Honoring Black History Month

This letter is provided by the leadership of ESA’s Black Ecologists Section and supported by ESA.

The ESA Black Ecologists Section and the Ecological Society of America would like to celebrate Black History Month and the many contributions of past and present Black ecologists and environmentalists. We are thankful for all the Black scientists who helped advance the field of ecology and related disciplines, which has inspired Black scholars of today. During a time when there are still efforts to erase or undermine the achievements of Black scientists, it is imperative to elevate, commemorate, and celebrate their contributions throughout history, around the world, and into the future.

February also marks a time to reflect on the current state of Black scientists in ecology and environmental science. Although ecology is a scientific discipline that aims to understand patterns of biodiversity and the processes affecting it, with many years of research devoted explicitly to highlighting its value across earth’s biomes, the researchers’ identities who study ecology are not diverse, and very few are Black. Across American universities with departments specializing in ecology and evolutionary biology, Black scientists are highly underrepresented, earning less than 2.9% of PhDs in 2020 (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2020) while comprising 13% of the US population. Increasing Black representation in ecology is crucial for overcoming past injustices and exclusion, a necessary change for building a sustainable future that reflects society. Including more Black perspectives can also help lead to novel insights into the major questions challenging the field of ecology today.

The Black Ecologists Section is a community of Black ecologists that seeks to raise awareness of the issues affecting Black people in ecology and serve as a safe haven within ESA and across academia more broadly. The birth of the Black Ecologists Section, founded by Drs. Nyeema Harris and Senay Yitbarek, was sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement following several high-profile police shootings of Black people from 2014 to 2016. Unfortunately, these injustices against Black people and the racist structures of the academy are still prevalent today, so the need for the Black Ecologists Section is even more relevant.

While raising awareness and providing a safe space for Black ecologists are essential priorities for the Black Ecologists Section, we also need tools and networks that facilitate inclusion in scientific and professional activities to elevate careers. Therefore, a secondary aim for the section is to provide activities and programming that will pave the way for Black ecologists to succeed.

With that in mind, the Black Ecologists Section will host a virtual Black History Month Celebration event on February 24 from 4 – 5:30 PM ET. This event is intended to bring Black ecologists from across ESA to discuss what will advance our agenda:

  1. How can the Black Ecologists Section better support our community?
  2. What should be the section’s near-term activities (e.g., activities for 2022) and long-term/big picture goals?
  3. Discuss/share challenges and opportunities to support each other as Black ecologists.

Given the sensitive nature of the topics and the need to discuss short and long-term priorities for the section, this will be a member-only event. However, we understand that individuals outside the Black community might be interested in supporting this virtual Black History Month event. If so, please feel free to donate to the Black Ecologists Section Fund.

The ESA Black Ecologists Section

  • Chairs: Matt McCary and Chris Schell
  • Secretary:  Zakiya Leggett
  • Webmaster:  Sudan Kariuki
  • Social media manager: Karen Bailey
  • Grad student representative:  Briana Sealey  

Ecological Society of America

  • President: Dennis Ojima