I have been a fan of the young people who make up the California Conservation Corps, since I became aware of the work they do in outdoor restoration and fire fighting programs. These young people are the future of the environmental movement. Not only do they fight wildfires, they work to save habitats for wildlife, they work on river restoration programs, they build roads and walking paths in some of our national, state and local parks and they work on various clean-ups that help to maintain the beauty of our natural spaces.
I wanted to ask these up and coming land protectors, who are finding their way through the ranks, what their thoughts were on matters of diversity and what the take away is for them, working with CCC. With the help of John Griffith and Steven Donnelly of the California Conservation Corps. ,I was able to make contact with Antione Penn who has been with the CCC for 8 years and currently carries the title of Conservationist 1/ FFT1 Squad Boss and Jacqueline Trotter, who has been with the CCC for a few years now.
Antione, what do you feel is contributing to the massive fires taking place this year, compared to previous years?
I feel that weather is a big factor along with climate change, longer periods without rain and weather being hotter and drier brings prime conditions for ignition and extreme fires. These conditions contribute to the difficulty in maintaining fires while they are small. With little or no rainfall, firefighters have to depend on other tactics such as back burns to take away fuel, in order to control the momentum.
Do you feel firefighting agencies can do a better job at recruiting people of color?
Yes I do. I really think it starts with our youth. I feel that if we had programs in place that follow them through elementary school, Jr High and high school, letting them know of opportunities that are available to them, that would be a great help.
Also having firefighters come out to schools to speak with young people and act as mentors, more African American students would choose firefighting as a career or even as a summer job while they attend college. I have found that when I tell African American youth that I am a firefighter, they think I run through burning houses and they tend not to think in the way of wild-land firefighting. Unless a member of their family is involved in wild-land fire fighting, it never crosses their mind.
This field is a little competitive, but it’s not that hard to get into once you know what the qualifications are and have someone along with you to help you in meeting those qualifications. Being empowered helps with maneuvering through the process.
How has the CCC helped you in your personal growth?
Being in the CCC has taught me a lot about different cultures. Learning how to work with people from different backgrounds has made me versatile in my speech and character. It opened my eyes and heart to the needs of people in general and not have my focus be on race or status. Being in the CCC has taught me how tough it actually is being a leader. Not all leaders can lead in ways that echo throughout the lives that you try to influence by your presence. I’ve learned not only how to be a positive leader, but how to be inspiring in my communication with those whom I lead. My hope is to be knowledgeable in the information I give and by doing so, plant a little wisdom for others to take heed of.
As a young African American leader, my hope is to have a positive impact on everyone I meet and lead. I want these young men and women of gold, to move forward in their career as diamonds and rubies, knowing that I will always have their backs and be here to guide them throughout their career with the CCC.
Jacqueline, as an African American woman, how welcoming has the CCC been for you and do you feel supported in your career with the agency?
The California Conservation Corps has been very welcoming, we have a healthy mixture of people so even if you do join and have any kind of predisposition about another race or believe any stereotype it’s usually put to rest as time progresses. I feel very supported, the CCC will help you as long as you’re willing to help yourself.
What goals have you set for yourself, do they include a career with the CCC?
The goals I have set for myself are not tied in with the CCC, I actually have a goal of owning my own private practice in psychology and through working with different people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions, which the CCC has afforded me, I believe that it will help me in my future career as a psychologist because I’ve already become accustom to working around an array of different personalities and cultures.
What advice would you offer to other youth who may be considering a career in the CCC?
The advice I would give anyone who wants to join the CCC is to go hard or go home. This is a program that will allow you to grow as an individual, so be ready to grow and humble yourself. The program itself breeds responsibility, a great work ethic, ownership, leadership, and a sincere appreciation for your fellow workers, in addition to caring for the environment. I say that because the CCC creates brother/sisterhoods and if I care about my brother/sister I would want them to have a safe world and environment; it will make you want to preserve it. Like I said earlier it teaches responsibility and ownership, so I have a responsibility to care about the environment. I also accept the fact that at some point in my life, I may have unknowingly caused harm to the land around me, working with the CCC allows me the ability to help repair that damage.
What prompted you to join the CCC and what were some of your early challenges?
What prompted me to join the CCC was my brother who was a corps member at the time and some of my early challenges were getting to work on time. That may seem simple, but through the CCC I learned how important time is. Also conditioning my body for the work, you will definitely get into shape being in the CCC.
Steven Donnelley, who is responsible for these young people while they are out in the field, had this to say about the CCC and the benefits to young people:
The CCC is a great opportunity for our members to work directly with many federal, state, and local agencies. Many of our members would never have the opportunity to find an inroad to (ie. USFS, NPS, Cal-Fire, CA State Parks, Cal-Trans, Napa County Flood District, Napa Land Trust…) If not for the experience they gain through the CCC. The average stay for our members is low because of the failure rate in the first month. Many of our members are not comfortable or accustom to the work command involved, but those that take advantage of the opportunities stay for one year, get a promotion to a leadership position and extend for one or two yrs. The percent of those that promote to leadership positions or internships is relatively small, about 10%. But those that do promote into a crew leader position only need 6 months in that position until they qualify to take the state exam for a staff position. So the steps are there, the ladder to promote up is visible and reachable to those of our members that step out of their comfort zone and accept the challenge of a leadership position.