October 20, 2014
Jon Jarvis, Director
The National Park Service
Dear Director Jarvis.
As the founder of African American National Parks Event, I’ve had two very successful years of engaging African Americans across our country out into a unit of the National Park System. I established this event in 2013 to counter the conversation on the absence of African Americans in our national parks, and to provide a means for the National Park Service to connect with our communities.
Despite reading article after article put out by the National Park System, on the absence of African Americans in our national parks, I’ve seen very little effort on your behalf towards a solution.
I have reached out to you for two years now on this matter. Letter after letter has gone unanswered and phone call after phone call unreturned. This tells me one of two things is true, you are not taking the problem of diversity seriously or you do not care to speak with me on this matter.
My question to you today Director Jarvis is, why have you not made this a priority? People of color will soon be the majority in this country, yet we remain absent from the discussion on the role and future of our national parks. Curiously, several people from the National Park Service DC office have reached out to me regarding African American National Parks Event, but once the conversation gets to the point where action is required, silence takes over.
As the director of the NPS, I must direct my concerns to you. I know the topic of diversity cannot be an easy one to address, but the longer it goes unaddressed the harder it becomes. It is starting to feel as if you are hoping it goes away so that it doesn’t need to be addressed. As you no doubt know, it is not going to disappear, it will only intensify over time.
I want to go to these parks and see faces that look like mine, faces that look like the make-up of this country. It can be very discouraging to a person of color to constantly have it brought to their attention that the faces that represent the NPS do not look like theirs. Why does the National Park Service admit to there being a problem attracting and retaining Americans of color in the work force and among visitors, yet remain silent when it comes to taking action to change it?
I will continue my efforts to engage the African American community out in our national park units. I feel it is important that we promote our parks as places of glory and wonder. They give us the opportunity to embrace the beauty of this country and begin to see the importance of conservation in all our open spaces. There is no greater promotion for land conservation than we find in the landscapes themselves.
Our national park units represent trails of freedom, in the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument; the unwavering commitment to country, in the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument; freedom of country, in the Statue of Liberty National Monument and the simple majesty of space in my beloved Yosemite.
These parks tell a story of connection that should be spread as wide as possible, not in a whisper, but in a roar. And that roar will only come when our parks are welcoming to a larger slice of the American public.
I look forward to your response, as I will be posting both this letter and your response to my Facebook page. I am here to help not hinder the process of inclusion. I am open to listening to your concerns on this topic and to help bridge the gap between those who are already in our parks and those who need to feel welcomed.
Founder of African American National Parks Event.