This May, I will be partnering with Range of Light founder Robert Hanna, the great-great-grandson of John Muir, and the National Parks Service for a Muir Campfire summit on diversity and relevancy of the National Parks. The summit will bring together such agencies as the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and California State Parks, along with the Sierra Club, Latino Outdoors, National Park Conservation Association and DEL — just to name a few.
The purpose of this gathering is to bring together SOLUTION driven people to discuss ways to bring a more diverse workforce to outdoor agencies and to the outdoor spaces they manage.
As our world becomes more diverse — and as the need for conservation grows — so must our efforts to include a more diverse team in the work of conservation.
It is an absolute honor to be working with Robert Hanna on this summit. It is in the legacy of John Muir and his love of nature that this campfire discussion will take place. When I approached Robert and the NPS about this project, I wanted to make sure all parties were onboard with making sure this gathering took place outdoors, around a campfire — versus being in an enclosed space as most gatherings of this sort are.
Growing up on Main Street in Richmond, being outdoors was huge for me. In addition to playing basketball at the park across from my home, my friends and I would hike the hills of Point Richmond and Wildcat Canyon. Just being outdoors and having the experience of nature became something that I looked forward to.
Back then the City of Richmond had recreational vehicles that would come around to the neighborhoods, and they would engage neighborhood kids in all types of outdoor activities. Eventually that program fell by the wayside, but that didn’t stop us from being outdoors — we just did it on our own, playing sports and making it to hiking trails throughout the city.
Fast forward to 2004, I started to grow a passion for our national parks. This stemmed from my very first visit to Yosemite National Park, as a member of the local Girls Club, back in 1980. At least once a month I would visit Yosemite. I would hop on Amtrak and take the train to the park. It was there that I started to notice the absence of African Americans in our national parks — not just in other visitors, but in national parks service representatives as well. It was rare that I would see African Americans, Latino Americans, or other people of color, and I started to grow frustrated with that.
It was through that frustration that I created African American National Parks Event. This event is in place to encourage African American communities across the country to get out into our national parks. By engaging this segment of society, we also boost their passion for conservation.
We have an ever-growing need for more people of color to become involved in the conservation movement. The work that is being done by such outdoor organizations as Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro, Keeping it Wild, and by a young lady by the name of Akiima Price, among others, is helping to raise the level of involvement by people of color in work around the environment.
I am inspired to continue to push forward by the efforts of such community leaders as Audrey and Frank Peterman, founders of DEL, who have been park advocates for years. Their commitment to changing the face of the outdoors gives me hope that I, too, can make a difference in how people of color connect with nature.
Since creating African American National Parks Day in 2013, the numbers of participants has grown every year, and this project continues to be my main focus. I feel it is a way for people to get beyond some of the obstacles they have, such as not feeling welcome in the outdoors.
Being a native of Richmond and understanding the need for community involvement, I hope to find ways to work with city officials in engaging the people of Richmond in AANPE. I think it’s vital that the young people see other options available to them as a career path. Working on environment issues is one such path.
I’m often asked about the future of AANPE and my response is always the same, when you begin to see people of color in mainstream outdoor publications, just as frequently as you see others, campaigns such as AANPE may no longer be needed. But until then, I will continue to push the agenda of equality and inclusion in outdoor spaces.
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