How can we honor Black History Month within the context of outdoor and environmental education? There is a lot of work to be done to fully acknowledge the history and contributions of black leaders in outdoor spaces, and to support black leadership in the present moment which means addressing issues of equity and inclusion more broadly. Below are some actions we commit to, and that we encourage other environmental educators to commit to, as well. They include a short sampling of some quotes and articles that have influenced our thinking about some of these complex issues.
We commit to:
- Recognizing and supporting the work of black leaders in the field.
Today and every day, we acknowledge that there is significant leadership in the black community working for equity and inclusion in the outdoors. We commit to learning from and amplifying the work of leaders like Teresa Baker, Dr. Carolyn Finney, CJ Goulding, Pandora Thomas, Dr. Dorceta Taylor, and Carl Anthony, and to learning from and supporting organizations like PGM One, Youth Outside, Outdoor Afro, and YES Nature to Neighborhoods.
To learn about more leaders in the field:
- Learning about the lack of inclusion in environmental education, outdoor organizations, and the environmental movement.
The story of the environmental movement is one of exclusion of black voices and perspectives. As environmental and outdoor-focused organizations, it’s important to understand this history and to consider how it might impact the relevance and accessibility of our programs in the black community.
“The rise of the conservation movement in the late-19th century came at the expense of America’s racial promise to the black Americans it had enslaved for almost 250 years….The U.S. government had promised land to newly emancipated black citizens after the Civil War, but those properties were yanked away from them—and from many Native American tribes—to make room for new national parks and monuments.” – Brentin Mock, The Green Movement is Talking About Racism? It’s About Time.
“To enact change in the name of inclusion, [Teresa Baker] reached out to the National Park Service (NPS) directly. While she was able to establish a conversation, her early exchanges were difficult, and she faced a great number of people who had yet to appreciate the importance of inclusion. She would receive questions like ‘If people of color are not visiting national parks, what’s the problem? People are free to go and not go where they choose, no?’” – Ashley Sullivan, Fighting for the Environment Through Inclusion
To learn more:
- Creating and uplifting more accurate historical narratives that acknowledge the environmental justice work of black leaders.
The history of environmentalism often fails to acknowledge the environmental justice work that has happened in black communities for years. As environmental and outdoor-focused organizations, it’s important for us to make sure our black students, educators, and community stakeholders see themselves represented in the stories we tell about outdoor leaders and environmental work. And it’s important that all of us see, recognize, and appreciate these contributions in order to have a more accurate understanding of the history of the environmental justice movement.
“The perception that people of color don’t care about the environment has existed for a long time, and has been debunked for just as long. We can go back to [historian] W.E.B. DuBois, whose 1898 study on Philadelphia looked at the housing and health conditions of African Americans. People have described it as a sociological study, but if you read it, it is an environmental study, if ever there was one. He looked at the environmental conditions of these communities, but he linked them with social inequality and justice issues.” – Brentin Mock, Think People of Color Don’t Care About the Environment? Think Again.
To learn more:
- Acknowledging that the black community is already connected to the outdoors, and representing the black community in our media and communications.
Mainstream outdoor media rarely tells the stories or shows positive images of black people in the outdoors. Environmental and outdoor-focused organizations must make sure our black students see themselves represented in our program communications and communities of instructors. However, we also need to ensure that we only use authentic pictures, and seek permission before use to avoid tokenizing black faces.
“We worked our way down into a beautiful redwood bowl and wound up walking along a stream. We were sharing and listening to each other. And I realized, we were doing something that African Americans had always known that we could do. And that was to lay our burdens down by the riverside.” – Rue Mapp, Doubling Down on Black Joy in Nature
“I have had the privilege to visit many national parks across the country. But I have always been astonished at how often white people are surprised by my presence in these spaces. It never ceases to leave me with a deep-seated feeling of discomfort, of being different, and feeling decidedly out of place in these outdoor settings.” – Dr. Carolyn Finney, It Matters Who You see in Outdoor Media
“I realized then that what we had was a problem of visual representation, because we weren’t seeing our images reflected back to us in the mainstream outdoor-oriented magazines of the day.”– Rue Mapp, Doubling Down on Black Joy in Nature
We realize this work can be challenging and uncomfortable, and sometimes it can be hard to see meaningful progress. We also realize we still have lots to learn, and the BEETLES team is committed to changing old narratives and amplifying voices of color not just in February, but every day.