Dear Riveredge Family,
On June 5, we shared our reflections and solidarity on the movement to end systemic racism in our society on our social media channels and website:
“As a historically and predominantly white-led environmental organization, we realize there is much ground to cover in diversifying the outdoors, and many reasons why Black Americans and People of Color haven’t always felt welcome in wilderness spaces. We support the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for systemic change in our society. Riveredge Nature Center is a sanctuary where each person can embrace, celebrate, and revel in experiencing the wonders nature has to offer. We pledge to continue to improve the way we make these opportunities available to better serve our communities.
Black Lives Matter. Black Birders Matter. Black Experiences Matter.
Education is an ongoing process, and in-step with the Riveredge inquiry-based philosophy, we’re always trying to improve our understanding of our place in the world and how we can better serve the outdoor adventure community.”
Since that time, we have all continued to reflect on our beliefs, personal biases, privileges, and the realities of experiences that are unfamiliar to us. To be part of a community of change, we must first change ourselves.
The environmental and outdoor fields have struggled, and continue to struggle, to engage and serve Black people and People of Color. The way our society arrived at the outdoors and nature being inherently NOT a privilege for all extends back to the very moment these remarkable tracks of wilderness and wild spaces were created as such, and for whom they were intended to serve at that time. We encourage you to visit Diversify Outdoors to hear for yourself stories from those who have been distanced and separated from the natural world.
James Edward Mills, climber, journalist, author, and Madison, Wisconsin resident briefly outlines some of the reasons behind this legacy in his book The Adventure Gap:
“Historical reasons may also account for why some African-Americans don’t take pleasure in outdoor experiences. After four hundred years of slavery and forced outdoor labor, African-Americans migrated en masse to major US cities after the Civil War and the end of slavery. Even more left the rural communities of the South during the Great Depression. Jim Crow laws and other forms of discrimination restricted movement and segregated minorities to urban enclaves until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. White supremacist groups typically perpetrated their acts of violence against minorities in wooded areas beyond city limits. Given this legacy, it’s no wonder that African-Americans have often preferred to remain close to home.”
Mills elaborates on how these factors influence current day demographics:
“A 2010 Outdoor Recreation Participation survey conducted by the Outdoor Foundation reported that of 137.8 million US citizens engaged in outdoor activities, 80 percent were Caucasiona, a trend that is also reflected in the demographics of those who chose wilderness protection as a career. The National Park Service reported in 2010 that white men occupied 51 percent of positions at that agency and white women, 29 percent. These numbers are similar to those of other land and resource management agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service.
These statistics become significant when compared against the demographic profile of the nation as a whole. According to Dr. Nina Roberts, an assistant professor and social scientist from San Francisco State University, though African-Americans represent 12.6 percent of the US population, they typically make up a lower proportion of national park visitors (around 5-6 percent, depending on the region). Even with a sharp increase since 2006, “minorities still remain well below the number of visits of their white counterparts in proportion to their population across the United States,” says Roberts.”
At Riveredge, we work every day to connect our communities with the outdoor world, and we know that we must do our part to help bridge this gap.
We do not yet have a complete list of specific action steps that we will take to correct our own struggles in serving communities of color. But we do want you: our neighbors, members, and friends, to know that we have begun this work. Over the past year, the Riveredge staff team has engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training with the intent to create lasting organizational change in the coming months and years. Within our staff and Board, we are working on plans to further accelerate and prioritize this overdue work. Our goal is to create change within our organization and contribute to change within the culture of outdoor access and environmental education in the coming year and years to come.
We know we can do better. We will do better. It will take all of us. And the time is now.
We will continue to keep you apprised of our progress, invitations for involvement, and action to further our growth as an organization and continue our work to serve our communities more effectively each and every day.
With Great Gratitude,
Jessica Jens, Executive Director
Elizabeth Larsen, President, Board of Directors