The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalitionhas collaborated with partners of the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank for almost a decade in order to bring about equity in the discussion of sustainability. We have spent countless hours in dialogues and providing presentations on this subject and how cultural sustainability is directly linked to environmental justice and sustainability in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. The culture in the Gullah/Geechee Nation is inextricably tied to the land and will not exist if the people are displaced by overbuilding, greed, or the rising seas brought on by not only hurricanes, but the negative impacts of climate change.
More oft than not, the dialogue and discussions about hurricanes and climate change have taken on the scope of devaluing locations financially in order to justify where funding and other resources will be directed during emergency responses and the restorations that follow. Given that many of us that live on the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation are part of a major tourists destination, we bear the burden of being capitalized on by many people of other cultures that see this area and any information that they can obtain about Gullah/Geechee traditions as tools to exploit the culture and the area for financial gain. The gated, suburbanized, resort, and gentrified properties are used to calculate the value of damage that would come after a storm hits or major flooding takes place. However, the value of the cultural heritage in these locations is not measurable via metrics and formulas. Therefore, the priceless nature of the Gullah/Geechee Nation is not something that de cumya comprehend.
How can equity be obtained when the value of a people is non-existent in the minds of those directing the financial stream that pours in when disasters-natural or manmade-strike? If these are the same people that have displaced entire families in order to build places of recreation and retirement without concern for the survival of the family unit and the indigenous culture that was part of the land that they occupy, they do not consider the Gullah/Geechee people of value beyond them coming back through their new gates to serve in some capacity. So a racist and classist sea of inequity and injustice unfortunately continues to rise with the literal rising sea.
In spite of the Gullah/Geechee Nation having a fifth season annually-hurricane season, it is still difficult getting people that are not Gullah/Geechee traditionalists to see how we can only sustain the environment of the region by preventing further massive building on these sacred lands that are literally the barrier islands that protect the inland areas. Our Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank members at Climate Central (www.ClimateCentral.org) have developed an outstanding tool called “Risk Finder” that has helped us speak the same language that others from the western world speak in regard to sea level rise and calculating the risk to people as well as property. When you visit https://riskfinder.climatecentral.org/ you can use it to actually create .pdf documents that include data in various forms including charts and maps that you can print out to use in reports and in presentations. These have been especially useful in presentations regarding gaining equity in having funding transferred to the communities listed as the most “at risk” instead of having the funding continually going to the tourists districts under the guise of saying that stores and resorts are more valuable than improving the quality of human life and helping to save the lives of those who may not be able to financially or spiritually afford to run.
In our case, Gullah/Geechee folks are tired of running because our Black lives are again in jeopardy. Each time our folks run from the Sea Islands and the Lowcountry for any reason, we find ourselves having to fight to find a way back financially without help from anybody. If folks die by drowning and/or completely lose their homes, it plays out on TV dramatically and in reaction to this, a few coins come in on fundraisers for about a week or so and then that goes away when the cameras and news stories go, but we are left to literally bury the bodies and rebuild our lives and communities for decades to come.
Trying to rebuild your family while simultaneously working not to get displaced by humans and by nature is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, “imagination!” That is the thing that many seem to be lacking these days. With that in mind, we called on Climate Central to help us dramatize why it is so important for our people to get involved in the work to lessen the impacts of climate change and to prepare for the potential impacts amidst the rising sea. One of the first things that they have been able to create has taken over a year to put together, but it speaks volumes to what can take place on the peninsula on which Mother Africa’s seeds began to take hold and grow roots that have spread from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL-Charleston, SC:
This flyover has helped us lift to new heights and no doubt to new audiences what we are fighting to maintain in the Gullah/Geechee Nation-the continuation of our cultural heritage on the coast. This imagery I now couple with a video that I reshare each and every hurricane season when folks begin viewing The Weather Channel with more and more intensity since we can get their attention back on a topic that never leaves my mind-how will we keep Gullah/Geechee people alive on the coast.
I was on my way to the Global Climate Action Summit on the west coast when reports of hurricanes heading to the east coast were coupled with typhoons that could possibly reach some part of the west coast while fires burned in some parts of the midwest while flooding took place in the rest and then I saw a Tweet about an earthquake in South Carolina. Each time I chose to turn my phone back on it started dinging repeatedly with emails and Tweets from environmental partners around the globe that had seen the posting that we sent out from The Weather Channel. Folks were excited about this powerful piece and I recall someone writing, “Queen Quet, you nailed it!” In the midst of the cacophony of sounds at the Global Climate Action Summit, the city we were in and the dings and vibrations of my mobile device, that statement brought a smile to my face. I realized then that all of us that are working together to bring equity and justice to the environmental movement are making a difference and we can do so all the more as we continue to work together around the globe. We have to become the new storm that can combat the others that come against us and cause us to take pause and reassess what is the most valuable thing to save. I am sure we all came to the conclusion that it is the people of the cultural communities that do not often have the resources at their disposal to to fully prepare for all of this. Instead, these communities, brace, pray, and stay. We have to help insure that they can stay. This is no easy task either as you can see here when you look at my beloved St. Helena Island, SC and what is taking place due to the rising sea:
Each time I work with the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank members, my hope is renewed in not only the future, but in humankind. I see that there are legitimately people that are sincere in wanting to help the planet to be a better place if they can. I decided to open up dialogues with them this year via a new series entitled “Zooming in on Sustainability”which takes place each Wednesday at 3 pm EST and reairs each weekend via Gullah/Geechee TV (GGTV). On the second episode, entitled, “Zooming in on Coastal Sustainability Scientifically,” our Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank partner, Kate Cell of the Union of Concerned Scientists showed us some powerful slides that not only displayed the impacts of rising seas on Charleston County, SC, but discussed the heatwave that we are dealing with again this year and how climate change will exacerbate this in the coming years. We had a powerful discussion about how the issues of migration to avoid these things is definitely an issue of equity. Tune in to hear the discussion yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQBkFMBBnW8:
Yes, during a pandemic and in the midst of a rising sea, I am repeatedly hearing and constantly fighting for the achievement of equality and equity. Without these things, there is no point in believing that we are truly free. So, I will keep on praying for direction as we continue this fight to insure the continuation of who webe riycha een disya land ob de Gullah/Geechee! We ain gwine le de wata rise hiya den we!
Make sure you are prepared this hurricane season, gwine ya fa hep: