African Americans’ Impact on the Renewable Energy Movement

By Constance Thompson
February 25, 2022

One year and nine months ago, the public lynching of a black man, George Floyd, (re)ignited an unprecedented movement to intentionally dismantle a social construct in our country that many consider the “original sin” and haunts every aspect of citizens’ ability to truly experience liberty and justice for all. 

The outrage, shock, disbelief and feeling of helplessness in reaction to this horrific crime touched our nation in a manner that demanded more than another “conversation” about race in America. This moment called for intentional, strategic actions that addressed the core of our shared humanity and the impact of over 400 years of racism that the descendants of unwilling documented immigrants, who served as the backbone to building this country, continue to experience today. 

Many of our nation’s most respected leaders, representing a cross-section of powerful institutions, stepped up and made public commitments to dismantle systemic racism in all forms, remove barriers to economic access, ensure equitable representation, and implement and enforce zero-tolerance business and workplace policies. 

Some of the concrete actions that followed included the (re)establishment of DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice) leadership roles, along with workplace policies and employee engagement initiatives to demonstrate a firm commitment to ensuring African Americans (and other historically marginalized groups) felt a sense of belonging and played a key role in shaping the path forward. 

The incoming Administration launched the Justice 40 initiative, which aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. The Department of Energy hired and recommended the appointment of several notable African American social and environmental justice leaders and ordered the examination of barriers to access for historically marginalized groups in accessing the programs and economic opportunities offered by the DOE. The Department also made seed funding available to operationalize their findings.  

These acts of “restorative justice” have provided our industry with a unique opportunity to begin atoning for decades of generational environmental racism and its impact on the health and safety of black and brown communities. We are starting to re-engineer the systems that have historically prevented the accumulation of generational wealth, and re-examining environmental policy and the lack of accountability that resulted in many of the missteps of the past. 

In the wake of Mr. Floyd’s murder, ACORE was moved to determine how we could expand our mission to ensure a just and equitable transition to a renewable energy economy and engaged in a series of groundbreaking conversations with members representing a cross-section of who’s who in the industry.  

The result is a membership-based program that leverages our unique ability to convene, engage, and mobilize industry leaders, and demonstrates our commitment to shared power and economic justice.  

In December of 2020, our Accelerate Membership Program was established. Designed to support the success of small, emerging women, black, indigenous, and people of color-owned renewable energy companies, the transformational cornerstone of the program is our exclusive networking sessions where we leverage our highly influential network of members to facilitate potential investment or business partnership opportunities.  

In March of 2021, we welcomed our Inaugural class of Accelerate members to the ACORE family. Of our Inaugural class, 53% identify as African American, with 50% representing solar developers, 25% wind and solar developers, 12.5% in HR Consulting and 12.5% in emerging technologies.  

Our Inaugural Accelerate class includes a broad spectrum of the African American renewable energy entrepreneurial experience. Our members are passionately focused on ensuring that their companies’ work, voices and impact have a transformational effect on future generations. In the final days of Black History Month, I am privileged to shout out a few of our accomplished and inspiring Accelerate members:

  • AJ Patton, Founder and CEO of  548 Capital, who is on a mission to eradicate energy insecurity in Chicagoland LMI communities and ensure that these communities have broadened access to the workforce benefits of the clean energy movement.  
  • Kristal Hansley, Founder and CEO of WeSolar, the first African American woman to found a community solar company , is on a mission to introduce community solar and its related benefits to local under-resourced individuals in the DMV. 
  • Jessica Booker, Founder & CEO of The Booker DEI group, a diversity and inclusion- focused consulting firm that specialized in executive search and organizational culture design. Jessica is helping to change the face of executive leadership and culture within the renewable energy industry, one client at a time 
  • Kevin Butler, Founder and CEO of SoleTrader is on a mission to change the way utilities, governments and co-ops think about powering the future of our nation by finding and utilizing proven, emerging technologies to power the present and the future of our country. 
  • Simon Mugo, Founder and CEO of Full Service Solar, is a turn-key solar developer focused on simplifying access to solar for corporations, small businesses, homeowners and renters. 
  • Dana Clare Redden, Founder and CEO of Solar Stewards, is an industry thought leader dedicated to revolutionizing the way social reqs are used to connect CSR initiatives to on-site solar development for organizations that serve the community such as universities, affordable and senior housing developments, churches, non-profits, and municipalities. 
  • Dr. Michael Dorsey, Partner with Ibersun and founder of the Sunrise Movement, is a leader and recognized expert on global energy, finance and sustainability matters, as well as a self-professed “serial organization builder and leader” in for-profit, non-profit and governmental organizations.  
  • Dr. Paul Reeves, Founder of Upepo Groups, works with HBCUs on renewable energy projects and focuses on generating renewable energy ownership models for low-income communities and communities of color to promote “energy democracy.  

The African American Founders and CEOs represented among our Accelerate Membership are blazing a trail for more companies to enter into the renewable energy space while also delivering the transformational clean energy technology, development, socio-economic and restorative justice advancements our industry and country need.  

While there is much more work to be done, ACORE Accelerate is a part of a renewable energy entrepreneurship movement that is laser-focused on breaking down systemic barriers towards realizing economic justice and delivering a form of restorative justice for the descendants of many to whom this would have never been a possibility.