#BHM Joycelyn Longdon: Connecting Creativity and Climate Activism
#BHM Joycelyn Longdon: Connecting Creativity and Climate Activism
“Take your anger, anxiety and fear and dream up a world where life (human and non-human) can flourish, where we add positively to the world and each other and where beauty exists for the many, not the few. Dream up this world then work every day, in the ways you know-how, to build it!”
Joycelyn Longdon is a 23-year-old climate scientist, educator, and creative entrepreneur. Through her work, she is emerging as a pioneer in the UK’s movement for climate justice, creating a community that is centred around equity, climate justice, and creativity.
BLACK ON BLACK
Joycelyn is a second-generation Ghanaian immigrant and nature lover who studied Astrophysics at Cardiff University. She discovered her talent for design during her undergraduate years through her joy for writing and the visual arts. Upon facing barriers when trying to enter the creative sector, she wondered what happens when we “stop playing by the industry’s rules”. Consequently, in 2017, she founded Black On Black, a 360 creative agency working towards providing access for young people of colour, and diversifying creative industries. Discussing Black on Black, Joycelyn says “the creative sector doesn’t have a diversity issue. It has an issue with deep-seated western structures of superiority, privilege and conformity.” The Black On Black community consisted of over 1000 creatives from “Brooklyn to Lagos, from Jamaica to London” whose work was “steeped in and based on politics, racism, feminism and philosophy. Their creations [were] a manifestation of their lived experiences and their dreams of a more beautiful and equitable world.”
CLIMATE IN COLOUR
“We – as intelligent, powerful, strong people of colour shouldn’t be wasting our time basically do[ing] diversity and inclusion training for others”, she says. “We should just continue doing what we’re doing, coming together, working with allies who are cognisant of the issues and creating a parallel platform.”
Joycelyn attended her first environmental march at 16 and, feeling out of place, soon became disillusioned by the movement’s lack of intersectionality. Back then, she had not learned about the connections of colonial legacies and environmental justice yet, but felt that the mainstream environmentalist community was “white-washed, green-washed, and privileged”. Upon doing her own research, she discovered “all the ways oppression of my community, Indigenous folks, Asian folks, trans folks, marginalised people, in general, was linked to the climate emergency and my mind was blown.” Recognising that there was no need to assimilate into a movement that lacked awareness and referring back to her approach of ignoring the industry’s rules, she decided to create her own community with the many people who use intersectional and Indigenous knowledges to combat climate change and global inequality. “We – as intelligent, powerful, strong people of colour shouldn’t be wasting our time basically do[ing] diversity and inclusion training for others”, she says. “We should just continue doing what we’re doing, coming together as communities working with allies who are cognisant of the issues that are going on around the world, and creating a parallel platform.”
So in 2020, Joycelyn created Climate in Colour, “an online education platform and community for the climate curious. It stands at the intersection of climate science and social justice and is making climate conversations more accessible and diverse.” Having grown up in a low-income family, she was hyper aware of the obstacles many people face due to the gatekeeping of knowledge. Instead, she wants to create accessible information that traces the intersections of climate, race, gender, identity, and class, through using creative design. On her website, she breaks down scientific information and offers interactive online courses to assess the material in-depth. In addition to a reading group, Climate in Colour currently teaches The Colonial History of Climate and Just Food: Security vs Sovereignty, both curated and researched from a wide range of academic resources. However, to Joycelyn, accessible knowledge goes beyond the simplification of concepts; it also means “adjusting tone, design, graphics, visuals, medium and price for a diverse range of people who have a diverse range of circumstances.”
“With my research I want to ensure that we start listening to Indigenous People around the world, instead of speaking over them. We in the West think we’ve got the solutions, but they were able to survive sustainably for years without any of us”
Joycelyn is currently pursuing a PhD on the Artificial Intelligence For Environmental Risk Programme at Cambridge University. In her research, she takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining Machine Learning, Bioacoustics, Forest Ecology, Indigenous Knowledge and Sociology to investigate the role of technology in forest conservation. She shares her PhD journey as a Climate Scientist on Climate in Colour and aims to help start conversations around climate/social justice topics through the educational resources she provides.
