The racial composition of environmental organizations has not broken the 12-15 percent margin, despite people of color making up roughly one-third of the United States’ population. This issue, what has become known as the “green insiders club” particularly in leadership roles, is a fundamental problem in environmental organizations. Despite our best intentions, our goals and initiatives will not be taken seriously if we don’t look like the communities we serve.
With this in mind, The Choose Clean Water Coalition kicked off the Young Professionals of Color (YPC) Mentorship Program during May’s annual conference in Annapolis. The program is aimed at providing guidance and camaraderie to a group of young professionals of color within the green community in order to retain them and help facilitate their rise into leadership positions.
Though we at the coalition firmly believe in the importance of this program, it was always unclear how much interest would be generated among candidates. We were more than presently surprised to have eight mentor/mentee pairs attend the kick-off event for our pilot year! This is a testament to the coalition’s overarching goal of assuring more diverse attendance at the conference (we saw a measurable increase in attendees who identified as “non-white,” 17.3% of survey-takers in 2016 over 12.4% in 2015).
Participants in the YPC program were fortunate to hear from two powerful speakers: South River Federation Executive Director, Kate Fritz, delivered an inspirational message and Kelli Holsendolph, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Audubon Naturalist Society, recounted a personal narrative on the importance of mentorship.
Most importantly, young professionals of color finally met their mentors, the leaders who will guide them over the next six months and who will offer support and answer questions. Handshakes, phone numbers, and stories were exchanged. Smiles and laughter abounded, and there was a distinct feeling that lasting relationships were forming before our very eyes. We were fortunate to see the next generation of leaders of the environmental community all in one room. It is a generation that is passionate, driven, and diverse—just the way it should be.