Catching up with RPL’s new board president Vic Thasiah on celebrating Black History Month and RPL’s inclusive environmentalism.

RPL: To celebrate Black History Month, you’ve recommended that the RPL board of directors read Leah Penniman’s new book Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists. Who’s Leah Penniman, and why this book?

Vic: Penniman and her family started Soul Fire Farm in 2010, which she describes as “an Afro-Indigenous-centered community farm dedicated to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system through [an] emphasis on farmer training, feeding folks who lack access to life-giving food, and rabble-rousing for systems change.” She’s also the author of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (2018). 

The book Black Earth Wisdom is a collection of remarkable conversations she’s had with leading Black environmentalists that, as she puts it, “unequivocally define the past, present, and future of environmental stewardship as inexorably connected to Black brilliance.” It’s the best place I know for runners to continue learning about what to celebrate this month and beyond.

RPL: In approving their strategic plan, the RPL board of directors recommitted to infusing inclusivity in everything they do. As we celebrate Black History Month, how does Black environmentalism inform what inclusivity means to RPL?

Vic: Penniman writes, “The philosophies and practices of colonial conquest, subjugation, extraction, and commodification mutually reinforce each other, and simultaneously exploit racialized people and the earth…[A]ny hope of solving the environmental crisis will require an examination and uprooting of the white supremacist ideologies that underpin the crisis. The voices and expertise of Black, Brown, and Indigenous environmentalists, amplified by all those who have eschewed white supremacy, must be heeded if we are to halt and reverse planetary calamity.” This is what inclusive environmentalism looks like. 

RPL: How will RPL ensure that it infuses inclusivity in everything it does?

Vic: We’ll continue to collaborate with and learn from the contributions of Black, Brown, and Indigenous environmentalists, and make inclusivity work the standing first item on our monthly board meeting agendas. This dedication to inclusivity – an openhearted commitment to see all of the brilliance and breakdown in the world to see – comes from our striving for excellence and effectiveness. Just like coaches encourage runners to do mobility work to increase their range of motion, Black environmentalism encourages us to do inclusivity work to increase our range of vision.

RPL: Great to catch up with you, Vic. Last question: who’s your favorite Black environmentalist?

Vic: My favorite outdoors-person and environmentalist happens to be Black. Easily, Harriet Tubman — visionary abolitionist, determined leader, brilliant naturalist, endurance runner, and embodiment of true freedom in wild places. Learn more about her in Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s book She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman, and more recently in Tiya Miles’s Wild Girls: How the Outdoors Shaped the Women Who Challenged a Nation. She’s my ongoing inspiration both at RPL and on the trails.