This blog post was originally posted to the Sierra Club Illinois blog in honor of Black History Month. The Ready For 100 Chicago Collective is proud to lift up these Black environmental activists.
Over the past month, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club celebrated Black History Month by sharing stories about Black environmental champions. We highlighted leaders like Hazel M. Johnson, the Chicago-based activist and mother of the environmental justice movement, and John Francis, the “Planet Walker,” who brought attention to the petroleum industry by giving up motorized transportation for 22 years. Black leaders have fought for a healthy environment through agriculture, water, energy, and environmental justice policies. These Black advocates have also paved the way for Black environmental leaders making change today.
The Sierra Club Illinois Chapter is honored to work with three environmental leaders who are currently making history: Mila Marshall, Kyra Woods, and Nicole Saulsberry. Each of these Black women have brought immeasurable wisdom, leadership, and passion to the fight for environmental justice and are inspiring the next generation of activists.
Mila Kellen Marshall is a self-described “aquaholic” and has worked in the environmental sector for over 10 years. She was the previous host of Living Healthy, Living Green on WVON and is the current host of the Living Chicago Show, a social media project that connects conservation to city living. In addition, Mila was the previous co-owner of Roots & Shoots Gardening LLC and has even written a book, “A Student’s Guide to Being Successful in the Sciences.” Mila is currently finishing her PhD focused on urban food systems at the University of Illinois Chicago. At the Sierra Club, Mila works as the Clean Water Advocate and mobilizes and energizes diverse networks across Illinois around clean water issues related to wastewater, agriculture, and industry.
From a young age, Kyra Woods found grounding and restoration in Chicago’s natural spaces. Kyra’s interest in the connections between community and environmental health led her to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer and eventually join Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, where she serves as the Clean Energy Chicago Advocate. Kyra was recently named to the first cohort of Black Bench Chicago, a program focused on creating a pipeline of leadership, knowledge, and expertise so that current Black leaders can lead and steward the next generation of community leaders. Through her work with the Sierra Club, Kyra coordinates the Ready for 100 Campaign in Chicago and works to strengthen partnerships across the city so that Chicago’s clean energy transition will be centered on values of solidarity, equity, and innovation.
Nicole Saulsberry is a self-described documentary buff and passionate traveler. During her doctoral studies at Stanford University, she received the Fulbright IIE Dissertation Fellowship to study in Eritrea, East Africa, where she wrote a dissertation on Woldeab Woldemariam, a prominent nationalist and the “father of Eritrea.” Her studies in Eritrea and later research experiences in Rome and London prompted Nicole’s interest in human rights, conflict resolution, and peacekeeping negotiations. Before joining the Sierra Club, she served as the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and as a research and budget analyst with the Illinois House Democratic Research and Appropriations Committee. At the Sierra Club, Nicole serves as the State Government Representative in Springfield and crafts public policy and informs stakeholders of Sierra Club’s legislative agenda. Nicole says, “Working at the Sierra Club is an extension of my passion for human rights — the right of every citizen, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, economic status, and religion to live, work, and thrive in a safe environment.”
As we wrap up Black History Month and look toward our continued environmental justice work, the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter is proud to celebrate Mila, Kyra, and Nicole as environmental activists and changemakers. The future of the environment is more hopeful because of the work they each do every day.