Stories from the Road — I don’t know how to not do this work.

This week, Rabbi Daniel Burg from Beth Am Congregation in Baltimore, reflects on the work of his Reservoir Hill community around racism and environmental justice. Rabbi Burg hosted the cyclists from Philadelphia in 2018. His community created a non-profit, “In For Of, Inc.” in 2013 to deepen relationships between Beth Am and the primarily African American residents of their neighborhood. Listen to Daniel’s reflections:

For 8 years PA IPL has sent cyclists from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. as a low-carbon way to advocate for our planet and financially support PA IPL. This summer we are telling stories from the road. Join us on social media in August for weekly stories from past participants, engagement in climate justice, and investment in the future of PA. (See how our donation tree is growing and help us meet our $30,000 fundraising goal.)

Other voices from the road: Bill Pike

As a perennial host, Bill Pike has hosted many groups of riders. He is the current president of REACH’s Board of Directors, a Hagerstown organization focused on assisting low income and impoverished families during times of crisis. Read William’s full reflection here.

Take Action: Learn about Environmental Racism

Frontline communities are those that experience the impact of climate disruption first and worst, often because of the concentration of direct pollution from fossil-fuel industries in their neighborhoods; many frontline neighborhoods are also low-lying, flash-flood prone, or are heat islands. Frontline communities are most often low-income and disproportionately made up of people of color. A 2018 EPA report found that Black Americans are three times more likely to die from causes related to pollution than their White counterparts.

Expand the conversation that leads to climate justice by gathering a group to study, discuss and discern response.

  • Learn how a front line community in Philadelphia took on Philadelphia Energy Solutions for damaging the health of their community, in this New York Times Magazine article. Then read this article from State Impact Pennsylvania on the connection between climate change, structural racism and birth issues.
  • Watch. The people of the city of Chester in Delaware County just west of Philadelphia, have been battling environmental racism for decades. Listen to their voices from this 2009 video created by DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice.  
  • Discover which of the nation’s top 100 toxic polluters are in Pennsylvania, and who lives nearby in this interactive map created as part of Breath to the People: Sacred Air and Toxic Pollution, a report prepared for the United Church of Christ by the Environmental Integrity Project. 
  • Discuss. PA IPL includes a “discussion hook” in each of its Sustained Advocacy call summaries, many of which touch on environmental injustice — or work toward climate justice. (Click through for one example of each.)

Turn to Prayer

Please hold PA IPL and all who are working toward climate justice in your prayers through the week.

In 2019, PA IPL supporters “paved the cyclists’ way with prayer,” submitting original prayers, poems and artwork to express the deep faith that underlies their commitment to climate justice and care. The cyclists shared a compilation of these prayers with elected officials in Washington, as part of their advocacy conversations. Each week we are featuring a different prayer from the collection.

A member of Philadelphia PA IPL contributed this week’s prayer

Save the Date for the Stories from the Road Live Celebration, Sept. 1

On Sep. 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, at 7:00 pm, we’ll gather for a live, zoom-based Stories from the Road Celebration, featuring live music, prayer, storytelling, and a chance to share your own stories of climate work with people throughout the state. 

The event is free with a donation to PA IPL during the Stories from the Road  campaign (June through August). Additional tickets can be purchased for $10. Seating is limited, so donate now!

Pray: May our eyes stay open.

Where to look when you can’t un-see.

Author Barbara Ballenger is a Board Member of PA Interfaith Power & Light, and Associate for Spiritual Formation and Care at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, Philadelphia. 

The recent march of white nationalists and KKK members upon the city of Charlottesville, and the accompanying terrorist attack upon counter demonstrators, has again placed racism in the public eye.

At the moment, there are some things we cannot un-see: a car driving directly into Black Lives Matter members, killing one and injuring 19. White nationalists armed more heavily than the police. Young polo-shirted men marching with swastikas and shields.

The racism that undergirds our national infrastructure, and the bigotry that keeps it in place, is not a simple thing to dismantle. Just removing the monuments that celebrate its architects and defenders brings out the torches.

photo: Jess Ballenger

But while our eyes are open, it’s important that white people engaged in justice work take a hard look at the racist infrastructure itself, not just at its staunchest defenders. Because those of us with white privilege also benefit from that architecture. It shapes white-normed organizational systems, including how they are led, and who tells the story about what the world is like. That’s why white supremacy, which is invisible to too many, often undermines the effectiveness of organizations’ best efforts, leaving many of us scratching our heads about why the movements aren’t more diverse and leading many to jump to the wrong conclusions about why more people of color aren’t involved in the efforts.

This is true for climate justice organizations, whose leadership and membership remain predominantly white.

“Given the environmental threats posed by a Trump administration, it’s more crucial than ever that Americans work together to fight climate change. And in order to achieve broad, collaborative action, the mainstream environmental movement will need to take a hard look at how its overwhelming whiteness has thus far hobbled its efforts,” four University of Oregon journalism professors write persuasively in an article for Quartz.

The authors further point out that people of color are very much concerned with, conversant about and active in addressing climate disruption. Yet large-scale climate justice efforts do not reflect their leadership or membership.

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light has also struggled with being a far less diverse organization than we hope to be.  We have been noticing and naming the dominance of white voices leading and engaging our work—people of faith responding to climate disruption as an urgent moral issue. We know, too, that wrestling with the legacy of white domination and supremacy is also a growing priority for many of the congregations and denominations involved in our work. This is a key moment for climate justice and racial justice to meet at the crossroads and begin speaking to each other.

In both of these movements there is great urgency and imminent threat.  At the same time, there are no quick solutions to undoing the legacy of racial exclusion and distrust that white-dominated justice movements have inherited and perpetuate.

photo: Jess Ballenger

But there are some immediate actions that we need to take. The first is that white people in the environmental movement must make it a priority to explore how the white privilege and supremacy learned from infancy affect the ability to be racially competent in addressing a crisis that affects many people of color first and worst.  As a black colleague puts it: “When white people do their work, I am safer.”

When white people do racial work with mindfulness—listening more than talking, learning what it is to be an effective ally, making space for long-silenced voices and experience—our hope and prayer is that environmental justice work will be done differently: in ways that shift power dynamics, that amplify voices that typically go unheard and quiet those that dominate, and that make visible the experiences of climate disruption that have gone unnoticed and unnamed.

The evidence of things hoped for, substance of things unseen, is the very definition of faith. As an organization committed to bringing people of diverse religious traditions together in common cause around environmental justice, a shared faith in the dignity and gifts of one another may be just the thing to help us keep our eyes open in the days ahead.


Images from Philadelphia rally and vigil, August 2017; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling in the upper R was in Charlottesville with other clergy gathered to stand together in that space.