#ecopunk: interview with teacher and environmental activist pandora thomas

May 14, 2015

Pandora Thomas is a noted teacher-activist in the fields of permaculture and environmentalism. Among her many efforts are the Pathways to Resilience Program, Earthseed Consulting, and Black Permaculture Network. She is the author of Shades of Green and The Tree That Lived On Busy Street. Bought to you by The EartH2O study abroad program in Costa Rica, offering exclusively to the AFROPUNK audience $100 off w/ code: ECOPUNK Apply now or join their mailing list for more info. 
Where do you come from? 
My parents were both from share-cropper families in the South. [In our family] we had a mixture of African American and Native American blood. My mother was born on a share-cropper farm. So, this kind of homesteading that so many people [in the eco-sustainable field] so graciously want to go back to—my mother was born into that. For a lot of people, especially Black people, we fled share-cropping, as part of a northern migration, to steel towns. But, despite the toxic circumstances of the share-cropper lifestyle, my parents both had connection to nature and I was born into that; loving animal, loving the worms we used, and understanding the cycles. I always loved trees and I was an outdoorsy person. It was almost like school couldn’t beat it out of me. 
Where did the Pathways to Resilience Program (a re-entry program for paroled prisoners involving permaculture and gardeningbegin? 
At my university they were building a prison across the street, and a lot of my family members were already caught up with the prison industrial complex. Early on, I saw this institution attacking my family and my fellow students, and I decided nobody was gonna tell me what kind of person I should be. You can’t judge a book its cover. That level—that there are others that people don’t see—I think it’s all tied in with my work. The prisoners that I worked with inside, they really got the connection [to nature]; they already had it. In the program we do some activities that help them uncover it/go back in time to when they were children and they knew the connection more strongly—but everyone already has the connection: we are nature. We had this one brother who got thrown in the Hole (solitary confinement), and what got him through was the AWARENESS of a tree outside the Hole, even though he couldn’t see it. Just knowing it was there, the life that it gave off, got him through. We all already have the connection: I believe that we all have it. 
What attitude do we need? What is an #EcoPunk to you? 
If I defined myself as something, it’s probably that—an EcoPunk. Everything that’s alternative but super environmental. I find myself standing up for the little guy, for the environment, for whoever is being picked on. I find hope in the people (fellow Punks) that I surround myself with. To me, it’s also linked to the radical-ness of the Black Panthers and the film The Rockers. It all makes sense together—all these movements that aren’t accepted by anything mainstream—and they all happen to be around Eco or Punk, and that kind of lifestyle.