Alumna advocates for environmental justice
As a young person growing up in Detroit's central city, Diamond Spratling ’18 thought the world around her was also everyone else's reality — the air often had an offensive odor and there was pavement everywhere, with precious few patches of green and even fewer parks.
Experiencing environmental inequities
When she was about 15 years old, her father's strong work ethic had enabled the family to move to the suburbs, and there, Spratling discovered a universe she had not known existed. The air was cleaner, the sky brighter and there were expanses of green space where the outdoor environment was both attractive and comfortable.
“We just moved a couple of miles, but it was clear to me, even at that relatively young age, that I was seeing a lot of differences,” she said. “And these differences were related to my environment, and as a kid it was like, 'Wow!', it had never dawned on me that things could be so different," Spratling said. "That change — just a few miles away from the heart of the city where I had grown up — had a huge impact on me.”
The effect of that change in her surroundings inspired Spratling to pursue studies in the environmental field, earn a bachelor's degree in Environmental Policy and Analysis from BGSU, and go on to gain a Master of Public Health in Global Health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
In pursuit of sustainability leadership
After working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as a policy fellow concentrating on heart disease and stroke prevention, Spratling now dedicates all her passion and energy to bringing about that dramatic transformation that she experienced as a teen in Detroit for millions of others.
“In Detroit, the air always smelled bad to me, but I thought it was just the trash. And for kids in my neighborhood, asthma was normalized — everyone had asthma — but then I found out how the environment has so much to do with this,” she said. “It turns out that no one there knew about these connections, and I want people who look like me to know about these issues, to have parks nearby and have safe outdoor spaces that they can walk to.”
Spratling is using her life experience, education and limitless fervor to lead an effort to mitigate health, racial and environmental inequities in Black and Brown communities. She founded and leads Girl + Environment, a national non-profit organization designed to educate, engage and empower Black and Brown girls, women and non-binary individuals to stand up for environmental justice in their own neighborhoods.
“My goal is to grow that organization nationally, advocate for them, and be the leader that can organize and engage as many Black and Brown women as I can so we can address the disparities in this sector,” said Spratling, who recently delivered the keynote address for the Marvin Center Sustainability Leadership Certificate sessions. “Since, as a group, Black and Brown women are disproportionately affected by these things, we need to be the ones that lead the change.”
Her message to BGSU students was one of taking charge, stepping to the forefront and never missing out on an opportunity to learn and make a difference.
“I wanted them to see that path to being a leader in sustainability and to understand that as a BG graduate they can do so many things,” she said. “I reminded them of all of the projects and opportunities for hands-on involvement available at Bowling Green, I encouraged them to take advantage of all of those programs, and how those things helped me get started on my career path.”
Opportunities abound at BGSU
Her passion for environmental justice took hold soon after Spratling and her family moved to the suburbs and she enrolled in her new school where the curriculum offered specialized studies that helped her grasp the depth and breadth of the inequities she had observed.
“In my high school classes, I learned about the effects of air pollution and the impact of landfills on the surrounding area. I was very curious as to why I was seeing these stark differences and I realized this is not okay and this should not be normalized,” she said. “I started taking environmental science classes and it prompted me to find out how this could be properly addressed.”
When it came time to target the best opportunity to continue and intensify her educational track, BGSU quickly came into focus.
“I wanted to study environmental policy, not just learn how this disparity happens in certain communities, and Bowling Green was one of the few schools that offered policy studies,” said Spratling, who had visited the campus many times while her older sister attended the University. “There was so much offered there, such as the Student Green Initiatives Fund for environmental sustainability projects on campus. It allowed me to not just see that people are knowledgeable about environmental issues, but more importantly, how to bring about change.”
Spratling was a featured speaker at the TEDxBGSU event where her address on the inequities of the energy burden placed on low-income communities and people of color meshed seamlessly with the overall theme of BGSU as a public university for the public good.
Her relentless commitment to these issues earned Spratling the William H. Sterner Memorial Award and the Elmore Manufacturing Award, and allowed her to participate in the McNair Scholars Program, named in honor of Ronald E. McNair, an African-American NASA mission specialist who perished in the 1986 Challenger disaster.
“I want to take my education, my experiences and my dedication to this field and motivate students, Black and Brown women, and everyone else I can reach,” Spratling said. “Environmental justice for me is the meaningful engagement and empowerment and education of how our environment impacts us, and how our communities are impacted by the environmental disparities that exist everywhere.”
Updated: 11/08/2022 08:06AM