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Environmental Justice
Press Statement June 18, 2021

NAACP and Black Appalachian Coalition Host Appalachia Black Invisibility Event

Environmental Justice

Denise Abdul-Rahman

Bishop Marcia Dinkins
Black Appalachian Coalition

Baltimore, MD - Today the NAACP is putting a spotlight on some of the poorest communities in the nation. These areas can be described as the Affrilachians, such as The Ohio Valley, Central Appalachia and Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.   Although the region has long provided raw materials to fuel American prosperity elsewhere, it has suffered economically and, in many places, people have experienced downward mobility.

Absentee corporations and extractive industries have left the land scarred and the people in the region sick. Among those hit hardest by the losses are the Black Appalachians. Not only have Black residents of the region suffered tremendous economic and cultural losses for decades, but they are also ignored. The whitewashed narrative of Appalachia -that rural means white -makes invisible the rich cultural history of Black Appalachians and their many contributions to the region. Worse yet, invisibility means these Black communities in the region will continue to bear the greatest burdens of economic distress and environmental damage. Until their voices are heard--until they are seated at the decision-making tables--it will not be possible to overcome the long history of deliberate exclusion and disinvestment.

Today will be the launch of the Black Appalachian Coalition (BLAC)  and the need for black voices to be at the table to enable the region to build back better.  NAACP and BLAC will co-host a dialogue on the Affrilachia: Black Invisibility to speak to the need for equitable and inclusive investments within these communities that bear the burdens of polluting systems.  Speaking to this critical issue will be Dr. Jacqueline Patterson, Senior Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program,  Mr. Frank X. Walker, Bishop Marcia Dinkins, Executive Director of Black Women Rising, and a cameo appearance by Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali. 



In 2021, the Biden Administration has poised tremendous opportunity in the region.  In addition, the Administration has pledged rapid action on climate change while posturing a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure and economic recovery. The Biden Administration must be cognizant of the need for equitable and inclusive investments within these communities that have been historically neglected.  

According to Author, Educator, Poet and co-founder of Affrilachia Concept, Frank X Walker, "A successful divide and conquer strategy has not only historically portrayed working-class whites in the region as a permanently perceived underclass, it has portrayed African American and other people of color as silent and invisible, while the facts about this cradle of Black Genius is one of the most important, yet still largely ignored truths in American history."

"Fixing what is broken will require amplifying the voices of Black Appalachians. Their very presence in public conversations will begin to shift the fundamental narratives about Appalachia while also beginning to remedy some of the racist policies that have long disadvantaged Black people in the region", said Bishop Marcia Dinkins of Black Women Rising and leader of the Black Appalachian Coalition.

"The amazing people of Appalachia have for far too long been marginalized and forgotten, while the Affrilachians have almost been non-existent in the narratives around both triumph and tragedies. It's time to make sure the unseen, unheard, and disenfranchised have a strong voice on a multitude of opportunities to transform the region - from health care, to education, environment, voting, and a new clean economy. Together we can uplift our most vulnerable communities and assist them as they move from surviving to thriving in the 21st century." said Mustafa Santiago Ali.

According to Jacqueline Patterson, Sr. Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, "As we commemorate the Tulsa Massacre and mourn the fact that since that tragedy, too little has changed with regard to the overt and insidious systemic oppression and suppression of Black people, now is the time to ensure that in all corners of society, we claim our voice and agency. With our central mission as stewards of civil rights, the NAACP is proud to serve as an anchor to this endeavor to uplift the leadership of Back Appalachians in our overall aim to shift from an extractive, exploitive economy to a regenerative, living economy, thereby truly achieving the age-old promise of  liberty and justice for all." 



Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country, the NAACP is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation. We have over 2,200 units and branches across the nation, along with well over 2M activists. Our mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP.

NOTE: The Legal Defense Fund, also referred to as the NAACP-LDF, was founded in 1940 as a part of the NAACP, but separated in 1957 to become a completely separate entity. It is recognized as the nation's first civil and human rights law organization, and shares our commitment to equal rights.