Black Conservationists, Pioneers Discuss Outdoor Representation, Safety, Access for Black Communities, Communities of Color

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Wildlife Federation hosted the National Town Hall on Creating Safe Spaces, convening over a dozen Black conservationists and environmental pioneers to discuss the policy, practices, and programs needed to strengthen access, representation, and safety for Black families and communities in the outdoors. Launched in December 2020, the Creating Safe Spaces initiative sheds light on the challenges that Black people face in safely accessing and enjoying the outdoors in partnership with Outdoor Afro, Black AF in STEM, Patagonia, and The Links, Incorporated.

“News stories of an Indigenous man tased by National Park Service and Black women attacked while hiking make it clear: systemic racism continues to affect who has access and can safely enjoy the outdoors and wild places,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. “We know that none of our work to promote wildlife conservation, public lands restoration, or clean air and water will matter if everyone cannot safely access and enjoy the outdoors.”

“The first step toward guaranteeing safe access to our public lands and eradicating racism in the environmental movement and the outdoors, is including and lifting the voice of communities of color in the conversation,” said Simone Lightfoot, associate vice president of environmental justice and climate justice for the National Wildlife Federation. “Unless we center the needs and perspective of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals, it will be impossible to reach the policies and solutions required to address the historical disparities affecting these communities.”

Issues and recommendations raised by the expert panelists will guide the National Wildlife Federation’s long-term efforts to address institutional and systemic barriers through programs and policies to advance equity and justice.

Invited participants and featured guests included Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro; Chad Brown, Founder and President of Soul River, Inc. and Love is King; Earl B. Hunter, Jr., Founder and President of Black Folks Camp Too; Michael Howard, Founder and CEO of Fuller Park Community Development; Beattra Wilson, Assistant Director for Cooperative Forestry at the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service; Preston Cole, Secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Mark Ridley-Thomas, Councilmember (10th District) for the City of Los Angeles; Chandra Taylor, Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center; Dudley Edmondson, Owner of Complete Picture Media LLC and author of The Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places; U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); U.S. Representative Donald McEachin (D-Va.); and Christian Cooper, Central Park Birder and Freelance Writer and Editor.

“As a member of The Links, Incorporated and the National Wildlife Federation Board of Directors, I had many proud moments seeing the passion, inspiration and encouragement from our outstanding panelists and partners,” said pioneering conservationist, Dr. Mamie Parker. “This is a new chapter in America with many more Black leaders, allies and advocates answering that call to action to create more safe spaces outside. Let's get this and more done, and continue growing our big conservation dream.”

“The very inspiring national town hall concluded a gripping series of panels that probed deeply what we know so painfully well – that access to outdoor spaces is egregiously tilted away from people of color. The words of each of the many great speakers resonated with passion about the issues, and thoughts about what to do,” said John Robbins, member of the National Wildlife Federation Board of Directors and immediate past Chair of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “The National Wildlife Federation, together with its partners, now starts the heavy lifting of shaping the findings into actionable initiatives. Through these initiatives, we are committed to helping make the outdoors a place of positive experience for ALL. Safe, and more than safe – welcoming. This is not the finish; this is the start.”

“The Links, Incorporated (The Links) applauds the National Wildlife Federation – one of our national partners – and others for tackling this problem,” said Leslye Miller Fraser, The Links’ national STEM chair. “We welcome opportunities to support our mutual priorities, increase childhood experiences, and exposure to pioneers to encourage Black youth to enjoy the outdoors and pursue STEM careers in this arena."

“Patagonia is thrilled to support the National Wildlife Federation and its Creating Safe Spaces initiative to expand access to and ensure the safety of the Black community while exploring the outdoors,” said Shady Hakim, who leads Justice, Equity and Antiracism at Patagonia. “For too long, the outdoor industry has catered to the interest of a select few and we’re actively working to write a new chapter focused on justice, antiracism and equity. The outdoors should be a special and safe place for all regardless of one's race, ethnicity, gender identity, or socioeconomic status.”

"The Black AF in STEM Collective (BAFiS) is excited to collaborate and support the efforts of the National Wildlife Federation to create safe outdoor spaces. Various events over the past year have brought to light the negative experiences that happen to people of color in the outdoors, and emphasizes that racism exists, even outdoors,” said Deja Perkins, president of the Black AF in STEM Collective. “Black AF in STEM Collective works to promote Black representation in outdoor STEM careers and provide a safe space for Black people in STEM. The National Wildlife Federation has provided a platform to share our experiences and we are proud to be a part of a collaboration that intends to create long lasting, impactful change to ensure that outdoor spaces and activities can be enjoyed by all.”

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