DEI

Festival del Rio Anacostia

Photo: Anacostia Watershed Society

Photo: Anacostia Watershed Society

On October 15th, alongside a mud-banked river usually empty of life, little children skip among brightly tented booths, carrying fishing lines and nature-inspired passport books. Community members watch water run clear through a root-planting demonstration or try to spot American eels in a cloudy-water tank teeming with fish. In the air, marimba music and the tantalizing smells of Latin fare mingle with the musical murmur of combined Spanish and English conversations. A few feet away, a paper mural of insects is constantly expanded as everyone tries their hand at drawing local bugs. This is the Festival del Rio Anacostia, and it’s impossible to decide whether you are at an environmental event or a cultural celebration. 

That perfect fusion is certainly true for Ricardo, an English-speaking local resident who heard about the event through a Spanish-scripted Facebook post.  Recognizing the word “festival,” he thought it’d be a nice way to spend an afternoon and enjoy some good food. Not until arriving did he realize the festival was heavy with nature awareness. “That’s good!” he exclaims. “We have to live in it. Anything we can do to make it better for me, for you, for the younger generation coming up, you know… be a participant. You learn and take it back to your own neighborhood.” He planned to take pictures and share them with people in his neighborhood that couldn’t make it that day—allowing them to witness the good food, dancing and environmental lessons alike.  

Coming together and collaboration were evident in the creation of the festival as much as the event itself. It began as an idea of the Latino Outreach Subcommittee of the Anacostia Watershed Citizens Advisory Committee. Before long, a diverse array of government bodies, citizen committees and environmental organizations offered their capacities and expertise. The space at Bladensburg Park was donated, along with the tents and chairs. Music was provided by Guate Marimba and entertainment by Despertar Maya Ma’am in conjunction with Asociacion de Guatemaltecos Sin Fronteras. Parks and Recreation Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Anacostia Watershed Society, Chispa, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Friends of Sligo Creek, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Anacostia Riverkeepers were all heavily involved in making the festival a reality.

Being aware of your environment and learning to care for it go hand in hand, and organizers do their best to highlight that intersection. Most booths have both English- and Spanish-speaking personnel; at others, roving translators are available and happy to help. For those without readily available transportation, buses run throughout the day to pick up attendees for the festival and later take them back home. “In many cases due to language and economic barriers, Latinos do not have an opportunity to recreate in the Anacostia River,” wrote Chispa Maryland Program Director Ramon Palencia-Calvo. “[This festival] open[s] the river to this environmentally underserved community.”

Indeed it does, and plans are already underway for a Festival del Rio Anacostia 2017. For more information or to get involved with next year’s festival, contact rpcalvo@mdlcv.org.

Caitlyn Johnstone is the Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program.

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.

Coalition Releases Diversity Toolkit

Photo: Carolyn Millard

Photo: Carolyn Millard

In an effort to continue to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Coalition created the first diversity toolkit.

The toolkit is designed to help organizations increase their own diversity through thoughtful and deliberate focus and intention.

For more information, please contact Chante Coleman.