit?

Hip Hop Caucus: We wanted to illustrate to the world on the 51st anniversary of Earth Day that there is a network for Black, Brown and Indigenous people who have dedicated their lives to fighting the climate crisis and reversing its impact on our planet, starting with our communities which have been ground zero for some of the most devastating impacts of climate change. The Summit is bringing together some of the most powerful, multigenerational Black, Indigenous and Brown leaders working on pollution, the pandemic, police brutality, poverty and policy to affirm to the Biden Administration that racial justice and climate justice solutions must come from frontline communities and BIPOC communities. The same Black and Brown voters that decided the election for President Biden are the same communities that have been most impacted by environmental injustice and racial terror and discrimination, and who are most threatened by climate disaster. “We Shall Breathe” is a dynamic display of the struggles our communities face, the solutions our communities envision and the joy and power of grassroots movements.

We can’t breathe because of police brutality, pollution, policy, poverty and the pandemic.

Pollution that is causing the climate crisis is disproportionately in BlPOC communities, it is environmental racism, and it is why we can’t breathe.

The pandemic has disproportionately taken the lives of BIPOC people in the US because of racial health disparities tied to our environment, our economy and racial bias in the health care system, and it is why we can’t breathe.

Police brutality is a daily occurance in our communities. Police officers kill Black, Brown and Indigenous people with impunity, and they overpolice us to fill for-profit prisons and detention centers, and it is why we can’t breathe.

Poverty keeps our communities in a perpetual state of resource deficit, with not enough resources to overcome systemic racism and environmental injustice, and it is why we can’t breathe.

EDO: How will your summit promote Hip Hop Caucus’s vision for racial justice, healthy communities and a healthy planet?

HHC: Throughout the Summit, we will present a set of demands that embody our mission to fight for those impacted first and worst by injustices in America. This includes recommendations for addressing the tragedy and trauma around mass shootings and Black, Brown and Indigenous people murdered by the police. This includes fighting corporations and politicians who label our neighborhoods “the path of least resistance” when creating toxic infrastructure, pipeline and drilling plans, and showing those bad actors that we will always be the path of resilience for our people. This includes creating policy that improves the health and wealth of BIPOC communities while fighting the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Summit will illustrate how fighting for those who are first and worst impacted by injustice will create a world that is just and equitable for all.

The We Shall Breathe National Earth Day Summit affirms our collective struggle as BIPOC communities to realize the right to breathe free from pollution, the pandemic, police brutality, poverty and policies designed to exploit and harm us.

We Shall Breathe represents past movements chanting we shall overcome, and current movements screaming, “I can’t breathe.”

We Shall Breathe is a call for justice and liberation. 

We Shall Breathe is a call for systems change over reforms. 

We Shall Breathe is a line in the sand where we are unequivocally saying our lives — our ability to breathe — is more important than the continued comfort of the status quo.

EDO: What do you hope summit attendees will take away from the event?

HHC: Our goal is to affirm our collective struggle as BIPOC communities and to realize the right to breathe free from pollution, the pandemic, police brutality, poverty and policies designed to exploit and harm our people.

The outcome is a set of demands for the Biden-Harris Administration grounded in the fact that there cannot be climate justice without racial justice, and there cannot be racial justice without climate justice.

On Earth Day, April 22, President Biden is hosting a Global Climate Summit with world leaders. The Biden-Harris Administration has committed 40% of climate investments to be directed to frontline communities. During “We Shall Breathe,” we make clear that the 40% justice commitment is a start, not the ceiling, and we are calling for more.

Find the “We Shall Breathe” Demands and add your name at weshallbreathe.com.