A message from Executive Director Bob Perschel to the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) community.
Over the last few weeks three interconnected global crises have come into focus and now demand our immediate attention: climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, and racism. These three all threaten human life—heartbreakingly, tragically, and to great extent avoidably. And all three impact communities of color more heavily. The victimization of Black Americans by law enforcement, in access to voting, in access to health care, and in many other ways is not new, but what has to be new is our response to it. The first order of business is to stand by many others who are speaking up and protesting. NEFF condemns racism and commits to standing against it in all its forms, and to working to change the systems that perpetuate it. But that is not enough; we have to do the work to make change happen.
The first place where NEFF is well-positioned to have a direct impact is in addressing the racism Black and Brown Americans face when recreating outdoors—for example, while jogging and birding. Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was killed while jogging. Christian Cooper, also Black, was deceptively and speciously reported to the police while bird watching in Central Park. Everyone should have access to nature. We, at NEFF, want everyone to feel welcome and safe in our forests. We commit to finding out the extent to which communities of color are currently using our forests, to listening to what their experience of that use has been, and to learning what could make that use more secure and rewarding.
One contributor to everyone feeling welcome and safe is feeling represented in the groups managing and governing the activity or space in question. As people of color have made gains in many workplaces around the country, the conservation workforce and the boards of conservation organizations have not kept pace. NEFF is not alone in having a relative lack of diversity in its Board of Directors and staff, but we recognize the need for positive action to address it. In 2019, the Board approved revised core values in our new strategic plan. As NEFF moves forward on weaving justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into our work, we are upholding one of those values: “New England Forestry Foundation commits to respecting and learning from different perspectives, reflecting the diverse citizens and communities of New England. In hiring, mentoring, and managing staff, the organization seeks to maintain a diverse, supportive, friendly, and discrimination-free workplace.” And so, in late 2019, NEFF convened a Diversity, Justice, and Inclusion Workgroup, recruited a Board sponsor, and began to learn and to listen. Workgroup members have participated in training about enhancing diversity and creating a welcoming workspace for staff and Board through the Environmental Leadership Program and the Land Trust Alliance.
We know we have not done enough yet; we are committed to engaging with communities of color across New England to explore what barriers exist to accessing NEFF’s expertise and resources, and to take action to address those barriers. We recognize there’s a need for diversity training for our staff, improvements in Board recruitment and onboarding, and to build accountability relationships with other organizations that can teach us what more we can do to create an equitable, diverse, and welcoming workplace. We will build those actions into our priorities and budgets, and we will report back to you on our progress periodically. We have a journey in front of us, and we are prepared to travel the challenging terrain.