Green must diversify or die

Roughly 50 environmentalists of various racial backgrounds — African American, Native American, Latina, and Caribbean — gathered at the National Press Club yesterday with a message for mainstream green institutions: If you are serious about diversity, then put your money where your mouth is or suffer the consequences later.

The newly launched Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau, or “DEL,” convened yesterday on the 98th birthday of the National Park Service to convey chiefly two things: That environmentalists of color are plentiful and available as employees and leaders, and that environmental groups and government agencies have no legitimate excuses for having predominantly white workforces.

“We are here, and we have always been here,” said the event’s host, Audrey Peterman, jabbing at the notion that people of color are unbothered with the environment. The display of talent among the attendees — many of them DEL members — further crushed that notion.

In the house: Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, who you might have seen in Ken Burns’ national parks documentary; Berkeley professor Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors; and Captain William “Bill” Pinkney, who in 1992 sailed around the globe by himself, using the Southern Route — a passageway so difficult only three other Americans have navigated it. Just to name a few.

Many of these people have decades of experience working with a range of major institutions, from the corporate America to the president’s cabinet. Peterman, one of DEL’s “visionaries,” has won an Environmental Hero Award from the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and serves on quite a few major organization boards, including the National Parks Conservation Association. Along with her husband, Frank, who co-hosted the event, she’s co-authored two books on nature discovery and runs the environmental firm Earthwise Productions, Inc., which they started 20 years ago.

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