Lone Woman's Accomplishments Set Standard for DOI, Forest Service & Conservationists

A single black woman with a fulltime job uses her spare time to rally Americans of African descent to national and state parks around the country, and they turn out in great numbers. At last count, 184 units of the publicly-owned lands system welcomed new and returning visitors this past weekend from the demographic group long presented as being most absent from our publicly-owned lands.


 AANPE first time visitors to Everglades National Park included a Fulbright Scholar anthropologist from Belgium, a professor of geology from the University of Miami and the publisher of the South Florida Times,a Black-focused weekly newspaper.


Easily, Teresa Baker's "African American Nature & Parks Event" achieved more than the Department of Interior, its subordinate agencies, the USDA Forest Service and the entire conservation sector put together have accomplished in more than 20 years. Today Black Americans from coast to coast are talking about nature and their enjoyment of national and state parks and forests in numbers we have never seen before.

 Responding to the consistent drumbeat from the Park Service that "African Americans are the least likely to visit national parks," Teresa worked with Outdoor Afro and other partners around the country to organize the first event two years ago. Her success has escalated in the ensuing years, resulting in a modest relationship with the park service and invitations from state parks to be included.


 STEAM Professor Stefan Moss, DEL Speaker and Outdoor Afro leader  enjoys a moment of solitude as part of AANPE in Atlanta.


But the irony of disparate compensation, status and results may still be

lost on park and environmental leaders who persist in emphasizing the "difficulties" of engaging Americans of color with conservation. If one determined person can accomplish this in addition to her fulltime job, what should we expect of those whose hefty pay and benefit packages are funded by our tax dollars and foundation grants? Answer: The smallest possible movement towards diversity and inclusion, as shown by the Green 2.0 Report.


I often wonder how these leaders would stack up in corporate America if they told their shareholders they'd made almost no progress in the fastest-growing markets. They'd be summarily fired. But WE the American people are the shareholders, and we are settling for very

little returns.


Responding to the call of AANPE in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Striving to live from a space of love, to help build bridges so we can all get along, I bump up hard against the hypocrisy and have to decide how to present it so as to be heard and not to alienate. But since what's at stake is our environment, quality of life and the prospects for future generations, to be silent or parse words would be conduct just as hypocritical on my part.


 "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it," Upton Sinclair opined.

While a few leaders are striving to move forward, I am still confronted every day with well-meaning people who call to "pick my brain" because they "really want to connect with urban people" but it's "so difficult."


Members of Hike4Life and Door to the Outdoors turned out en masse for AANPE in Boston.

 My response is, "Picking my brain is tantamount to picking my pocket," because the unique skills and experience I have is what I use to make my living.

Just this week a young man called to say he was eager to speak with me because he wants to be able to bring information about DEL to outdoors and conservation leaders who "really want to connect with urban communities but find it so challenging."


Once you experience the spectacle of RMNP, you're sure to go back - often!

"Really?" I countered. "In the old days of computing the term 'garbage in, garbage out' was commonly used to mean that if you program your computer with inaccurate information, you're bound to get a wrong result. Similarly, if you're still approaching this from the perspective that Americans of color are the problem, you perpetuate the blind intransigence that will not see the people eagerly flocking outdoors when they're invited."


We've had to establish a waiting list for the numbers of black and brown leaders who reach out to us asking to join the Diverse Environmental Leaders Speakers Bureau. But opportunities for work? Not so much. Americans of color being marginalized in this arena is such a common experience that now it's been named - Trickle down community engagement. So that cover is blown.


Many Park stewards are impatient with the glacial pace of change in their agency's culture. Leaders in Point Reyes National Seashore happily joined the AANPE on a 10-mie hike with Teresa Baker.

 When I look at the faces in these pictures and read the words of  longing and satisfaction from people who finally heard an invitation directed to them from a member of their own ethnic group, I find it galling that the people we trust with our environment and public lands persist in marginalizing us. We've got to end that big lie if we are to mobilize sufficient numbers of people to make a dent in our environmental problems.


Teresa Baker led a 10-mile hike in Point Reyes Saturday then drove to the solace of her beloved Yosemite the following day. That's dedication!


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