This month we had the absolute honor of connecting with some of the founding members of Intersectional Environmentalist on finding, building, and cultivating community around shared passions. The juiciest parts are on how that energy reverberates for tangible, actionable visions of the future of environmentalism. If you’re not familiar with IE already, you’ll want to be!
Intersectional Environmentalist was founded on the idea that historically excluded communities have always existed in the environmental space, and by amplifying their rich stories and legacies, future generations will be empowered to root environmentalism deeper in equity and inclusion. Can you share with us about how you all met and coalesced around this powerful mission?
Diandra: The founding members of IE came together the way many people in this space have. We had each connected previously in various ways in hopes of bringing friendships, gathering spaces and resources to life that would address the missing pieces we all saw scattered across the environmental + sustainability movements. Leah Thomas and I connected via IG DMs because of our sustainability blogs, shortly before her definition of Intersectional Environmentalism went viral. During the Black Lives Matter protests, I met up with Sabrina Katz and Philip Aiken in Austin, Texas where we connected with Leah on the viral moment that we knew deserved to live on in a larger way. As we began creating what we hoped would become a foundational platform for people’s educational and advocacy journeys, we quickly became enamored with Kiana Kazemi, a data engineering student at Berkeley whose studies primarily focused on the intersection of technology and environmental justice. We had no idea that our efforts would soon reach millions of people.
Many of us know that working on a small, close-knit team can be one of the most grounding and expansive endeavors. As a team, what are you the most proud of accomplishing over the past few years of IE? How have you fostered your own internal community and co-working processes to enable a proactive and highly-functional collective?
Sabs: There are so many incredible things we’ve done over the last few years, but I’d have to say the thing I’m most proud of is the community we’ve cultivated and the connections we’ve built over the years. The intersectional environmentalist movement is so much more than just a couple of people who started an organization, and we’ve been very intentional about that. Being able to connect with thought leaders, EJ elders, storytellers, protestors, educators and more has been the most beautiful part of this work for me. Internally, we’ve gotten really good at honing in our programs and offerings, and playing to our strengths so that we can lean into the work that we’re both passionate about and good at. We’ve tried out a ton of different things over the last three years but the further we get into it, the more we’re able to create focused, thoughtful offerings for our community and this movement and beyond.
Kiana: I’m really proud of how over three years, we’ve been able to bring to life our vision to center climate optimism and joy in the environmental movement, and push the mainstream movement to adopt this vision as well. We’ve done this by centering BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, immigrant, and other historically underinvested in communities, their solutions, their stories, and their activism. Through Earth Sessions, we’ve created physical spaces that celebrate these voices, and create joyful avenues for communities to learn about local issues and get involved to bring about tangible change. Getting to meet so many amazing people along the way has been a true highlight for me.
Diandra: When something seems so game-changing, shiny and new, it’s easy to deem the visionaries behind it impressive or extraordinary, but what I’m most proud of is helping people recognize that we are not in any way anomalies. We are a passionate, creative and culturally-grounded group of people that are reflections of the communities we come from, who just so happened to be given the support needed to bring our work to life. The building of IE has become evidence that when people have the resources they need to lead their own efforts, the collective visions of entire communities come to life in the most joyful and just ways - and I’m really proud of that.
A huge part of your mission is bringing the joy of the outdoors to historically excluded or underrepresented groups through community building and resource sharing. When have you all felt the most joy in the outdoors, and are there specific outdoor spaces where you feel the most connected?
Sabs: Any time someone asks me to think of my happy place, it’s Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I’m fortunate to live about a 15 minute walk away, and I try to be really intentional about visiting during the weekdays after work so I can spend time outdoors, connect with nature, and people watch. When the weather is good, I spend as much time as I possibly can sitting and reading or listening to music because once the winter hits it’s tough for me to be out there too long! For me, the park is a little slice of heaven in such an urban space.
Diandra: I didn’t grow up around a lot of conventional outdoorsy adventures, so when exciting knowledge sharing is happening in the outdoors, joy is so undeniable. I recently went River Rafting with the OARs team, and had the most exhilarating time learning what it looks like for people to ban together to flow with the water rapids. Similarly, the first time I took my nephews indoor rock-climbing, I got to see their eyes light up as I was explaining the basis and proceeded to watch them scurry up the wall way faster than I could. This later connected them to films about rock climbers in the outdoors which opened an entirely new world for them at such a young age. Sharing what it means to build relationship with nature is such a joyful act to me, and I’ve been so lucky to be able to both give and receive that knowledge in my life.
Kiana: Growing up my mum would always say that when she was pregnant with me, one of her pregnancy cravings was to be near the ocean. So of course, I grew up with a deep connection to water, finding the coast the best place to understand and process a lot of my emotions and experiences. Right now, I live across the world from my family, when I miss them most, I go to the beach and feel their presence with me through our tied connection to the ocean. For me, nature has always had that ability to bring back vivid memories, create unforgettable bonds, and simply help me exist with ease.
Oftentimes the ways we take care of ourselves intertwine with connecting with the earth: cooking with homegrown ingredients, swimming in fresh or salt water, working with clay, wood, or other natural materials. How do you all take care of yourselves in ways that deepen your connection to the earth and outdoors?
Kiana: I spend a lot of time working on my laptop indoors, and if I don’t intentionally build movement breaks into my days then I end up feeling really awful at the end of the week. A few years ago I promised myself that I would go for a walk everyday around sunset time. It didn’t have to be on a hike or at a special place, as long as I went outside and walked around for 15mins or more. We all have a tendency to forget that we are part of nature, and therefore everything we create is nature, including our neighborhoods. Going on a walk around the block and noticing the way plants jot out of concrete cracks, or buildings glisten in the light of golden hour is a way of connecting with the earth that is accessible to all of us, and my daily practice of noticing these moments on my walk has been revolutionary to my mental health.
Diandra: Ever since moving to LA, I’ve loved sitting on my back porch to eat my lunch. It gets lot’s of sunlight every day so it’s the perfect spot to soak up some Vitamin D, listen to the birds, and check-in on my herbs. This daily ritual helps me connect more deeply with my body and assess how hydrated, tired, peaceful or anxious I am. It’s the perfect check-in to remind myself to rest, connect and be intentional about ongoing nourishment and recovery.
Sabs: One of my favorite rituals is visiting the farmers market on Saturday mornings. Speaking with my local farmers, learning about what’s in season and trying out new ingredients, and spending time in community with others brings me so much peace and joy. And of course, bringing everything home and cooking with fresh ingredients throughout the week always grounds me and reminds me to value everything that comes from the earth.
Intersectional Evnironmantalist on Instagram: @intersectionalenvironmentalist
Diandra Marizet on Instagram: @diandramarizet
Sabs Katz on Instagram: @sustainablesabs
Kiana Kazemi on Instagram: @kiana.kaz
Photos by: Maddy Rotman @maddyrotman