Environmental Activists of Color: Meet Tom's of Maine Incubator Diamond Spratling

By Angela Tague in Thinking Sustainably

For the second year, Tom's of Maine is providing support and mentorship to a group of environmental champions from undrerepresented communities working to solve some of Earth's most pressing challenges. The Tom's of Maine Incubator Program strives to further these individuals' efforts and ensure they are included in the conversation about climate change, sustainability, and solutions.

Meet Diamond Spratling, Founder of Girl Plus Environment

When it comes to women of color environmentalists, Detroit native Diamond Spratling is at the forefront of empowering women and nonbinary individuals to stand up for environmental justice. Diamond is the executive director and founder of Girl Plus Environment, a nonprofit organization focused on educating people about climate issues, health equity, and racial justice. Diamond is also a public speaker, activist, and entrepreneur.

We had the chance to talk to Diamond about what sparked her interest in environmentalism, how she's participating in the Tom's of Maine Incubator Program, and what we can do to support her work.

Diamond Spratling

Tell us about your background. What started your interest in environmentalism?

My interest in environmentalism started when I was a kid. I always loved being outdoors. I loved the environment, the color green—all those things you would think about when you visualize a stereotypical environmentalist. But I became especially curious about my environment when my dad made enough money to move my family to the suburbs just a few minutes outside of Detroit. It was then that I realized my environment was significantly different. I had access to things that I didn't have access to before. This made me even more curious as a kid, so I decided I wanted to study environmental policy in college.

However, I noticed early on that there weren't many people who looked like me who were also interested in environmental issues. It became very unsettling and concerning for me, so I began to talk to my friends and family about environmental issues—specifically about how our environments impact people who look like us. That led me into the realm of environmental justice.

I wanted to ensure that the people most impacted by environmental issues were at the forefront of environmental decisions, equitable solutions, conversations, and advocacy policy so that those solutions would be representative of their needs.

How do you plan to leverage the Tom's of Maine Incubator Program's support?

Five years ago, I founded Girl Plus Environment, a national nonprofit committed to placing women and nonbinary individuals of color at the forefront of climate and environmental discussions, decisions, and equitable solutions. Recognizing a gap in representation within a sector that disproportionately impacts people of color, Girl Plus Environment strives to reshape the narrative around climate and environmental issues.

My goal is to inspire more women of color to take ownership of the environmental movement. Through impactful digital campaigns, we've cultivated a membership of over 380 women of color across the US. We focus on assisting them in finding jobs, accessing resources and funding, and creating spaces for connection within the field. Crucially, we provide opportunities for training and learning experiences, empowering women of color to take meaningful action on climate and environmental issues and mobilize their communities.

Over the past few years, we've been instrumental in advocating for clean, affordable energy policies in Georgia. Through training sessions, we've equipped numerous women of color with the skills to submit public comments, participate in hearings, and effectively communicate about energy policies within their communities. Additionally, we've pioneered a program that trains Black hairdressers as community health advocates. This initiative helps them educate their clients about toxic chemicals in hair products, which have been adversely impacting Black women's reproductive health.

Our commitment extends beyond specific environmental issues. What matters most is that Black and brown women are prepared to advocate for our collective health and well-being, and I'm striving to provide the tools, resources, and community necessary for them to do so effectively.

What do you hope to gain from the Incubator Program?

I'm thrilled about the opportunity to join a community of fellow young climate activists. Engaging in this work can often be isolating. At times, it feels like there aren't many people who truly understand the daily dedication to addressing such a monumental issue.

The opportunity to connect with the other Incubator members, learn about their initiatives, and share experiences has already been invaluable. I'm also eager to increase visibility for my work as an environmental justice activist. Showcasing the impactful projects at Girl Plus Environment is essential. But when I'm immersed in the day-to-day efforts on the ground, it's easy to become overwhelmed even though the work remains gratifying. While the organization accomplishes remarkable goals, there isn't always the capacity or network to broadcast these achievements widely. Participating in the Incubator Program provides a unique chance to gain exposure among diverse individuals, networks, and organizations.

In what ways do you see climate change disproportionately impacting underrepresented communities?

