Chanté Davis has a true gift for inspiring others to raise their voices for climate change, social justice, and the intersection where these two urgent causes inevitably meet. I met Chanté through her role as a contributor to OH-WAKE Magazine. Along with a coalition of next-gen ocean leaders (including Oluwaseyi Moejoh – who we recently featured in an Earth Optimism spotlight), Chanté has co-created this publication as a creative, digestible resource to inspire and motivate others to join them as Ocean Heroes. In this Earth Optimism interview, we talked more about OH-WAKE Magazine, the launch of her own climate campaign, and how she leads a growing community with her role at Sunrise Movement.
What first inspired you to get involved in climate advocacy?
My value of climate advocacy was instilled in me at an early age. I attended Marshall Elementary, Houston’s first “green school,” where I learned about the importance of caring for the environment through hands-on lessons about renewable energy and water conservation. However, the youth climate strikes of 2019 truly inspired me to get involved in climate advocacy. Seeing other young folks taking charge and demanding change made me feel like I could too. That summer, I took my passion to Ocean Heroes Bootcamp (founded in 2017), hosted in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I was joined by 300 youth from around the globe to beat plastic pollution. Later in the fall, I joined the Sunrise Movement (a youth-led climate action organization) and began to organize events in Houston, Texas.
How do you elevate BIPOC voices through your roles with Sunrise Movement and other coalitions?
In making sure more BIPOC voices are elevated in the climate and environmental movement, I organize anti-racist trainings through my role as a JEAO (justice, equity, and anti-oppression) coordinator in the Sunrise Movement. As far as other organizations and coalitions, I look at whether "safe spaces" are established for BIPOC to feel like they have a place in them or if they need to be created.
As a contributing editor for OH-WAKE (a first-of-its-kind environmental resource for children, young adults, and their families who care deeply for and wish to take more action to protect our environment; developed by HP and Ocean Heroes Network), I have found creative ways to elevate the voices and lived experiences of BIPOC through different mediums. For instance, in my poem "Breathe!," I describe the experience of a young person of color who is experiencing the intersecting effects of plastic pollution as a member of a frontline community facing environmental racism. The first issue of OH-WAKE is free to view, download and print on both oceanheroeshq.com/oh-wake/ and the HP Printables site. Releasing on International Day of the Girl Child, the second issue of OH-WAKE will center around terrestrial solutions such as tree planting, soil restoration, and food waste reduction.
I have also created One Oysean from my time at Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, a campaign that specifically targets BIPOC youth to support, uplift, and celebrate them in their work across the environmental and ocean conservation movements.
Tell us more about your own organization, One Oysean. How do you build a coalition of like-minded people to support your mission?
One Oysean is a multifaceted campaign that includes the intersections of food justice, environmental justice, art and culture in the movement, sustainability, and accessibility. Building a coalition of like-minded people to support my mission begins with relational organizing. Put simply, it means that to effectively base-build, you must first have meaningful relationships with your base. This can look like calling each other for check-ins, inviting each other to events (virtual events count!), and even asking how they are looking to get plugged into your work. This step is vital to the growth of any organization because it creates a strong foundation and a reliable network to fall back on when plans change or goals are not met.
You told me when we first chatted that you did a 400-mile march from New Orleans to Houston – can you share more about that experience?
This summer, I organized a 400-mile march from New Orleans to Houston with the Sunrise Movement. From May 10 to June 21, we marched across the Gulf South to bring attention to the climate crisis in the region and to call on President Biden to include Congresspeople Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey's proposed Civilian Climate Corps (a more robust version of Biden's pre-proposed CCC). We started in New Orleans because of its significant narrative with Hurricane Katrina, a climate disaster my family and I were affected by. From there, we walked along the levees, the swamps, and the bayous, participating in partner events along the way. For example, in St. James Parish, we partnered with Rise St. James and the Descendants project to protest the Wallace Grain Elevator and create a petition against the Formosa Plastics Plant. Eventually, we made it to Houston, where my family and I stayed as Katrina climate refugees, only to be later affected by Hurricane Harvey and Winter Storm Uri (the Texas Freeze). Over the course of roughly forty days, I was able to do meaningful, on-the-ground work in my home and reclaim the significance of the path my family and thousands of others took after Hurricane Katrina.
All of these meaningful actions and organizing that you and your fellow leaders achieve inspire me to be more hopeful for the future, but what makes you feel optimistic for the future of the planet?
Seeing people take collective action in hopes of changing the world we live in – whether it's friends coming together to walk 400 miles or a team of young writers creating a powerful magazine to activate its readers' "inner-activist" – makes me feel hopeful for the future of the planet. While the systems society has in place may seem unchangeable at times, I am reminded that humans are incredibly adaptive, especially when I look at the beautifully creative people that have joined me in this generational fight.