Environmentalism and racial justice in America today. Two sides of the same coin?


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Event Information

Join Richard Nevle (Deputy Director, Stanford Earth Systems Program) and Amina Ly (Stanford Earth graduate student) for a provocative dialogue with award-winning playwright Vincent Terrell Durham, about his timely new play—Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids. The setting of Polar Bears is a party in gentrified Harlem where environmental and Black Lives Matter activists of different races, classes, and sexualities clash. 

There is a lack of diversity in the environmental movement and it has been slow to heed the centuries-long call made by colonized and marginalized communities to recognize the issues of environmental justice. 

How do we advocate for the protection of Black lives and the planet without obscuring racism behind the banner of “All Lives Matter”? What does it mean to apply an intersectional environmentalist lens as we re-imagine ways of caring for the earth and each other?  How can art and science be used (and combined) to increase the acuity of our vision for a healthy planet?  

The panel will be facilitated by Alesia Montgomery, an independent researcher who works as a subject specialist at Stanford Libraries. Felicia Smith, the inaugural Racial Justice, and Social Equity Librarian at Stanford Libraries, will offer special remarks. 

Synopsis: Polar Bears, Black Boys and Prairie Fringed Orchids portrays an explosive and ultimately tragic encounter between environmental and Black Lives Matter activists at a Harlem cocktail party. The timely issues of race, class, sexual identity, biological extinction, and police violence against black bodies are explored with a perfect blend of biting wit, pathos and humor. This powerful play about social and environmental justice and police violence speaks to some of the most profound and urgent issues at the heart of America’s continuing reckoning with race.

Vincent Terrell Durham is a playwright, author, and poet who first honed his storytelling skills as a stand-up comic in comedy clubs across the country. His plays include The Fertile River, Vol. 1, A Post Racial America and Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids, among others. Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids was co-commissioned and developed by Planet Earth Arts and PlayGround and was a 2019 NNPN National Showcase of New Plays finalist.

Several excerpts of the play will be screened during the event to spark conversation between the speakers and the audience. A link to the film of the entire play will be sent a week before to those who RSVP in advance.

The conversation will continue at a social event after the panel and a virtual presentation of part of the exhibit Say Their Names – No More Names will take place in the Geo courtyard. Appetizers and drinks will be served.

Livestream via Zoom will be available, details will be received upon registration, a day before the event.

Planet Earth Arts, now in its eighth year at Stanford, is a campus-wide interdisciplinary program involving students and faculty in creative collaborations between the arts, humanities, and sciences exploring the most urgent environmental and social justice issues of our time. We bring distinguished Guest Artists to the campus throughout the year. 

Location Tip: Building 370 is located on the west side (Lomita Mall side) of the outer Main Quad. This building hosts the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences. The Marguerite shuttle stop is directly in front of the Main Quad on Serra Mall.  Disabled parking is located at the top of the Oval on either side for closer access to the front of the Main Quad.

Sponsored by: Stanford new school on climate & sustainability, Planet Earth Arts, and Stanford Earth DEI Office

​Stanford Earth community members will earn E-digital DEI stickers for attending this event, but this event is open to all of the Stanford community.