Political Issues

Meet Chanté Davis, the Black Youth Activist Forging the Way for More Inclusive Climate Activism

Lola Méndez

Photo: Courtesy Chanté Davis / W+G Creative
Chanté Davis has been a climate activist most of her life. Just 17 years old, the Black youth activist is making a positive impact on the planet by forging the way for a more diverse and inclusive environmental movement via her One Oysean project. The name "Oysean" is an homage to her Creole roots, as the New Orleans native has experienced environmental racism firsthand. Her family was forced to relocate to Houston, Texas after their home in the Lower Ninth Ward was demolished by Hurricane Katrina when she was two years old.

We spoke with Davis about her experiences in climate activism, why her generation is worried about the future of the climate, and what motivated her to become dedicated to creating space for BIPOC youth voices to be heard on climate issues.

Well+Good: What motivated you to become a climate activist?

Chanté Davis: I went to a "green" elementary school where environmental studies are implemented in everyday learning. Going through so many climate disasters and seeing the wave of youth activists leading the way pushed me to climate activism. It was the perfect storm—I had a personal stake and saw fearless youth holding power over their future.

How have you experienced environmental racism firsthand?

CD: I have experienced environmental racism many times in many ways. I’ve lived in food deserts where healthy foods were scarce for miles. I’ve lived near petrochemical plants that polluted our water and air. I’ve had to move so many times because of hurricanes and tropical storms that “somehow” flooded our section of the city, but not the affluent neighborhoods near skyscrapers or tucked behind woodland areas.

At the time I didn’t realize it, but I now am aware of the environmental racism I’ve endured firsthand throughout my life. I also experienced climate apartheid during Hurricane Harvey and most recently during the Texas Freeze when our politicians (looking at you, Cancun Cruz!) left us to starve and freeze to death.

What’s the connection between environmental justice and racial justice?

CD: One’s race determines which environment one will have to endure during their lifetime. The same places that experience food disparity, police brutality, and economic injustice are the same places where trees and clean waterways are rarely seen because of racial and environmental factors such as redlining.

Why must BIPOC voices be brought to the forefront of the climate activism movement?

CD: Black and Brown folx have so much more at stake with the climate crisis. While they contribute the least to the crisis, they’re disproportionately affected more than their white counterparts. BIPOC have lived through these issues for generations and while the struggle is real, so is their resilience, and that’s why they must be brought to the forefront of the climate activism movement.

You’re an ocean conservation advocate. Why is it important to protect and care for our oceans?

CD: As an aspiring marine biologist, it’s important to me to be an ocean conservation advocate because I know how much the ocean means to me, personally and professionally. I cared for the ocean at a young age and I knew I didn’t want to see it degrade in front of my eyes. I also knew that further in my career I’d like to find a new species of shark or collaborate with doctors to find a new medicinal solution somewhere in the ocean.

Why do you believe ocean conservation is one of the most pressing climate issues?

CD: Our ocean regulates our climate and it houses a lot of the carbon we emit. The ocean even has the potential to provide solutions outside of your typical wind and solar farms and to build a new global economy. Ocean conservation is one of our best chances at combating the crisis, and we truly don’t stand a chance of restoring our planet for each and everyone without doing so.

How has being a member of Ocean Heroes Network helped your work as a climate activist?

CD: My connection with water and passion for climate justice led me to join Ocean Heroes Bootcamp (founded by Captain Planet Foundation and Lonely Whale) where I could learn about the intersections of the climate crisis and connect with like-minded people who’re driven to make change. Through the network, I learned how to implement campaign skills and resources to accomplish my goals. I also worked and learned alongside thousands of youth around the world that cared about similar issues. Together, we imagined clean seas and constructed tangible solutions to fight climate change.

Congrats on receiving a grant from Ocean Heroes Bootcamp to create the One Oysean campaign! What can we expect from One Oysean?

CD: With the support of Ocean Heroes Network I created my One Oysean campaign to provide a platform to uplift and support other BIPOC who had climate stories to tell and to allow them to see themselves as leaders of the environmental movement and ocean conservation. One Oysean will have IG lives, pre-recorded panel discussions, guest speakers, and general posts from BIPOC youth across the country discussing the intersectional issues of the climate crisis.

One Oysean has five main components that will educate, empower, and support our Earth defenders. These components will range from discussing food and its relationship to the climate crisis, uplifting BIPOC in ocean conservation, nature talk skits featuring BIPOC hosts, supporting local activists, and highlighting sustainable BIPOC-owned businesses with affordable items.

What advice do you have for BIPOC youth who want to get involved in climate activism?

CD: There’s no such thing as “perfect” activism. Speak up about issues that affect you and your community, despite the focus of the general public. Take up space and don’t feel guilty about it either!

What keeps you optimistic about the future of our planet?

CD: Honoring the struggle of my ancestors and how far we’ve come because of them keeps me optimistic about our future. They had many more odds stacked up against them, and still, they were persistent in their work and their mission. We have power because of them, and we are unstoppable together.

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