Seventeen-year-old Mychael Holloway is one of more than 30 high school teens who is participating in a paid internship program called Building Conservation through Diversity and Teamwork.
“Usually with this type of program, you don’t see a lot of minorities. I started to go out more and start walking on across trails and I felt a lot more comfortable people of my color were doing this as well,” Holloway said.
The Mercer County program aims to help students of color prepare for jobs in the green sector.
“We started it with some training, because a lot of the kids don’t have the exposure that a lot of people sort of take for granted. Look around, we are going to see trees, we’re going to see birds, we’re going to see flowers. Part of the curriculum walks them through land, water, open space preservation and these are ways you can make a living,” said Lisa Wolff, co-founder of Outdoor Equity Alliance.
“Places like the National Parks Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management are heavily white spaces and that’s because of frankly a history of discrimination in these workplaces,” said Shanna Edberg, director of Conservation Programs of Hispanic Access Foundation.
Edberg is the co-author of a report just released that found that people of color are three times more likely than white people to live somewhere that is nature deprived.
“So it doesn’t have any park nearby or green space. In Jersey, it’s worse than the national average, it’s about 3.5 times more likely if you’re a person of color than if you’re a white person to be living in this situation,” Edberg said.
“You have these kids who can be in really, really rough neighborhoods and they’re not scared at all, and then you say you’re going into the outdoors and then they are really, really scared about what they’re going to find,” said Wolff.
“I want to make sure that if a kid comes out to a park they can identify what the bird is and they need to know, that they can walk out in the woods and know they are not going to get attacked by something that doesn’t even exist,” said Aaron Watson, deputy administration of Mercer County and executive director of Mercer County Park Commission.
Watson and Wolff are co-founders of the Outdoor Equity Alliance, which created the internship program. They have teamed up with the Boys and Girls Club and are dedicated to combating environmental racism.
“Why aren’t you often going to parks? Number one, transportation. Number two, some of them said, ‘It’s not a place for us’ which means they didn’t view it as a diversified population,” said Zoubit Yazid, chief operating officer of Boys and Girls Club in Mercer County.
“You don’t see many people of color getting into this field, land conservation, stewardship, things that are vitally important to the future of this planet and we have a responsibility to make certain that we are making these career and opportunities known to these kids,” Watson said.
“We’re learning about putting ourselves out there, we want to be seen and want to be heard. There’s that one stepping stone that can help you get where you want to be and you just need to take that step,” Holloway said.
Just one step, as long you’re pointed in the right direction.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.