It’s About the Youth

Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors

Day 2

The second day of the conference swelled with more people and energy. The morning speakers each powerfully conveyed forward looking messages of sustainability for organizations, family heritage, and the environment, through narratives about personal and generational ties to the land.  Some highlights include:
Ranger Jerry Bransford, a 60-year-old guide at Mammoth Caves, discussed his family legacy at the site, which is now a National Park. His family members have been tour guides since before the Civil War. He is the great-great-grandson of Mat Bransford, the original Mammoth Cave guide and slave.
Bill Gwaltney, a D.C. native who now works for the National Park Service, spoke eloquently in vintage Calvary uniform of his awakening and awareness of African American soldiers and pioneers of the West, as told to him by his grandfather when he was a child. He  said that those conversations with his grandfather ignited a desire to learn and share with others the African American Civil War heritage.
Robert George Stanton was the first African American to serve as director of the National Park Service. His accomplishment and endurance to break through a past of Jim Crow to a cabinet position was an inspiration for us all.
At the break, Dudley Edmondson and I caught up with Dr. Carolyn Finney of UC Berkeley:
Sailor-author-adventurer Bill Pinkney, the first Black man to sail solo around the world via Cape Horn, was a delightful lunchtime speaker who conveyed both humor and wisdom as he shared what he learned about life on the high seas.
I also had a chance to chat with Atlanta’s own Angelou Enzielo about her program, Greening Youth Foundation.
Dr. J. Drew Lanham, a professor at Clemson University and his Grad Student Marla Hamilton, chimed in during the afternoon break, representing a new generation of outdoor pioneers and educators.
Later in the day, I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion on Adventuring, and its benefits through outdoor programs.  Attendees representing various groups and agencies took the opportunity to candidly discuss outdoor diversity in a forum of peers, and related some of their organizational and regional challenges around reaching out to broader communities. One of the speakers, a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Base Manager Phil Henderson, told how he experienced outdoor adventuring for the first time later in life, and believes the outdoors is great for young adults also, who might discover new outlets to make a difference for themselves and their communities.
If there was one message that rang out from virtually every talk I heard, it was the need for youth to plug in for both their sustainability and as torch bearers for the future.  The conference itself underscored the value of youth by including children, such as the Girl Scouts and several young adults from the local colleges as presenters and conference workers. But it was Juan Martinez, a young Latino male and newly appointed coordinator for the Natural Leaders initiative of the Children & Nature Network who brought it home in his talk how easy it is to make a difference in the life of a youth. He described his own life-changing youth trip outside his native Los Angeles city lights that allowed him to actually see stars in the night sky for the first time — stars that pointed Juan to his future of advocacy for diverse youth participation the outdoors.
Video shot by Dudley Edmondson