Centering Young Black Leaders in the Face of a Looming Climate Crisis

This story was contributed by Nyasha Harris (she/her) and Radiah Shabazz (she/her) on behalf of the People’s Climate Innovation Center (Climate Innovation). Contributors like Nyasha and Radiah—and organizational partners like Climate Innovation—bring new perspectives to Community Commons. We believe that the most innovative, sustainable strategies are shared and inspired by those working on the ground. We see community stories as critical building blocks in advancing equitable well-being—by sharing stories from different voices, we can learn from each other and spread lasting change for the greater good. Click the embedded links to learn more about the CC Contributors Network and our foundational work in Centering Black Voices.


We are facing a climate crisis. Communities of color—Black communities, in particular—experience disproportionate impacts from climate change despite contributing the least to the ongoing crisis. Frontline communities—those experiencing the consequences of climate change “first and worst”—are burdened by the extremes of our changing climate, which often exacerbates threats to health, public safety, and economic stability. In addition, those on the frontlines of climate change remain grossly under-resourced, receiving lackluster support—financial and otherwise—to implement solutions to specific needs of their communities. In order to  mitigate these harms, we must look to these same communities for input and guidance. Solutions to climate chaos should be rooted in racial justice and prioritize community-driven approaches. Access to resources that enable solutions requires often understaffed and under-resourced community-based organizations to jump through unrealistic hoops

Historically in the U.S., Black communities and communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the harmful effects of climate change, due in part to long-standing systemic inequities that have racist roots and render these communities more vulnerable. These communities are not only more vulnerable to climate impacts; data show that communities of color are also more vulnerable to harmful effects of COVID-19 and racialized violence. Opportunities like those provided by Young Black Climate Leaders are vital to combating insurmountable circumstances under-served communities face, building capacity for community-led, lasting change, and setting the stage for a better, more equitable future.

Triple Pandemic

Although we are several years removed from the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black communities continue to navigate the lasting effects of a “triple pandemic” of racialized violence, COVID-19, and climate change. The federal government has lifted its COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Declaration, but its rippling influence on the U.S. economy is still heavily felt; 2023 labor force participation rates attempted to return to their previous levels. Meanwhile, rates of housing instability and other impacts of the triple pandemic on mental and physical health are increasing. Further, community-based and smaller organizations struggle to sustain as they aid those on the frontlines most impacted by the realities of this triple pandemic given the increased expenses for precautionary measures to ensure safety. 

The realities of COVID-19 and the climate crisis impact everyone, but people of color are disproportionately impacted due to the compounding effects of systemic racism. Black people and other people of color are significantly more likely to be burdened by economic upheavals, hotter days, flooding, fires, disasters, displacement, and health impacts exacerbated from generations past. Black people are 40% more likely to live in areas with deaths related to extreme weather temperatures—a statistic that rises to 59% as the planet's temperature increases. Status quo policy-making continues to push to the margins and under-resource Black people, people of color, and low-income communities. Fundamental shifts that go beyond incremental mitigation and adaptation efforts to address complex climate challenges are necessary to drive solutions and decision-making that center these communities and their expertise.

To counteract the negative impacts of generations of inequitable policies and practices, we at People’s Climate Innovation Center (Climate Innovation) not only highlight the experiences of frontline communities, we intentionally pour into them by providing resources, funding, and support. We know that the depth and breadth of communities’ expertise far surpass the vulnerabilities placed upon them.

This Black History Month, like we do every month, and in honor of the fourth annual Black Climate Week, we are centering, amplifying and uplifting the voices, experiences and expertise of Black changemakers in the climate justice arena. 

Young Black Climate Leaders

At Climate Innovation, we work nationally to build capacity for and deploy community-driven solutions to climate change, rooted in racial justice. Our Black-led team is committed to moving resources and power to meet the needs and priorities of frontline communities, including our youth. Our strategies are grounded in our Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning (CDCRP) Framework and applied in the evolving design and growing infrastructure of our core programs: National Association of Climate Resilience Planners (NACRP), Young Black Climate Leaders (YBCL), and Young Climate Leaders of Color (YCLC).

