Taking Action on Cultural Relevancy and Inclusion

Teresa Baker at the  Cultural Relevancy and Inclusion in Outdoor Organizations convening in 2016.
Teresa Baker at the Cultural Relevancy and Inclusion in Outdoor Organizations convening in 2016.
What I hoped to gain from the recent Cultural Relevancy and Inclusion in Outdoor Organizations convening was a sense of togetherness on a topic that very few outdoor organizations and foundations are addressing in action. It is a complicated topic to wrap one’s brain around in reaching an action plan, I get it, but what is at stake is a country that will be majority people of color in 20 years, and if people of color are not developing relationships with the land now, we certainly won’t care about saving the redwoods or protecting endangered species as we grow into a majority status.

So how do we move from a conversation into action? This convening certainly had the minds on hand to make it happen. Nonprofits like Save the Redwoods League, foundations, government agencies, university professors, community organizations and journalists all said “yes” to an invite sent out by me and the two organizations that I partnered with, Youth Outside and Sierra Club Outdoors. Unlike the Yosemite summit I did a few months back in partnership with Robert Hanna (great-great-grandson of John Muir), there were policy makers in the room for this convening. Board members and executive directors who could bring about change in their individual organizations.

This was my intent when I reached out to the Sierra Club, which struggles with diversity within their organization, and asked if they would partner with me on this convening. I wanted the room to be filled with people who would hear the urgency of the matter and act. Our three-day summit in Yosemite was the catalyst for the cultural relevance convening. I learned a lot from that summit, mainly that change comes from those who are committed to it and are not just coming to these gatherings to have their names mentioned. This short video from our Yosemite gathering speaks to why diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces is urgent: Diversity and Inclusion in Our Wild Spaces.

There were comments shared on why it is difficult for organizations that are predominately white to find ways to reach communities of color in their engagement efforts. This conversation was not easy for many in the room, but in order to make progress we could not tip-toe around the subject. Let’s face it, race is a very sensitive subject in our society, and finding ways not to offend makes it rather difficult to speak openly on a topic that requires us to use words that can provoke anger and misunderstanding. This group was eager to share their thoughts and did not hold back in expressing their vulnerability around the topic.

My take away from this convening is that there are a lot of outdoor organizations here in Northern California that have a working understanding of how their individual work forces lack diversity, but are struggling with the “how to change it.” I have always said that “IF” diversity and inclusion is important to your organization/agency/foundation; it will show in your budgets. There will be a line item dedicated to the work of diversity. I research this area often and I’ve yet to come across such a line item in anyone’s budget that addressed diversity.

So while we have a long way to go in reaching a more equitable work force in outdoor organizations, I remain hopeful that if we are given the right tools and the space to bring about change, we will do the right thing for the sake of our environment. And perhaps this convening will have been the catalyst to make it all happen.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

About the author

As the Founder of African American National Parks Event and DEL speaker, Teresa’s vision is anchored in interacting with outdoor entities (i.e. retailers, NGOs, federal agencies) that are having difficulty engaging diverse audiences within their organization and in outdoor arenas, such as national parks. The African American National Park Event network provides communities across the country with opportunities to participate in events that speak to culture, heritage and lifestyle. She parlays this introduction into an experience that dramatically changes perceptions and behaviors relative to the national parks and, by default, fosters the next generation of diverse, informed and loyal park stewards and outdoor enthusiasts. Teresa has shown great event planning skills, as demonstrated in the recent Buffalo Soldiers trail retracing pilgrimage, from the Presidio of San Francisco into Yosemite national park. She also spearheaded the Muir Campfire discussion on Diversity and Relevancy, where she gathered over 20 different government agencies and outdoor organization for a 3 day summit. Currently working on several collaborations, Teresa continues to find time to spend outdoors, embracing the environment that she so feverishly battles to protect.

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