Arsema Thomas never considered environmentalism when she was studying biology and public health. As a Black woman, other concerns were calling for her attention.
“I think the environment space has never been a place that was easily accessible as a Black body,” she told HelloBeautiful in an interview. “I remember being like, I can’t care about the environment because I’m here to discuss racism,” she said. “Racism is the thing that I want to focus on, not the environment.”
Family ties inspired Thomas to act
A family member working in the field introduced her to the disproportionate impact of those most vulnerable. “It was my sister, who is in the environmental justice space, who smacked me upside the head and was like the environment is so closely tied to racism. You don’t even understand! And I started to see,” said Thomas as her beads clacked together.
The Environmental Protection Agency published a report in September 2021 that found that “Black and African American individuals are more likely than their reference population to live in areas with the highest increases in childhood asthma diagnoses from climate-driven changes, the highest increases in mortality rates due to climate-driven changes in extreme temperatures; and the highest rates of labor hour losses for weather-exposed workers due to extreme temperatures.” A 2022 publication from Current Environmental Health Reports stated, “Racially and socioeconomically marginalized communities in the USA have been shown to experience greater impacts from storm and flood events, extreme heat, and infectious diseases that are becoming more frequent due to climate change.” Researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom have concurred with this.
Extreme weather events in cities like New Orleans have decimated Black neighborhoods.
Shows like P-Valley depicted fictional representations of the impact of climate change on Black communities long before Manhattan was tinted orange.
Understanding the risks prompted the Queen Charlotte actress to lend her popularity to supporting activists tackling how the effects of climate change show up in their communities. She joins Rosario Dawson, Don Cheadle, Jaden Smith, and other celebrities discussing climate change.
“If the climate is not here, it doesn’t matter about racism; we’ll all be gone, and so, the best way to target both at the same time is to engage in the intersectional environmental space,” Thomas continued.
Arsema Thomas is the face of a new incubator program. It aids young leaders in the field with the resources they need to make change.
Toms of Maine funds the program and offers each leader $20,000 in financial support. It also connects them to mentors and helps to promote their messaging in the public sphere.
Participants include ocean climate solutionist Bodhi Patil, 20, founder of Black Girl Environmentalist Wawa Gatheru, 24, co-founder of The Earth Hacks Foundation Sanjana Paul, 25, grassroots environmental justice organizer Alexia Leclercq, and Eco Healing Project founder Aliyah Collins. Thomas credits their work for “regalvanizing a whole generation of people.”
As a former butcher’s assistant, Thomas knows what it is like to be young and fighting for a dream.
“I think people who have a different connection to it can speak to it in a different way,” said Thomas. “We’ve been very settled on it being a science rather than it being a social issue as well.”
Her medicine cabinet matches her values. She supports brands like Bolden Cosmetics and was intentional about lending her voice to this project.
“That’s exactly what Toms of Maine’s incubator is doing,” she added. “So when I saw that this program exists. I couldn’t not want to be a part of it. I mean, their whole premise is about Amplifying the voices that are coming out of these underrepresented communities. Specifically about climate change, how they are being affected, what solutions that they have naturally and organically coming out of their communities and giving that – finally- the resources and guidance it needs.”
Learn more about the Tom’s of Maine Incubator here.
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