YBCL, our flagship program, supports a growing, vibrant ecosystem of young Black leaders between the ages of 18-28 who are successfully advocating for and transforming their communities for racial and environmental justice. The program does this by providing opportunities for young Black leaders to expand their roles in environmental and climate leadership. The program is the brainchild of our Director, Corrine Van Hook-Turner, and supports the dreams and futures of Black youth through access to support, resources, and funding. The program is financed through the youth-led Youth Futures Fund, governed by young Black leaders to award funding to other young Black leaders that support their work on the ground.

“For me, YBCL in its present and in its future is the manifestation of an irresistible freedom dream,” said Corrine Van Hook-Turner, Director of Climate Innovation. “Centering and nurturing our young Black leaders' bold, boundless brilliance is an essential pathway to living into the Black futures we know are possible [and] building toward collective liberation intergenerationally and intersectionality.” 

Since launching in 2020, YBCL has supported nearly 350 youth nationwide, granting over $370,000. Last year alone, the program distributed a total of $42,000 to 10 exceptional young leaders from eight states across the country. We also hosted two Dream Labs—inclusive, all-Black spaces for youth to dream the dreams of their ancestors and honor the legacy and contributions Black people have made to climate justice—including an in-person session in Chicago, IL with our 2023 cohort of 10 youth.

YBCL took a chance with me, which [is what] most youth of color need—just a little investment,” said Kieshaun White, a 2022 YBCL cohort member. “[My YBCL] award has helped take my project to the next level. It provided me the opportunity to expand my project to do more in-depth work with youth to teach them about climate change, environmental justice and environmental racism.” White’s project seeks to educate youth in Fresno, California, about environmental racism and how it shows up in their community as poor air quality along with what they can do to address it. 

Another 2022 cohort member, Sarah Martin, offered the following reflection on her experience with the program: 

“The YBCL program has been a transformative force in my life, shaping me into an environmental and climate leader and kindling my passion for sharing the transformative stories emerging in my community. It granted me the opportunity to spotlight critical initiatives, such as Black People Who Hike (BPWH)—a St. Louis-based environmental justice organization committed to empowering, educating, and engaging Black people to explore the outdoors. With the support from the Young Black Climate Leaders Youth Futures Fund Grant, I had the privilege of joining BPWH's 2022 National Park Tour, capturing and sharing the inspiring narratives of Black hikers. This experience was incredibly enriching, equipping me with invaluable leadership skills in communication, conflict resolution, and deep community engagement. I am immensely grateful for the program and the boundless opportunities it has provided. Serving as a steward for the next generation of grant applicants is an honor, allowing me to give back to a program that has poured so much into me.”

Applications for our 2024 Young Black Climate Leaders cohort are now open! Learn more about the program, application requirements, funding opportunities and levels, and the overall application process here.

The impact of the YBCL program is far-reaching—leaving a legacy behind and setting the stage for communities to choose their own destinations in the face of adversity, racism, and a looming climate crisis. “Remember "nothing about us without us?" Remember FUBU—For Us, By Us? Well, I guess you can say it's FUTU—For Them, By Them. Add an R-E and you have FUTURE. That's what we're investing in,” said Van Hook-Turner. “Their dreams, their vision, their design, their innovation, their solutions, their stewardship! Giving is a gift and we set our young Black leaders up for success when we sustain what we invest.”

Our work will continue throughout the year, even when Black History Month ends in just a few days. We invite you to join us in continuing to grow this vibrant network and pouring into our youth leaders by connecting with us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn and by subscribing to our newsletter


More Community Commons Originals

Collage of images of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color with teal, olive green, golden yellow, and burnt orange transparent overlays. Bold white text on charcoal background at the top reads
BIPOC Health Equity Library
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 09/27/2022
Colorful compilation of photos of Black people
Centering Black Voices
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Photo of young Black child with short hair sitting on the ground with their head in their hands.
Race-Based Stress and Intergenerational Trauma
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 09/16/2022
In Solidarity with Maui: Taking Action for Wildfire Response, Recovery, and Prevention
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 08/24/2023
Photo of a group of people at a climate action protest with signs that say
Taking Action for Climate Justice: Our Top Tools, Resources, Stories, and Data
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 02/20/2024

 Related Topics

Card image
Environmental Racism

Card image
Rural Communities

Card image
Coronavirus Pandemic

Card image
Racial Justice

Card image
Climate Justice