March 30, 2020

Climate group MN350 hires executive director

Longtime organizer, educator Sam Grant named to head one of Minnesota’s leading grassroots advocacy groups


MN350 is pleased to welcome longtime Minnesota educator and social justice organizer Sam Grant to its staff as executive director.

With a small staff and hundreds of volunteers in Minnesota, MN350 plays an outsized role in the growing movement to protect our climate. The organization’s goals include stopping the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and shifting to renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, all while giving power and relief to frontline communities most harmed by the climate crisis.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced last week it would abandon its mission and stop enforcement of environmental regulations during the coronavirus pandemic. Grant criticized that decision as an example of the entrenched and corrupting influence of fossil fuel interests.

“This is how environmental crimes are committed and inequities perpetuated — with quiet rule changes that benefit Big Oil and polluters while the rest of the world is preoccupied. It’s an old story. The same special interests that caused the climate crisis are now using the cover of a different crisis to put their economic and political interests ahead of the safety and well-being of everyone else.”

Grant draws on decades of experience as a trainer of social-justice facilitators. He taught for nearly 30 years at Metropolitan State University and organized residents in Sierra Leone, where he helped establish an environmentally responsive, self-sustaining village with the Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy.

Born in Washington, D.C., Grant spent his first years across the street from a pollution-spewing plant in Pennsylvania. He developed asthma at the age of 2. “I spent a lot of time in my young childhood under oxygen tents. It’s still impacting me today. So the environmental justice struggle is something that has impacted my life directly.”

He has looked to nature as a lifelong refuge. When his parents moved to a new neighborhood in Jacksonville, Fla., his was the first black family to refuse to be forced out by racism. Now his old neighborhood is racially diverse.

“It was an unsafe place for me to be,” he said. “The only place I found solace and safety was out in nature. I lived right on a river, and I would go out there and catch my own crab and shrimp every day.”

With MN350, and its political arm, MN350 Action, Grant will manage day-to-day operations and lead statewide campaigns across staff, volunteers, and allied groups. Campaigns include stopping the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in Northern Minnesota; electrifying Minnesota’s transportation sector; and pressuring candidates and decision-makers to enact climate-friendly policies. 

MN350 seeks to put communities historically excluded from major transitions — black, brown, indigenous, elder, youth, farmer, low income and union member — at the front of the shift to an equitable clean-energy economy. “Those politicians who oppose doing the right thing for the climate are relying on the tired strategy of dividing us in order to hold onto their power,” Grant said. “But we won’t fall for it. We know we can do more when we act together. The climate justice movement requires all hands on deck.”

As an affiliate of the global 350 movement, MN350 is named for the highest atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide that can still sustain human life: 350 parts per million. In 2019 that measure exceeded 410 ppm.

“MN350 is a place that recognizes that we have been wrong in our relationship with Mother Earth, and that we all have to get in a right relationship,” Grant said.

“We have to get everybody to realize that our best future comes from taking care of the earth, each other and the future by organizing mutually beneficial relations at all scales. Climate justice provides the path we must all walk together.”

Grant attended Macalester College before doing graduate work in New Hampshire and California. He returned in 2011 to be close to family in the Twin Cities.