On this cold, snowy weekend, I so want to get outside and explore. The snow is so beautiful and being in nature regardless of the weather renews me - always. This is also Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday - a day set aside to honor and remember him and the struggle for Civil Rights. While many of us associate those rights with a certain region of the country, or a certain setting, or a certain era, the struggle continues nationwide in all areas of life. One area, in particular, that stands out for me is the great lack of diversity in who I see when I go to natural areas and National Parks.
In all honesty, during a lifetime of visiting out-of-the-way natural areas or any National Park, I very rarely see a Person of Color hiking the paths or camping, canoeing, or any other activity.
This is very troubling to me. The Earth belongs to all of us. Every single person. And yet I never realized until a few years ago that one of the main reasons I do not see People of Color "out there" in nature is many feel genuinely afraid - not afraid of the natural world, but afraid of the other people they will encounter! This is a total shock to me!
Put any city kid in the sticks and they may turn craven, but black kids are aware that this is the same environment where Emmett Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi, was tortured and killed.
Another perspective is a National Geographic video, Bird-Watching While Black: A Wildlife Ecologist Shares His Tips, by J. Drew Lanham. In this short video he explains the tools he needs when he goes birding, including binoculars and at least two forms of I.D. Time of day for birding is also a factor, and birding in the twilight or at night is especially problematic.
These experiences are astonishing to hear! I've always been able to just - go - and worry about very little. It truly hurts my heart to learn my fellow citizens do not all share this ability. It is especially sad considering we are now in the 21st Century - an age, allegedly, of enlightenment.
There are organizations which address this situation. Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors are both vibrant organizations offering opportunities and outreach to these communities. This is an excellent way to give people an opportunity to fellowship outdoors in a safe environment. This is a wonderful step in addressing the problem. It is, however, just one step. So much more needs to be done.
I belong to several Environmental organizations here in Springfield, and I am ashamed to admit they are 100% White. I've tried to address this issue to no avail. I would like to redouble my efforts, but I simply cannot do this on my own. It requires a commitment from these organizations to reach out to other organizations and communities in the Southwest Missouri area and encourage them to join our forces. It requires understanding what the obstacles are and addressing the fears and stumbling blocks that prevent our environmental community from becoming more diverse.
My hope is 2018 will bring much-needed change and progress in this troubling realism. I will do what I can to bring about the change I wish to see. I hope others will join me.