Diversity in outdoor agencies and the changes that are slow in coming.

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I’ve often wondered why matters of diversity in outdoor spaces never seems to be addressed by mainstream publications or mainstream outdoor enthusiasts, as often as it is addressed by those it affects. Can it be that diversity is a topic that most are not comfortable addressing? Is diversity and inclusion really not on the radar for mainstream publications that cover outdoor activities? I’ve pondered this issue for some time with very little success in reaching a realistic conclusion, so I thought I would reach out to some of the folks who are addressing the issue and share some of their thoughts, collectively.

Audrey and Frank Peterman have made this work their life mission. Not only are they on a life quest to visit all of our national park sites, they are working hard at making sure people of color have ample opportunity to speak to NGO’s and government agencies alike, on matters of diversity and the environment, through their newly launched DEL speakers Bureau. http://delnsb.com/.

I reached out to Audrey and Frank to ask their opinion on matters of diversity and inclusion and how they feel about the progress or lack thereof we have made over the years.

I must say that Franks’ answer to my first question of him left me somewhat sad. I think you’ll understand why when we get to his responses.

Question: Audrey, in your opinion, why have mainstream outdoor publications and enthusiasts paid such little attention to the issue of diversity and inclusion?

Response: In a 1994 article in National Parks Magazine, the writer reported on modest efforts the Park Service was making to attract Black and Hispanic visitors.  In the following issue four letters to the editor focused on that story. Among other things they said “Do not destroy our oases.” ‘ We come to the parks to get away from the problems caused by minorities.’  And ‘Bringing Blacks and Hispanics to the parks will only increase the rate of murder, robbery, rape etc. when the Park Rangers already have enough to do. ‘

I believe these sentiments illustrate a perspective that is widely held among our white countrymen including many of those who visit, manage and market OUR public lands. So while the demographic shift has forced a change in rhetoric to ‘inclusion and relevancy,’ nobody wants to be perceived as the one who ‘let those people in.’ The problem with that is not just the rampant insult and hypocrisy, but the loss of inspiration to millions of people who could find purpose in their lives by visiting the national parks, learning our collective history and becoming stewards of these incredible treasures. ”

Question: Audrey, what is the greatest change you’ve seen in the work of diversity in the outdoors?

Response: Americans of African, Asian, Hispanic and Native ancestry have taken the ball in our own hands and, working with people of good faith in the Park Service who truly appreciate its egalitarian mission, we’ve created a large network of people around the country connecting our communities to our national parks, forests, wildlife preserves and publicly owned lands. So this is happening almost despite the establishment – park service, advocacy organizations, outdoor retailers etc – and not because of them.

Question: Audrey, if you could institute ONE change in government and their approach to diversity, within agency, what would it be?

Response: “I’m grateful that there are still some in Congress who strive to do what’s right for the American people. So in September we’re privileged to have a session at the Congressional Black
Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. We will ask them to look at the numbers in the Green 2.0 Report showing the HUGE disparities in employment and use in the public lands sector, and then pass necessary legislation that mandates a change. We didn’t achieve Civil Rights by asking the establishment to do the right thing, we made it the law. And that’s what I think needs to happen here, or in 20 years we’ll still be having this same conversation which started for us in 1995.”

Frank Peterman.

Question: Frank, has the work you’ve done on civil rights been harder to achieve than the work you are doing on diversity issues in the outdoors?

Response: I believe the civil rights work was easier because there were so many institutions and celebrities involved. Also there was always the palpable feeling that walls of segregation would come crumbling down. We were encouraged by literally seeing small victories almost daily. I have none of that feeling in confronting the intransigence of racism in the public land agencies. In fact it feels just the opposite as if they have dug in and are dedicated to doing business as usual in maintaining a monochromatic power structure that resists the reality of the changing demographics in the country.

Question: Frank,what is the one message you would like to share with all of us, who are doing the work of diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces?

Response: Change is the law of the universe and it will come in diversity in the outdoors. Believe in what you’re doing and do what you believe in.”

The passion that Frank and Audrey Peterman demonstrate for our national parks is only minimized by the love, respect and honor they demonstrate for one another. I asked Frank , what do you love most about your fearless love, Audrey? His response, “my wife has steadfast optimism and pushes away negative thoughts as if they were a plague.”


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