Coalition Success: Taking Nature Black

More than 100 attended the inaugural Taking Nature Black: An Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) Black History Month Celebration, Saturday, February 20, 2016.

“We are thrilled you all were able to join us today for this inaugural Black History Month celebration,” said ANS Executive Director Lisa Alexander. “Our vision is to create a larger and more diverse community of people who treasure the natural world and work to preserve it; so events such as these give us an opportunity to open the doors wider and reach a greater number of nature enthusiasts.”

The day-long event was held at ANS headquarters, Woodend Nature Sanctuary, and began with a Green Jobs Fair. Twenty environmental industry employers participated including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Department of Recreation and Parks Baltimore City, National Aquarium, National Wildlife Federation, Blue Water Baltimore and Natural Resources Defense Council. College students, retirees and professionals of color came to the Taking Nature Black event for the Green Jobs Fair, to find short-term and long-term paid and volunteer opportunities.

“The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity Action Team is proud to work with the Audubon Naturalist Society in encouraging our partners to participate in Audubon’s inaugural Black History Month celebration,” said James Edward, Deputy Director, Chesapeake Bay Program. “It is important to acknowledge and celebrate the rich history of all people in the watershed. Events like Taking Nature Black help facilitate an inclusive restoration workforce with meaning.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity Action Team, an event partner, specifically helped to produce the Green Jobs Fair. Choose Clean Water Coalition and M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks also partnered with ANS on Taking Nature Black. Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Seaberry Design & Communications were event sponsors.

Breakout sessions on environmental advocacy, cultural competency and stewardship practices at home or in local communities were also part of the day’s draw. Speakers for the Environmental Advocacy Panel & Listening Session included Vernice Miller-Travis, Vice Chair of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, member of the US Environmental Protection Agency National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and member of the DMV Environmental Justice Coalition; Irv Sheffey, Environmental Professionals of Color; and ANS’s Conservation Program Director Diane Cameron. The panel held a spirited discussion on the environmental issues facing African American/Black communities.

Judy Cohall, Senior Training Manager, M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks; Whitney Tome, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA); and Nataki Kambon, Spokesperson, LetsBuyBlack365.com Black Economic Empowerment Movement delivered the session on cultural competency, Working While Black in a Green Industry. Mayor Jacqueline Goodall, Town of Forest Heights; Dennis Chestnut, Executive Director, Groundwork Anacostia; and Alan Spears, Director of Cultural Resources, Government Affairs, NPCA talked to attendees about Keeping it Green at Home. The group shared best practice stewardship tips and information on the importance of protecting nature in local, regional and national parks.

“Taking Nature Black is a unique opportunity for students, community members, and professionals to come-together and learn about environmental issues impacting our neighborhoods. This is a time for us to build relationships with one another, increase our cultural competence, and celebrate a month dedicated to fairness, equity, and inclusion. Choose Clean Water Coalition is excited to partner on Audubon Naturalist Society’s first-ever Black History Month event,” said Jill Witkowski Heaps, Director, Choose Clean Water Coalition.

 

The day’s keynote address, Green Stories in Black, was delivered by Bob “The Griot” Smith, Storyteller/Actor and President of the Griots’ Circle of Maryland, National Association of Black Storytellers. Bob inspired and entertained.

An onsite display, Black In Nature: Then & Now, featured African American/Black pioneers who have made and are making contributions to nature and the environment. This display featured images and biographic information for: John James Audubon, Sophia Danenberg, John Francis, Reverend Josiah Henson, Lisa Jackson, Frank and Audrey Peterman, Fred Tutman and Michael Twitty.

“The rich African American stories we are able to interpret through the historic sites in Montgomery County parks really makes Black History Month come alive,” said M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks Museum Manager Shirl Spicer. “When ANS approached us about partnering on their first-ever celebration, we were happy to expand our celebration as Josiah Henson Park is right in the neighborhood of Woodend.”

ANS provided a light breakfast, lunch and cocktail party reception to event attendees. The catering was done by Uprising Muffin Company and Woodland’s Vegan Bistro.

What a great day of celebration and new beginnings for Audubon Naturalist Society,” added Alexander. “Let’s not lose this momentum; we hope to see you all back soon for upcoming author events, member events or nature classes and programs.”

Taking Nature Black will return in February 2018! To partner, sponsor, or for more information, please contact conference chair Caroline Brewer at caroline.brewer@anshome.org.