Many Black young adults are unaware of job opportunities and administrative careers that exist in the forest and conservation sectors.
Some point the finger at environmental injustice as one reason linking it with lack of access to trees and their associated benefits — often lower in neighborhoods of color and minimal income.
But another reason centers around access to relationships — Young adults don’t know whom to look to or seek advice from about forest and conservation topics.
There is good news: young people of color finally may have a resource that can aid them in seeing the forest and the tree. This Black History Week, a handy resource guide has been launched for placement in libraries, institutions, schools, and then, hopefully, in the hands of young ecology careerists across the nation. It assures that young people are informed about Black people who work in forestry and conservation careers.
Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers, a new first-of-its-kind resource, released on Tuesday (February 7) by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Project Learning Tree (PLT), and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS).
Called the SFI-PLT-MANRRS Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide, it highlights 22 Black Americans who share their personal stories about finding their passions and overcoming challenges. It also offers advice to the next generation about exploring their own careers in the forest and conservation sector.
Further, the project was overseen by an SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee of majority people of color, and Black-owned businesses were hired as consultants, designers, content writers, and photographers.
“Representation matters: Every person that took part in the project identified as an African American, from the advisory committee to the photographer,” said Dr. Antomia “Mia” Farrell, Co-Chair of the SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee, Assistant Dean and Director for Diversity, University of Kentucky, and former National MANRRS President. “Heading the Committee that produced ‘Journeys’ was such an intentional and authentic process for me.
“It is my hope that we can continue to uplift the voices of African Americans in this space, bring awareness to green careers, and ignite young people to know that there is a plethora of career options within the sector.”
The guide is intentional in showcasing a diversity of experiences and careers to show that there is a place for everyone to find a career in the forest and conservation sector—whether it be indoors, outdoors, an apprenticeship, or with a Ph.D.
Dr. Farrell further points out that the name “Black Faces in Green Spaces” pays homage to Dr. Carolyn Finney, who authored the book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors.
It all showcases a small portion of the interdisciplinary careers that fall within the sector. It includes a forester, a biologist, a hydrologist, a GIS specialist, a DEI specialist, an environmental educator, an urban forester, and more.
“This partnership between SFI and MANRRS reflects the USDA Forest Service’s mission to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by creating a diverse workforce as we seek to grow the next generation of conservation stewards that reflect our society,” said Beattra Wilson, Assistant Director for Urban and Community Forestry, USDA Forest Service. Urban forests and trees are vital for community well-being, health, resiliency, and sustainability. The USDA Forest Service and SFI are making urban forestry a priority and recognizing it as an opportunity to raise quality of place and quality of life with initiatives such as the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard. Community trees and forests provide many social, environmental, and economic benefits, including improved health and well-being, social cohesion and accessibility, outdoor learning environments, climate change solutions, reduced air pollution, and improved urban design. Urban forests and trees and their associated benefits should be accessible and available to everyone.
“With less than 3% Black American representation in forest and conservation careers, these Black hidden figures are iconic to empowering our next generation of forest and conservation professionals,” said Dr. Marcus Bernard, National President of MANRRS. “When students see Black professionals in the forest and conservation sector, they see themselves! They also see a career path they never knew existed. This resource highlights the long-standing contribution of Black forest and conservation professionals working in what we now call environmental sustainability.”
Kathy Abusow, SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee co-chair said, “It is critical that we engage the forest and conservation sector to ensure they create welcoming places of employment where a diverse workforce can not only be recruited but can be retained and advanced to leadership positions.”
Abusow, who also is President/ CEO of SFI, added, “By elevating the voices of Black Americans; by providing role models; by celebrating innovations and contributions, and by sharing their advice with others, we can inspire, encourage, and engage both this and the next generation of Black Americans to become forest and conservation leaders.”
How to obtain copies and support young adults in your community
To ensure the guide is shared with as many young adults, educators, and guidance counselors as possible, the digital version of SFI-PLT-MANRRS’s Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide is available for free. Individual printed copies are also available for $39.99. Bulk orders for organizations that want to distribute printed copies to employees, students, networks, and partners are offered at $800 for a box of 25 copies.
Jerri Taylor, Director of Diversity in Career Pathways for Sustainable Forestry and Project Learning Tree, was featured in last month’s issue of Our Time Press. She urges organizations to consider investing in the next generation of forestry leaders by purchasing buying a box that can be given to schools, colleges, and universities across the United States, including Title I schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). To purchase or download the book, visit: plt.org/journeys.
As we gain a growing understanding of the importance of urban forests, efforts like these concurrently will grow career opportunities for young ecology students through the stories of Black faces making inroads in green places throughout the U.S. and around the world.