Environmental Justice

Engaging New Communities in Baltimore

 Photo courtesy of National Aquarium 

Photo courtesy of National Aquarium 

On a beautifully bright Sunday afternoon, 241 volunteers from two faith-based congregations in South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood, joined in fellowship and stewardship as part of an Earth Day celebration.

Latino congregation, Templo de Alabanza y Restauración (TAYR) led the charge in collaboration with community partner, Pathway Church of God, for a joint, bilingual worship service that culminated in:

-        The removal of 500 lbs. of trash from neighborhood streets,

-        The painting of two storm drains, and

-        Maintenance of a 604 square foot native garden planted by both congregations in previous years.

This marked the first of 4 debris cleanups within the Masonville Cove watershed that TAYR will lead as a part of the Patapsco Latino Action Network (PLAN) project. Currently funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants program, this National Aquarium project looks to inclusively address the problem of marine debris in the watershed by engaging Latino volunteers and community members in hands-on marine debris cleanup events, facilitating community-led comprehensive strategies to address debris problems, and building the capacity for Latino community members to develop leadership skills focused on the long-term reduction of marine debris.

The National Aquarium’s connection to the Masonville Cove watershed stems from its involvement in the Masonville Cove Urban Refuge Partnership, one of the first in the nation as designated by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. What once thrived as a beloved community natural area in the 1940s, became a neglected area of shoreline overrun with invasive species and debris. The Maryland Port Administration, in partnership with Living Classrooms Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Aquarium have worked collaboratively to design an area that would initiate meaningful stewardship opportunities for neighborhood families and engaging programming to connect those individuals to the natural world within their own backyard.

 Photo courtesy of National Aquarium

Photo courtesy of National Aquarium

The Aquarium led efforts to engage community stakeholders, including residents, local environmental non-profit organizations and city officials, creating opportunities for people to identify and address key environmental issues or interests. These interests include issues such as debris accumulation and community greening, within the surrounding communities of the site. This Small Watershed Action Plan (SWAP), which was an initial product of these community engagement efforts, has served as a critical guiding piece as part of our community engagement efforts.

The Aquarium recognized that in order for these efforts to be successful, they had to be viewed through a diversity, equity, inclusion and justice lens. One critical priority of this overall effort was the need for outreach, engagement and programming for Latino families in the community, which represented a growing demographic within South Baltimore. According to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, from 2000 to 2012, the Hispanic population grew by almost 125 percent throughout the state and by 150 percent just in Baltimore City.

The Aquarium, through the implementation of a community pillar approach, has been purposeful in engaging Latino families within the community. From the onset, TAYR not only expressed their desire to become involved in community stewardship projects, but also connect and engage with other local Latino families, building this larger network. Thus, through the PLAN project, the Aquarium looks to not only support, but build the capacity of TAYR to develop these transformational relationships with other local Latino groups and families. The ultimate outcome of this “train-the trainer” methodology, is the empowerment of the congregation to lead community stewardship initiatives.

This year the Masonville Cove Urban Refuge Partnership in collaboration with TAYR and HAF, hosted its 2nd ever Latino Conservation Week event! Inclusivity was the uniting theme of this programmatic effort, from the planning onset we knew that TAYR was not available during this actual week, but that didn’t stop us. Driven by a collective desire to celebrate Latino culture and engagement, we planned accordingly to host an event on Sunday June 24th, during which over 80 TAYR congregants had opportunities to participate in guided nature walks, creature features, fishing and safe archery programs, as well as design t-shirts.

Blog written by Curtis Bennett and Andrea Van Wyk, formatted and edited by intern Mary Katherine Sullivan.

Queers OUTdoors

The National Wildlife Federation was built on the principle that joint effort and solid cooperation are critical to conservation. Today we continue this great American ideal: bringing together people in their appreciation for nature to support conservation. The success of the Federation depends on people from all regions and backgrounds—cities, suburbs, and rural areas, young and old—who are empowered and committed to a better future for wildlife.

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Last month, colleagues of the National Wildlife Federation came together in solidarity to support the first ever LGBTQ Outdoor Summit hosted by REI in Seattle, WA. Attendees far and wide from The North Face, Patagonia, the National Park Service, the Wilderness Society, and the Sierra Club came together to celebrate our shared passion for the outdoors and wildlife conservation. The mission of the summit was to cultivate connections, build community, and inspire leaders from across the outdoor industry and beyond to create more accessible and affirming ways for the LGBTQ community to get OUTside. 

Elyse Rylander, the summit organizer and founder of OUT There Adventures, outlined the following reasons to organize and talk about LGBTQ people in the outdoors:

  1. Community: “It’s profound for folx* to connect. I have that warm fuzzy when I see it’s not just me.”
  2. Support: “I’m struck by how isolated queer folx in the [outdoor] industry are in trying to do this work. We are siloed—so how can we break down those barriers to support each other?”
  3. Growth: “I’m also hoping this will put the larger [outdoor] industry on notice. We are here, and it’s not just one or two people. It will continue to grow—the next generation will be the queerest yet. The [outdoor industry’s] customer base is changing. How can we can show them that, cultivate data and give them the numbers?”

*Folx is a gender neutral form of the word "folks"

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Throughout the Summit, attendees shared heartfelt stories about their experiences in nature and working in the outdoor industry. Panelists shared their own personal struggles and examples of what it's like to not fit in neither the workplace nor in outdoor spaces. For many of us, it can be hard to navigate the world and our niche in society. The Human Rights Campaign published a recent groundbreaking study surveying over 10,000 LGBTQ-identified youth aged 13-17 and found that 4 in 10 LGBTQ youth (42%) say the community in which they live in is not accepting of LGBTQ people. The good news is that over three quarters (77%) say they know things will get better. Infinity spaces like these are needed and provide much value for Queer people to learn, heal, and connect through opportunities in the outdoors. Overall, the Summit was a chance to not only feel safe, but also feel comfortable being simply ourselves. 

The Queer Caucus Breakout Session was a great opportunity to get to know and build relationships with new queer colleagues. We acknowledged those in our lives who have inspired us to be in this type of space and those who continue to support the good work that we are doing. We formed "families" and built alliances across a different aisle of the LGBTQ spectrum. In my new family, we quickly built trusted relationships and shared upcoming opportunities for us to work together and support each other. Supporting others who have a different gender identity from your own helps to harbor an inclusive environment where everyone can feel comfortable. If everyone practiced this welcoming behavior, we provide more opportunities for members of the LGBTQ community to rise above the obstacles they face and to find success and comfort in the world around them. 

  Photo courtesy of Aer Parris

Photo courtesy of Aer Parris

All in all, I am grateful to have shared this inaugural experience with those who possess subordinate identities across the Federation. Given our current political climate, it is imperative that organizations continue to come together in solidarity to support one another and uplift the voices of those who continue to face injustice. We applaud the National Wildlife Federation for sponsoring this groundbreaking event and the Pride Foundation for their activism and legacy. Legislative attacks on both the federal and state level continue to jeopardize our human rights and dignities. These threats can have significant impacts on our workplace and in environmental spaces, especially for those who represent the global majority and people of color. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election has revolutionized grassroots movements for equity and social justice movements.

Despite obstacles and challenges ahead, the uprising we have seen for equal rights and the environment is remarkable to say the least. Maybe we need to replace presidents with queens!

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Mariah Davis is the field manager with the Choose Clean Water Coalition.