The journey home passed in a blur of black asphalt highway and fast food eaten slowly. It’s 850 miles from Atlanta to Madison and at the conclusion of the Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great Outdoors conference I found myself racing back to begin the work that lies ahead. The 14-hour drive was fueled as much by eager anticipation and heady adrenaline as diesel, tacos, hamburgers and coffee. It seemed the Joy Jetta sped north across four state lines not merely to carry me home but into the future.
“At this conference we hope to begin seeding a new conversation,” said co-organizer Audrey Peterman. This small but incredibly dynamic woman with her charismatic husband Frank led a series of discussions and presentations that have set in motion a dialog to change the course of human history. “I don’t want to hear about saving the planet,” Audrey said. “The earth was around long before we came along and it will shrug us off long before it’s through. Right now it’s about changing how we live.”
Much of the Conference did indeed focused on how people of color might overcome racial discrimination of the past and become more involved in both the environmental preservation movement and the world of outdoor recreation. But Frank Peterman said there’s more to it than that. “We have to get past this notion of the Other,” Frank said. “It’s easy to say it’s us against them and lay the blame on other things outside of ourselves. We have to come to realize that we are all in this together.”
The work that lies ahead is not so much a question of getting more African-American’s, Latinos and Asians into the outdoors. What truly matters is that we collectively as a united people on this planet raise our awareness for the issues of environmental conservation. We also must realize how important it is for our communities to establish a positive and sustainable relationship with the natural world.
Al Calloway is a columnist for the South Florida Times who attended the conference.
“When comes to community development, health care, job creation you cannot separate any of these from the environment,” Calloway said. “Environmental justice is the civil rights movement of the 21st century.”
So in the weeks and months to come we will continue the conversation begun at the Breaking the Color Barrier conference. Topics to discuss will range from getting more children off the coach and into the outdoors to increasing the number of young people who begin careers in the National Park Service. We can talk about making wilderness more accessible to those who live in our urban centers and maybe explore ways to raise the profile of minorities already engaged in outdoor recreation through channels of popular media.
But at the heart of this discussion must be our shared goal of correcting some of the damage we have caused in the natural world. Though the planet will ultimately survive our presence here we can work toward a future where our behavior as individuals improves the quality of life for us all.
“I believe in my heart that if we heal the land,” said Frank Peterman “The land will heal the people.”
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