In a Washington, DC hotel room I resigned myself to the image in the mirror. Years ago I swore among other things that I would never work a job that required me to wear a tie. And as I dressed for an appointment at the prestigious National Press Club in denim jeans, a long sleeve shirt and a blazer I finally abandoned my last attempt at conformity. I slipped loose the top button of my collar, grabbed my camera bag and made for the elevator. Still known in some circles as The Outdoor Professional I had a reputation to uphold. Even as I aimed to charge the halls of power in our nation’s capital I’ll be damned if I’m ever caught dead with a silk noose tied around my neck.
Joining a new cohort of fellow outdoorsmen and women, I met in the hotel lobby a legion of heroes. Each of them an expert in the field of environmental conservation we gathered in a show of force to demonstrate the collective power of a people united in a common cause. From a broad range of backgrounds and experience we would bring to bear a vast wealth of knowledge and information to dispel a popular myth. Despite all evidence to the contrary people of color do indeed have a relationship with the natural world. In fact, we always have.
The Diverse Environmental Leaders (DEL) speakers bureau launched this week to inform the nation of incredibly good news. As interest groups dedicated to the preservation of natural resources and public land have lamented with great disappointment their inability to find, recruit, hire, retain and promote people of color within their ranks DEL has arrived on the scene to provide the expertise and guidance to fulfill this desperate need. As the United States population shifts to favor a non-white majority hundreds of public and private institutions now have a reliable recourse upon whom to call for a variety of different services to make their organizations more diverse, inclusive and culturally relevant.
“By aggregating a fraction of the environmental leadership and talent in our urban communities, we are making ourselves more visible and accessible,” said Audrey Peterman, President of Earthwise Productions Inc. and one of the visionaries behind the new bureau. “For almost 20 years I’ve lived in a world of duality where the environmental boards I sit on bemoan their lack of diversity, and the grassroots groups are nonplussed as to why they can’t connect to the mainstream conservation organizations. It seems only natural to organize so that the two sides can more clearly see and reach each other.”
The purpose of DEL is to create substantive relationships between land management and environmental conservation groups and the emerging population of black and brown citizens across the nation. The bureau aims to provide critical resources to identify qualified minority job applicants as well as strategic partners for the creation of a workforce and a constituency of support dedicated to the preservation of the environment that reflects the diverse make up of the American people.
“Looks can be deceiving and the absence of people that look like us, deceives the audience into thinking we don’t have a voice,” said Teresa Baker, founder of the African-American National Parks Event. “DEL disrupts that concept and speaks directly to those currently at the table and to those in power positions,who are now without excuses as to why they are not including people of color in the conversation (of) the environment”.
Members of DEL that include the founders grassroots environmental companies; authors; academics; climate, energy and green development experts; birders and millennials aim to fill the apparent void among those organization that seek to forge a bond between people -particularly people of color- and the environment. Among these top presenters are Majora Carter, Captain William Pinkney, Dr. Carolyne Finney and JT Reynolds.
“Being from a place that lies within the ocean-the Sea Islands-I see DEL as a bridge to the mainland and the mainstream of other people of consciousness that believe as I do, that the land is our family,” said Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine, a DEL member and Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. “It is our GOD given duty to take care of and nurture our family because that is from which we receive the Ultimate Nurturing.”
By adding the voices of people with a vested interest in the environmental movement that had previously been overlooked DEL can help to foster a more profound sense of inclusion, a state of being in which the needs and interests of all people are heard and represented. With leaders from many different walks of life adding their thoughts to the discussion efforts to preserve the natural world can only grow stronger, made more stable by a diverse population of citizens who share the common value of long-term conservation.
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