I've witnessed climate change disproportionately affect underrepresented communities daily. When white America experiences a setback, Black America often faces even more severe consequences. This is evident in extreme weather events, such as oppressive warm weather that puts people at risk for heatstroke. Underrepresented communities consistently bear the greatest burdens, struggling with inadequate funds to afford heating in winter or air conditioning in summer due to the intersection of climate change and economic barriers Black and brown communities face.

From Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Irene, natural disasters have brought new challenges. While these events have impacted people from various backgrounds, the trend is that Black and brown communities consistently shoulder the greatest burdens, particularly during the recovery phase. Climate gentrification poses a significant issue in Miami, where rising sea levels are altering the desirability of coastal living.

Unfortunately, many underrepresented communities lacking homeownership face rising rents and can't afford utility bills and living costs, resulting in displacement. These examples underscore how climate change and environmental racism have historically impacted—and continue to impact—underrepresented communities disproportionately.

Diamond Spratling

How do you think we can make the mainstream environmental movement more inclusive and representative of diverse voices?

I've been working to make the environmental movement more inclusive and representative of diverse voices through my role at Girl Plus Environment. I've been intentional in how we communicate environmental issues, avoiding technical terminology and striving to resonate with those who haven't engaged with the environmental movement. This involves examining the intersectionality of the environmental movement with issues more pressing to BIPOC communities, such as housing, gentrification, health equity, racial justice, affordability of utility bills, and even culture.

Culture, especially within the Black community, has always been significantly important. Utilizing culture as a tool to engage more Black individuals in the environmental movement is key to building our self-efficacy and collective efficacy. It helps people understand that this work is closely tied to their health, well-being, daily life, commute, ability to provide for their families, and more. This is how we build power and ensure diverse voices are heard in the movement so that environmental solutions are equitable and representative of those most impacted.

This Juneteenth, how would you encourage the Black community to fight for environmental justice?

I would encourage my community to advocate for environmental justice this Juneteenth by actively participating in the environmental justice movement. This can take various forms, like spending time outdoors with family and friends—whether it's taking a walk, going hiking, having a picnic, or engaging in activities that bring joy and a sense of liberation.

Additionally, I would urge my fellow Black community members to never stop fighting for themselves, regardless of the challenges or how unattainable the goals may seem. We deserve to live happy, healthy, and safe lives. When we unite as a community, we can collectively build durable power, advocating for ourselves and our environments. Everything is interconnected, from the food on our tables to access to grocery stores and fresh foods to clean air and drinkable water. It's all worth it, and as a community, it's something we rightfully deserve.

Do you have any plans for Juneteenth you'd like to share?

My plans for Juneteenth are to go back to my hometown, Detroit. Detroit is known for its Black history and just being a safe space for Black people to gather.

During my time at home, I'm hoping to do all the things that make me feel happy and liberated. For example, I'm planning to gather a few of my friends and have a picnic at Belle Isle, a well-known park in the heart of Detroit. I hope to invite close friends to bring dishes that were important to our ancestors while enjoying some Motown music.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved in climate organizing but doesn't know where to start?

My advice is that it's totally fine to be hesitant, but you belong here in this space as much as anyone else. I'm particularly talking to women of color, who have historically been told they don't belong in the space.

Girl Plus Environment was created to provide a safe space for women of color to engage in climate and environmental organizing. So it doesn't matter if you've been in the space for five minutes or five years—we welcome you to join our membership. We welcome you to engage with us on environmental issues through social media because you belong in the space more than anyone. No solutions are equitable without us at the forefront of those decisions, those solutions, and those conversations.

Supporting Environmental Equity

The Tom's of Maine Incubator is designed to propel the next generation of leaders innovating environmental solutions. The program provides funding, mentorship, amplification, and support to young changemakers from underrepresented communities, helping them Do Good. For Real. You can get involved, too. Stand with Tom's of Maine and support these environmental activists by following Diamond and Girl Plus Environment on Instagram.

Want to hear more from Diamond? Check out her interview on Girls United.

Image Source: Diamond Spratling

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Diamond Spratling and other environmental activists of color work hard each day to create awareness around climate change issues and educate diverse populations so they can advocate for social, economic, and environmental wellness.