I have often sat in classrooms waiting to hear a familiar voice, a voice that resonates with my southern roots and calls to my eardrums like the comforting voice of my grandparents whom now sleep with my other ancestors long put into the southern soil. On my path to understand and support biodiversity and human diversity and inclusion, I often wondered, “Where are the hidden stories?” and “Where do I fit in this landscape of conservation?”
As an educator, writer and someone who has a passion to encourage a greater connection with the natural world, especially in communities of color and communities hardest hit by environmental degradation, I have found empowerment when hearing stories often overshadowed. I found empowerment as I worked in conservation with the National Audubon Society and heard Dr. Drew Lanham speak at the Audubon National Convention about bird range and his range as an African American man and birder. I found familiarity in learning about Audubon at Debs Park director Marcos Trinidad, who now promotes conservation in Northeast Los Angeles where he grew up. He does this through native plant restoration and incorporating cultural practices of the surrounding indigenous communities in his programming. The footsteps on my journey in a field where I often felt like an outsider always became clearer when I realized that there were imprints on the road similar to mine—other people of color that followed the call to help achieve better ecosystem balance.
At the DDCSP Alumni Leadership Cohort 1, ELP staffer Teri Brezner designed a session that explored hidden, resistance, dominant, and future stories in the conservation movement. It was an exercise that not only allowed for the voicing of diverse perspectives in conservation, but it gave the ALC 1 community an opportunity to share and participate in creating a new narrative in conservation counter to the dominant account that may feed imposter syndrome in the workforce and in the academic journey.
Curious chatter filled the room as students moved around writing different stories in conservation on the various flip charts during the exercise. Close to one flip chart sat books The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection by Dr. Dorceta Taylor, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown and other books meant to show students different narratives in conservation. I felt empowered to share with the ALC 1 community a hidden story about Hazel M. Johnson who responded to the pollution-caused health problems in her community by starting EJ organization People for Community Recovery in a housing project in Chicago. As people added to the various stories, many people in the room felt enlightened by all of the hidden stories— stories so new to many who have years of experience in the conservation field. I too added new stories to my collection of conservation narratives.
My ecology, scientific research methods, and air quality classes have prepared me well to begin to understand environmental impacts and the knowledge to conceive possible solutions to problems like habitat destruction, poor ambient and indoor air quality, and other threats to biodiversity. However, understanding my place within conservation—the realization that conservation stories are more pluralistic in nature and closer to home than originally told— is what gives me the sense of belonging. It is through communal sharing of narratives that hidden stories become dominant stories and dominant stories become more familiar and inclusive to those feeling on the outside of a field where they are in the minority. It was great to have Teri design a session that promoted diverse landscapes in conservation that provided windows into career paths in conservation and an honor to see ALC 1 community find familiarity in the shared stories.
What are some hidden stories in conservation that you would like to share?