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The History of Black Excellence in Social Justice: Dr. Robert Bullard

Author: Apeel Team

In honor of Black History Month, we’re sharing four stories of Black Americans who have gone beyond excellence, achieving the extraordinary in agriculture, science, social justice, and sustainability. Each week, members of our Black Lives Matter Task Force here at Apeel will share an individual who has inspired them with their work. 

This week, we are spotlighting Dr. Robert Bullard and his fight for social justice when it came to environmental discrimination. His work was chosen by Crystal Franco, our Quality Assurance Coordinator here at Apeel.

After receiving his Ph.D. in sociology in 1978, Dr. Bullard and his wife filed a lawsuit against the siting of a landfill in a Houston neighborhood that was 82% Black. In his research, his team found that Black neighborhoods were often disproportionately chosen for the city’s solid waste sites, even though Black folks made up only 25% of the city’s population. This was the first study on record to document environmental discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. 

“It was an awakening for me,” Bullard said of his research. “I decided I am not going to do dead white men sociology. I am going to do kick-ass sociology.” 

Dr. Bullard became a prominent advocate through efforts such as lobbying for the establishment of the Office of Environmental Justice within the EPA, as well as the Environmental Justice Executive Order in 1994. As a distinguished professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy, Dr. Bullard has written an array of books on topics such as sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, and community reinvestment.

He’s also a co-founder of the HBCU Climate Change Consortium and a proud U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

“I wanted to feature Dr. Bullard as he’s become known as the ‘Father of Environmental Justice’ and perfectly embodies the Principles of Environmental Justice which he helped create as an organizer for the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. By merging the civil rights movement with environmental justice, Dr. Bullard established that there is no such thing as environmental justice if there is no fairness, justice, and equity for all people through dismantling systemic racism.

Throughout his life’s work, Dr. Bullard encourages the next generation to advocate for justice with the support of research and science: ‘We have always been taking research we produced and translating it into action that communities can own and take to whatever venue – the city council, the state legislature, congress, the presidency – to change things.’ Utilizing scientific research to promote progress and revolutionize global systems is an action Apeel embraces on our way towards a more equitable global food system that can provide access for all and feed the future.” – Crystal Franco

Want to check out more historic examples of Black Excellence in Social Justice, Agriculture, Science, and Sustainability? (Good, because there are plenty!) We have more coming this month, but you can also check out our previous story on Dr. Booker T. Whatley and on Alice Ball.

Reference sources:

Photo used courtesy of Dr. Robert Bullard.