Joycelyn believes that climate activism starts by nurturing an emotional connection with nature. Rather than performing on social media and policing the actions of others, she stresses that those who feel the environment, naturally want to refrain from harming it. Our best teachers for this are Indigenous peoples and, in the case of the African diaspora, our ancestors. “With my research I want to ensure that we start listening to Indigenous People around the world, instead of speaking over them. We in the West think we’ve got the solutions, but they were able to survive sustainably for years without any of us”, she says. Joycelyn’s research into climate is deeply connected to her Ghanaian roots. “For members of the international African diaspora, sustainability remains at the core of cultural practice; interwoven into beliefs, societal organisation and lifestyles.”
“Once we know what our ancestors endured, we will work harder to discontinue the colonial thought and neo-colonial action that harm our societies under the guise of sustainability”
Combining her scientific research into Artificial Intelligence with African Indigenous Knowledges and community systems, Joycelyn shares her findings on Climate in Colour, inviting us to imagine decolonial climate action. For example, she traces the history of Ghanaian Queen Mothers, traditional female leaders creating community visions on working on women’s empowerment. As her own work will consist of engaging with spiritually guided forest communities, she places a special importance on researching the many ways Indigenous peoples live in and preserve forests, such as the Church Forests of Ethiopia.
Joycelyn incorporates these knowledges in workshops that aim to bring the connection between colonialism and environmental injustice into mainstream conversations. She has collaborated with Earthrise Studio, facilitating the ten-part series ‘Climate and Colonialism 101’ which explores the foundational colonial roots of the climate crisis. “I’m so passionate about this specifically, because we’re seeing so many patterns repeat themselves in the name of sustainability and climate solutions.” The thinking behind these initiatives is that once we know what our ancestors endured, we will work harder to discontinue the colonial thought and neo-colonial action that harm our societies under the guise of sustainability.
COMBATING CLIMATE ANXIETY
Many of us feel overwhelmed by the endless flow of climate catastrophes unfolding in the world. Consequently, we struggle to engage in climate action, thinking that we will not be able to make changes anyway. This phenomenon has been termed environmental anxiety, meaning a “chronic fear of environmental doom”. To those who struggle with climate conversations or feel excluded by the mainstream movement, Joycelyn says that “you don’t have to buy or consume certain things or go to protests. Anyone can be an environmentalist, and everyone has their own role. You can play your part as an artist, a comforter, a healer, or a writer. If everyone wholeheartedly jumps to what their role is, that will mean that we move a lot faster.”
Being climate curious does not mean having to work on climate mitigation or being an activist, but to be aware of the actions we can take to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. She asks whether it is good enough to be overwhelmed. “I know that sounds harsh. Climate activists are scared as well, but that doesn’t lead us to apathy.” Feelings of fear and outrage co-exist with feelings of hope, and so “action is literally an antidote to anxiety. Doing nothing is a self-fulfilling prophecy and will make you more anxious.” When asked how she feels about the label ‘activist’, Joycelyn explains that “this is a label that comes with connotations, expectations, and pigeon-holing that is wholly inaccurate with regards to my true personality and life mission.” Ultimately, her connection with nature and desire to keep the planet alive is what drives her and should inspire us all to channel our energy into creating healthier, more equitable societies.
Joycelyn sends out a bi-weekly newsletter where she shares PhD updates, climate news, amazing community projects, ways to take action on the climate crisis and personal musings (sometimes poetry too): https://climateincolour.substack.com/
Written By: Amuna Wagner – a German-Sudanese writer living between Cairo, Nuremberg and London. Her writing covers themes of gender, heritage and decolonisation. Follow her on Instagram and check out her blog Kandaka
Copy Images: courtesy of Joycelyn Longdon
Photo credit of Joycelyn: Aisha Seriki. Artwork created by @artbyfunmi