In Bristol, one of the initiatives pioneered to help tackle this issue is the Black & Green Ambassadors programme, which was launched as a pilot project in 2016. The programme recruits mentors and supports ambassadors – emerging leaders with environmental and social justice ambitions – to work with Bristol’s diverse communities, businesses and organisations for 12 months, considering issues of environmental sustainability, equality, diversity and inclusion.
We’ve spoken to two ambassadors at different points of their journey – Roy Kareem, who is completing his year, and Miss Divine, who has just started hers – asking them to share their reflections on, and hopes for, the programme.
Roy Kareem, Black & Green Ambassador September 2020 to September 2021
Roy Kareem is the Director of Bright Green Future, an environmental leadership programme for young people aiming to dramatically diversify the UK's environmental sector, a co-parent to an amazing 7 year old, and probably an incredible gardener-in-waiting.
During our 12-month role as Black & Green Ambassadors, we all have a research focus. Mine was on telling the untold stories of Bristol's green spaces by looking into how members of Bristol’s ethnic communities use the city’s green spaces, what being outside meant to them – now and in their pasts – and how the pandemic had potentially shifted or morphed these relationships.
I did this by holding one-on-one conversations with eight people across the city in different green spaces that were meaningful for them in some way – from the expanses of Eastville Park (a historic park in Bristol) to the pocket of reclaimed community space named Dove Gardens in Kingsdown.
I then turned these conversations into a podcast series and worked with a local poet, Kabbo Ferdinand, to creatively interpret these interviews into written and spoken word pieces, as well as with the Bristol artist Michele Curtis, who in partnership with Vanguard is creating a public mural in response to the Ambassadors’ work. My main aim was to provide a platform for people's stories to get out of their heads, into the wider world, and cause a ripple or two of positive change – beginning to complicate the traditionally held narratives of what it means to be an 'outdoorsy person' in 21st-century Britain.
Why urban green spaces for my research focus? I think they have been historically understated as a place of nature connection and the subsequent benefits of to health and wellbeing that come with that relationship. As urban communities are generally more highly diverse across all measures – be that ethnicity or other characteristics (which also corresponds with often reportedly higher numbers of mental health issues) – I was drawn to exploring them as a place of potentially transformational change.
What came up during these conversations? They were incredibly varied, but my personal reflections and responses noticed three pairings:
- Community/solitude – people expressed how much it meant to be outdoors with others, especially during the pandemic when it was often the only place of interconnection. But it was also a precious place of solitude, of being away from the minds and inputs of others.
- Discomfort/peace – for many, being outdoors could still feel uncomfortable, physically, psychologically, and in other ways, but in that same space was a sense of peace that was often only available in the outdoors.
- Risk/groundedness – for many, whether because of skin colour or gender, the outdoors could be a place of increased risk, and yet when this was accepted or overcome, there was a deep sense of being connected to something larger than oneself.
My hope for this project’s impact is to broaden the conception of what it means to be outdoors and ‘nature-connected’ in the UK, teasing apart familiar archetypes of rambling and camping to something broader and more inclusive: the local/global urban dwellers who create meaningful connections to their local green spaces.
Miss Divine, Black & Green Ambassador September 2021 to September 2022
Miss Divine is a freelance journalist and radio broadcaster interested in connecting with people and sharing their stories. She currently presents two shows on Ujima Radio98FM Bristol - “Time with Divine” and “Afrobeat Extra.”
In 2020 I travelled to my parents’ house in Jamaica and saw how healthy the people there were, the fact that adults and children both have the ability and skill set to grow their own food, and discovered that almost every plant that grows in Jamaica is food or medicine. After this I developed a new appreciation and interest in how the earth sustains life and how detrimental the consumption of animals and industrial mass production is to the global environment.
I believe we can learn from countries such as Jamaica because they’re not spoilt, distracted with technology and for the most part, they live according to their means, recycle everything and are very resourceful in doing so.
My organic experience in Jamaica was a tremendous inspiration to me, so much so, that on my return to England I immediately took myself to the local garden centre to buy plants, soil, plant pots and all the tools I needed to begin growing tomatoes, romaine peppers, herbs and spring onions. This was all inside my home as the country had just plummeted into lockdown.
Another realisation I had was that conversations surrounding environmental issues, climate change, pollution and organic food was something that was never discussed in my household growing up as a child and, on closer inspection, it was never a conversation that was held in the collective Afro-Caribbean community full stop. The question is why?
Now that I've begun the role of becoming a Black & Green Ambassador, I'm really pleased to be able to have the opportunity to explore the reasons behind why Black and Brown communities are not as focused on climate change and how I can use my influence and platform to be able to bridge that gap and kick start a dialogue within those communities. I can’t wait to get started!
About Black & Green Ambassadors
The Black & Green Ambassadors programme has been developed by Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Ujima Radio. It aims to invest in leaders in Bristol who can work with and between diverse communities, businesses, other organisations and individuals to explore, amplify and enable solutions leading to an environmentally and socially just future for all. The programme is made possible through support from the National Lottery Community Fund, sponsorship and donations. Triodos Bank UK is a sponsor of this year’s programme.
The Black & Green Ambassadors are hosting a panel discussion in the Watershed Cinema in Bristol on Wednesday 20 October 2021, 15:30 - 17:00. You can listen to a collection of the Black & Green Ambassadors features on Ujima Radio here. Outgoing ambassadors Roy Kareem, Asia Yousif, and Olivia Sweeney will be presenting their final show on Thursday 28 October, 10:00 - 12:00.