I spent World Environment Day (June 5) doing what I always do-fighting to improve the quality of life for my people of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. I’ve been inundated with fighting legal cases to prevent destructionment not only near my home island of St. Helena due to folks having their sites set on building on Bay Point which is a critical habitat for birds, loggerhead turtles, horseshoe crabs, and a wide variety of fish and keeping up with the environmental law roll backs coming out of Washington, DC while awaiting the status of our cases against the use of seismic air guns and offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. While the day moved on, I saw how the people around the world were flooding the streets to fight racism as I’ve done all my life and I was pleased to see the “sleeping giant awaken.” I prayed that it will stay awake until the world’s norm is equity and equality. As I pondered this, I knew the place to go to meditate on the moment that we are in amidst a pandemic-the ocean.
I drove out from my home island over to Hunting Island to visit the staff at our state park and the creatures in our waterways. More so, I needed to have a talk with GOD. I proceeded out on the Paradise Pier and GOD cleared it so that I essentially had it to myself. As I looked out in the distance, I saw that the environment had definitely changed since the coronavirus shutdowns caused less tourists to visit and less boaters to go out causing wakes in the waterways. As a result, there was more marsh growth and an area that was a small sand dune was now becoming a larger island due to accretion. I gave thanks.
As I thought of the various other emails that I needed to go back and respond to-international legal cases concerning the violations of the human rights of Black people in America, stopping a spaceport from being built in the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and international engagements and interventions regarding climate change, I realized that World Oceans Week and the Virtual Oceans Conference had all flowed by without me having a moment to take in any of it because I was too busy seeking assistance for the Gullah/Geechee Nation regarding storm preparation in the midst of a pandemic. This is that time of year when the ocean isn’t always our friend because its waters get swept up in the winds of hurricanes and gets brought on land. That land is where we have crops planted that were put in later than we used to because of climate change. Due to the changing climate the sea levels are rising just as the people are now too. So, I tilted my head up from the new island I was seeing and looked to GOD for what next to do.
I breathed in and thought of Eric Garner and George Floyd and their final words. I breathed in with the power of my ancestors who had no one protest the abuses that they suffered as they worked this land. I looked out over the water back toward the Motherland and I thought of how the ocean continues to link us back there and to others around the world. I paused and wondered how we’ll celebrate together “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean” in the midst of all the other things going on. I thought of how we can simply find a way to sustain Gullah/Geechee life in an environment that seeks to stop Black folks from breathing at all much less breathing in the healing air of a clean environment.
I reflected on the fact that World Environment Day has been celebrated on June 5 since 1974 to raise awareness and encourage action against the issues threatening our natural world and climate. I thought about how folk have continued to damage the lives of Black people in unnatural ways and to create unsafe environments for us to traverse around the world. I looked back down at the water and the new island and saw how a new world was coming into being. I saw how GOD was shifting things and bringing balance. I gave thanks for seeing.
“De wata bring we and de wata gwine tek we bak” spoke in my soul. I knew that this water that brought my ancestors to this land was beating out a new sound with every wave that crashed against the shoreline. I gave thanks just one more time and then slowly walked back to the car to go across to my Sea Island where were are never separated from the ocean since we live in it. I kept seeing the image of the growing island symbolically as I saw the rising tide of the people in the streets still flowing out to join all of us that have been out here before activism started trending. As I drove, I prayed that these grassroots will hold strong and not simply erode over time. I gave thanks for the healing on land, in hearts, in the ocean, and on the shore and I look forward to the equitable and blessed future that is in store.