As the first Director of Diversity in Career Pathways for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Project Learning Tree (PLT), Jerri Taylor leads a variety of mentorship programs and develops curricula that encourage BIPOC youth to gain a different perspective on the outdoors and pursue forest and conservation sector careers. Most recently, she helped lead a team of colleagues at SFI and PLT that developed a new first-of-its-kind resource called Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers, which she is very proud of. The project was conducted in partnership with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and was overseen by an SFI-PLT-MANRRS advisory committee comprised entirely of black subject matter experts. Black-owned businesses were hired as consultants, designers, content writers, and photographers.
SFI-PLT-MANRRS’s Black Faces in Green Spaces highlights 22 Black Americans who share their personal stories about finding their passions and overcoming challenges. From Nichole McHenry (Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager for the National Park Service) to Sam Cook (VP of the Natural Resources Foundation for North Carolina State University), the guide features wisdom, guidance, and inspiration from high-achieving professionals with more than 150 years’ worth of collective experience, including Jerri herself.
Jerri’s work is a reflection of her passion for conservation. “Growing up on a farm, I just thought that’s what you did to survive. I realized it was a real career when my family decided to go into fish farming. We had the only Black-owned globally certified tilapia fish farm, and my role working for the family business was to write grants—that’s how it started. I had never really known, being Black, that conservation was a career option. I thought of it as these are just jobs people do. So, finding this passion now, it all makes sense.”
It is this passion coupled with her background in school counseling and career services that positioned her for success helping to develop the SFI-PLT-MANRRS Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide.
Jerri has been an advocate all her life, and adding natural resources to that list was, well, natural. “I’m an advocate for natural resources and environmental justice because they affect my population, my family, and my friends. And it’s not just about race—this affects all the ones that I love. The problem is access and lack of knowledge, so any chance that I have I am having those conversations.”
From her work on this resource, Jerri learned as much about herself as she did the sector. “While researching for this project, I found out that more than half of my family was in forestry, which I never knew! It really opened up conversations in my family, and with other Black people that I know. I’m trying to understand why we make decisions and how we talk about careers with kids. During this project, I noticed that there isn’t a lot of research or data about the history of Black people in forestry. So, I’m excited about getting this information out. It needs to be intentional, and it needs to be our story. It’s time!”
For more information about the guide, including how to get your own copy when it launches in early 2023, check out https://www.plt.org/journeys.