Urgency of Inclusion

Urgency of Inclusion

Above photo courtesy Joy Trip Project

This is a Trail Posse/African American Nature & Parks Experience 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 actually can 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 budget 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 your 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 snowpack 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 wellbeing 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.

What are you waiting for?