Updated: Jun 9
KACEE calls on you to work alongside us to make environmental education and conservation more available, welcoming, equitable and inclusive to all Black people, Indigenous people and people of color. We support their voices as they call for equity and justice.
We, like many of you, watched in horror as George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. Racism is ingrained in our nation’s systems, with great cost to people of color.
As environmental educators, we help learners become systems thinkers: To understand the connections between natural and human events and recognize that change in one part of the system impacts the rest of the system. As COVID-19 spread through the country, we saw the impact it had on multiple systems: health care, food production, access to education, jobs and so much more. We also have seen that COVID-19 causes higher rates of infection, more severe symptoms, and higher rates of mortality in communities of color. We recognize the systemic failures that contribute to these impacts, including environmental injustices. COVID-19 brought stark illumination to the many inequities in our systems, heightening the challenges many communities of color already face.
These issues were amplified first by the news of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in March by three white men while he was out jogging, followed closely by the racist threat toward black birder, Christian Cooper, in Central Park. These events struck a painful chord with the field of environmental education, which has been advocating for many years that all people should have safe access to nature and green space, as this access provides great benefit to human health, well-being and connection to the environment.
Dr. J. Drew Lanham, a wildlife biologist, poet, and author of Birding While Black, led an amazing webinar on the COVID-19 pandemic and connecting with nature just a few weeks ago. In this webinar, Dr. Lanham spoke about the inequities in access to nature, why people of color frequently don’t feel safe in these spaces, and how those inequities deny them the many restorative properties that nature can provide during stressful times.
These events and inequities are part of a pattern: As educators, we know to look for patterns, and to examine the systems that they are part of, in order to identify those that are failing—currently, the economic system, the health care system, the justice system, and all the connections between.
Diversity builds health and resilience; if we want a healthy planet that sustains all human lives, we cannot ignore the impact of the systems which influence everything we do. We cannot create healthier communities and sustain our environment unless everyone has an opportunity to be part of the solution. We need to redouble our efforts to dismantle systemic racism -- to actively become anti-racist. That includes our own organization, KACEE, our field of environmental and conservation education, and all of the systems we influence and work within.
As systems thinkers, environmental educators can affect a lot of change; we must listen, educate ourselves, and examine and identify ways to disrupt the current systems for the outcomes we desire. As an organization we have begun educating our staff and board, extending learning opportunities to our members, and examining our policies and practices to identify and remove potential barriers to inclusion. We have created an action team to help us move toward making KACEE more diverse and equitable, and to ensure that people of color feel welcome, heard, and served by our organization.
We still have a long way to go, and we recommit to working tirelessly to make the necessary changes. Our board and staff look forward to working with our partners throughout the state and communities where we work to find solutions and help create a more just and sustainable future for all.
- The Board and Staff, Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education (KACEE)
"Be safe. Stay well. Protest in your own way or expect things to remain the same." Dr. J. Drew Lanham