Today’s Trailblazers to be Honored as 2021 Taking Nature Black Environmental Champions

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The Audubon Naturalist Society will salute 11 national, regional, legacy, and youth environmental figures for engaging in service that improves the quality of life for under-resourced African American communities in ways that are unique, groundbreaking, and pioneering. Taking Nature Black is ANS’s signature Black History Month event. This year’s Taking Nature Black Environmental Champions are being honored during Earth Month in a virtual ceremony that will feature music, poetry, and Q and A on April 15 at 7 p.m.


Akua Asa-Awuku (pictured left), Candice Duncan and Ebony Terrell Shockley make up the University of Maryland (UMD) Geo-Sciences Research Team working to diversify the geosciences, a field where just five percent of the degree holders are women of color. They established the PEARLS (Providing Educational Access to Research & Learning in geoscienceS), a National Science Foundation-funded program to recruit students with non-traditional backgrounds.

Dr. Akua Asa-Awuku, a professor in the UMD Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE), investigates the formation, composition and measurement of anthropogenic and biogenic aerosol (particles in the atmosphere) to explore the impacts on air quality, climate and health. She recently received an NSF grant to study the "Nanoscale Visualization and Understanding of Atmospheric Aerosol Dissolution Kinetics in Aqueous Organic Droplets," and has been recognized for the contributions her lab and research make in the lives of ChBE graduate students.

Dr. Duncan is a lecturer in the Environmental Science and Technology Department at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her work focuses on the transport and characterization of organic contaminants in the vadose zone (the Earth's terrestrial subsurface that extends from the surface to the regional groundwater table).

Dr. Ebony Terrell Shockley, the College of Education's Executive Director of Teacher Education and the Associate Clinical Professor for the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership. Her expertise is in teacher education. She studies the academic experience of marginalized learners, using her research to center their cultural, ancestral, and historically-divergent knowledge profiles.

Donald Belle is the Environmental Outreach Educator at the William Schmidt Outdoor Education Center, which serves the entire school district in Prince George's County. He builds pioneering programs around the county focused on environmental literacy, connecting students to green careers, and allowing them opportunities to innovate and create.


Congressman A. Donald McEachin (D), who represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his first term in Congress, Rep. McEachin co-founded the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force and now serves on the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and serves as Vice-Chair of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.

Catherine Coleman Flowers, an environmental health advocate and MacArthur “genius.” Flowers is widely credited for raising awareness around the appalling lack of proper sewage and waste disposal and treatment systems for lower-income communities across the United States. Flowers is Founding Director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (formerly the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise), and author of Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret.

Beattra Wilson is the Assistant Director for Urban & Community Forestry at the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C. Wilson served three years on the Forest Service Environmental Justice Board, promoting initiatives that improved access and awareness of federal programs to minority communities and stakeholders and generated a pipeline of new minority and millennial students pursuing forestry and natural resources careers.

Derrick Evans is a humanitarian, educator, historian, community builder and a sixth-generation member of the Turkey Creek community in Mississippi and the co-founding Managing Advisor to the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health. This fund helps direct monetary, technological, and collegiate support in the Gulf South. This grew from Evans’ work with Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, where he worked to conserve and protect the rich African American cultural history and ecological knowledge of his ancestral land and water. Evans stars in a dynamic Environmental Film Festival documentary, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, about the incredible years-long fight to save his historic Turkey Creek community from erasure.


Kwesi Osaze Billups, an Urban Garden Manager, Garden Builder, and Community Organizer who has brought healing and hope to his fellow community members by working the land and helping to build and manage Project Eden. Billups recently graduated from American University with a degree in International Studies.


Harriet Tubman, a deeply religious woman often called the Moses of her people, who led African Americans to freedom through woods, rivers, and marshes. She used the environment and astronomy as guides, sustenance, and tools. Parks in the states where Tubman lived are named in her honor, a fitting tribute to the famed Underground Railroad conductor whose deep understanding of the natural world is now being recognized along with her other spectacular achievements.

Pamela Rush, the Lowndes County, Ala. mother who died last year after contracting COVID-19. Rush used her voice to bring national attention to the environmental injustices plaguing many poor people. Her fighting spirit continues to inspire the ongoing work to help rural Americans living without basic sanitation and access to nature. Delivering a powerful testimony before Congress in 2018, she told leaders about her family’s unsafe living conditions which included raw sewage in their yard, and a mobile home suffused with mold.

For more information, contact Communications Director Caroline Brewer at or (240) 899-9019, or, or (301) 523-5394.

*Reprinted with permission from the Audubon Naturalist Society.

Published April 9, 2021