nature for all.
The past few days have been difficult for all of us as we watched a tragically familiar injustice play out with the death of George Floyd and as we continue to experience and witness the pain and anger it has caused.
We at Natural Lands are not accustomed to talking about racial violence as an organization. I recognize that it can be an uncomfortable conversation to have. It is necessary, though. As stewards of a broad network of publicly accessible open spaces and an organization that aspires to be inclusive and just, we need to acknowledge that, for far too many across our country and in our own backyard, justice is elusive and equality is a promise unfulfilled.
For too many of our family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, racism and other expressions of intolerance are facts of life. Clearly, this is unacceptable.
Natural Lands is deeply committed to connecting people to the outdoors at our 43 nature preserves and one public garden and through a wide array of programs. But barriers remain for people of color who want to spend time in nature.
As the story of Christian Cooper—an African American birder in Central Park on whom a woman recently called police—reminds us, open spaces, parks, and trails aren’t always safe for everyone. And we recognize that oppression and exclusion are part and parcel of the history of the fields, forests, and streams of our nation.
Yet, everyone should be able to go for a hike, play in a playground, paddle in a creek, or enjoy a family picnic in an outdoor public space without fear for their life or liberty. Everyone should have safe, nearby access to nature, no matter what community they call home. Everyone should feel welcome in the outdoors and at the organizations that, like Natural Lands, work to protect and care for nature.
Two years ago, Natural Lands set out on a journey to become a more diverse and inclusive organization. We are considering what this means for the composition of our leadership, staff, and volunteers; our culture; our programming; the communities in which we work; and more.
We are actively seeking to bring new perspectives and voices to our staff and board, we are building new partnerships, we have established a staff team to help us continue to learn and to hold us accountable, and diversity and inclusion goals are incorporated into our strategic plan.
These are small first steps. We have a long road ahead of us. Despite our best intentions, we know we will misstep along the way. However, the endeavor is essential if we are to fulfill our mission’s commitment to “nature for all.”
Our efforts obviously cannot erase centuries of injustice nor solve broader societal challenges. But we can do our best to learn. To listen. To be open to ideas and conversations that are uncomfortable.
And we can work tirelessly to ensure that our organization and our preserves are safe and welcoming for everyone—making clear in no uncertain terms that everyone has a place in the Natural Lands community.
Oliver Bass, President