Skip to main content

The Green Leadership Trust community mourns as we celebrate the legacy of a giant in the field of environmental justice, Bunyan Bryant.

As environmentalists of color serving on Boards of Directors, we know that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Bunyan Bryant was a pioneer, often called the father of environmental justice. Dr. Bryant was an esteemed professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) for four decades. He mentored and guided thousands of social and racial justice advocates well beyond the campus of the university. He died peacefully at home in Ann Arbor on March 28, 2024, after a short battle with cancer. He was 89.

Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, GLT Outgoing Co-Chair, shared “Dr. Bryant’s work was critical in establishing the validity of the activism of so many frontline and fenceline communities.  His research and work were critical in establishing environmental justice as more than an anecdotal expression of toxic exposures, but a quantifiable and trackable process exposing harm and intention to communities of color, both domestically and internationally – allowing people to shift from being victims to advocates.” 

Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, GLT Member, Executive Vice President at National Wildlife Federation, and a mentee of Dr. Bryant, stated: Dr. Bunyan Bryant, a pioneer in the field of environmental justice and civil rights, became the first African American faculty member of the School of Natural Resources & Environment at the University of Michigan. His work with the Michigan Coalition helped start the Office of Environmental Equity at the EPA. He will be dearly missed.” 

Dr. Michael Dorsey, GLT Member, Director/Chair of the Rob & Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at Arizona State University, and a mentee of Dr. Bryant, said: “Dr. Bunyan Bryant was the humblest scholarly giant; a patient advocate for social and environmental justice; a world renown activist sociologist; a true supporter of students and a conscientious collaborator with peer academics and community members alike. He will be sorely missed yet never forgotten.”

Before his passing, Bunyan Bryant was asked in an interview if he wished to impart any final words of wisdom to the next generation. He shared the following: 

“Always be hopeful because that is a source of energy that will enable and inspire your work and your vision for the future. With hope, comes new visions and possibilities of social and environmental justice. Use the scientific and evidence-based knowledge that you have accumulated during your stay with us humbly and in concert with the people you are serving. And take good care of yourself so that you can continue your work well into the future.”

Bunyan Bryant is an inspiration to all of us struggling to build a more sustainable and just world.  Let’s continue his legacy by reading and sharing his memoir with new leaders in this field: “Educator and Activist: My Life and Times in the Quest for Environmental Justice.”