The urgency of inclusion in outdoor spaces.


Photo courtesy of The Joy Trip Project

This is an African American Explorations /  Trail Posse Joint

By Teresa Baker and Glenn Nelson.

Can we please get a quarter for every time the head of an outdoors organization says, “Diversity is our top priority,” every time someone tells us they’ve been talking “all the time” about inclusion in their meetings, or every time an agency names a person of color to a committee?

Maybe with all those quarters we can actually  do meaningful work for diversity and inclusion in the outdoors.

The climate is changing; so are the demographics of our country. What happens in two to three decades when our new, nonwhite majority in the U.S. doesn’t care about the environment because we have no relationship with the outdoors?

This isn’t about acceptance or tolerance, it’s about building a relationship to help steer the future of our planet. It’s about self preservation.

Diversity and inclusion isn’t about simply bringing people of color to sit on your boards so that you then can say: Look, we are doing the work of diversity. The work of diversity takes adding line items to your budgets that are geared toward diversity – like hiring more people of color to expand your organization’s viewpoint and knowledge. The work of diversity takes your board members going into communities of color, listening and recruiting for your open positions; it takes advertising in publications that reach communities of color, and it takes our going to one of your events and not being the only persons of color present.

In other words, building diversity and inclusion takes work, not talking or tokenism.

We challenge every outdoor retailer, state parks department, government outdoor agency, community organization and individual, who claims to care about inclusion in outdoor spaces to step up your efforts. If you are yet to engage in the work of inclusion, we challenge you to do so.

Minorities did not exceed 16 percent of the boards or staffs of environmental organizations, foundations and government agencies, according to a 2014 study for Green 2.0, an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity in those three types of organizations. Minorities hold less than 12 percent of environmental leadership positions, and none led an organization with a budget of at least $1 million, the study also found.

The Sierra Club changed that last statistic in 2015 by electing Aaron Mair, an African American, as the president of its board of directors. That’s a great first step, but we hope one of the country’s preeminent environmental organizations sets an example and pushes beyond.

The environment is at stake. We’ve just witnessed in our own home states, California and Washington, how low snow-pack contributed to drought and massive wildfires. It scares us to contemplate a future where every resource – every person, no matter race or ethnicity – isn’t committed to altering or adjusting to our changing planet.

Every person of color who says they do not feel welcome in the outdoors is a voice we’ve lost to the work of environmental protection. Every person of color who says she or he is scared to venture into open spaces, for fear of the unknown, is another voice we’ve lost in the fight to protect our endangered species. Every person of color who isn’t even aware of outdoor opportunities and the positive effects on physical and mental well-being, is another “champion of action” lost in a community that desperately needs them.

The clock is ticking. The issues are mounting. And it takes time to change attitudes and commitments.

There are organizations who stand at the ready to help those who are in need of guidance, Diverse Environmental Leaders is one such organization.

What are you waiting for?


8 thoughts on “The urgency of inclusion in outdoor spaces.

  1. Thank you for this excellent piece. I’ve been trying to get these points across to some of the local birding orgs here in Seattle, but they don’t seem to get it. For years, I keep hearing the “we value diversity” or “we’d like to reach out, but we don’t have the resources.” We can no longer afford to not be inclusion in this world.
    I appreciate your voice in this struggle. Great job!

  2. Just came across this post and had to Tweet it (from @globaleta). Such a great message. I hope you are still blogging. I would be interested to know of other resources about POC and environmentalism, the outdoors, etc. Thanks for sharing!

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