As a child growing up in California, my parents would joke that we were from Hollywood. Our family was from Holly, Louisiana -- and Holly was down in the woods.
Thirty miles from Shreveport, Holly was where a cadre of ex-slaves purchased 100 acres of land in 1878 and planted their fields. They also planted the St. Mark Baptist Church, which is still serving black families more than a century later. These farmers -- my ancestors -- heeded the call of men like Booker T. Washington, who urged them to stay in the South, work hard, pay their taxes, and vote. Years later, despite their hard work and belief in the American dream, most of the families lost their farms to ruthless racists and the stock-market crash of 1929. The brutality of these two powerful forces pushed the family from land ownership to a new status of sharecroppers.
But deep connection to land and spirit were always a part of our family story -- just like it is a part of the story of almost every black family in America. It's this legacy of good stewardship of the planet that drove me to help start Green The Church. In partnership with Green For All, the Green The Church initiative taps into the power of the Black church as a force for social change, while bringing the benefits of the green economy directly to congregants.
Today, Green The Church has taken on a new urgency.
We're watching climate change unfold before our eyes -- bringing severe droughts, erratic weather, superstorms and disasters. And while climate change threatens people everywhere, communities of color are on the front lines.
Consider this: African Americans living in Los Angeles are nearly twice as likely to die in a heat wave, thanks to lack of access to air conditioning, shade and cars. And when disasters strike, it's people with the fewest resources who have a harder time preparing, escaping and recovering. Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy drove that point home.
Black communities aren't just hit first and worst by climate change; we also stand to gain enormously from solutions to global warming.
The Green The Church initiative aims to bring the benefits of sustainability directly to our communities. We've joined forces with the U.S. Green Building Council to help our buildings save energy and generate clean power.
Green The Church partners like Reverend Otis Moss of Trinity United in Chicago are already leading on this issue. Reverend Moss' church is powered by the sun -- and even produces enough solar energy to power the home of an elderly neighbor. Meanwhile, the congregation is helping keep pollution from dirty-coal plants out of the air and doing its part to combat climate change.
It's not just about helping churches save energy (and money). Green The Church taps into the unmatched power of the African-American church as a moral leader and a force for social change -- one with the potential to bring millions of new people into the climate movement. Polls show that African Americans consistently demonstrate the highest level of commitment to climate solutions. We need to harness that commitment -- and engaging the church is one of the best ways we can do it.
That's why Green For All is working to bring 1,000 black churches into Green The Church this year. Black churches -- and the millions of voters they represent -- could make the difference in whether we win or lose on climate.
Black churches are going green. It's exciting, but it shouldn't be surprising. Caring for the land and our neighbors is part of a legacy and responsibility that African-American families have upheld for decades -- in Holly, Louisiana, and in towns just like it all over America.
For more information about Green The Church--and to find out how to sign your church up, visit here.
Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll is co-founder of Green The Church and works with Green For All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy. Reverend Carroll currently serves as Senior Pastor at the Church by The Side of The Road in Berkeley, California.
This post is part of a Huffington Post What's Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference -- whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.