Is it sustainable?
That prompts a key question: Will majority-white environmental organizations make their commitment to anti-racist behavior a lasting one?
The answer could be yes. Organizations and environmental leaders have expressed the sentiment that this moment feels different than any other.
“As conservationists, we know that there’s long been an inequity, and now it seems like the perfect time to really make the fundamental shift,” said Painter. “If we can take this momentum and actually achieve a lasting change, I just think now is the perfect time to do it.”
And the field itself, of course, is in the business of trying to ensure lasting change.
“We are in the business of perpetuity, we make permanent commitments to the lands we’ve protected,” Bass said. “That won’t be the case if we don’t take very serious and intentional steps to make sure that the conservation movement involves and reflects the interests of everyone more than it does now.”
The leadership team at Philadelphia’s Bartram’s Garden thinks that perpetuity lies in fostering relationships.
“These are hard things, and it takes a lot of work: intentionality, conversation, time. And you don’t always get it right,” said director of public programs Aseel Rasheed. “I think it’s all-encompassing. It’s not just about one program or two programs or all of your programs — it’s also about your institution, who’s on your leadership, who’s on your board, who are you hiring.”
Added Bartram’s executive director, Maitreyi Roy: “The Sankofa Community Farmwas one of the first projects that the garden undertook to really establish presence at the garden that was a direct response to need in the community. Now, our trajectory has been … let’s really learn and listen from our neighbors and hire staff from the community.”
The farm employs interns from and provides food for the surrounding neighborhood, a largely Black community in Southwest Philadelphia.
Rasheed describes Bartram’s Garden, which was founded in 1728, as a “place of tension — a colonial site in this Black neighborhood.” With the longtime refinery complex right across the Schuylkill River, she added, questions of racial justice are ever present.
The staff at Bartram’s Garden is 30% people of color, with 25% of staffers and all student interns being from the surrounding neighborhoods. Still, it is working to build and maintain those relationships. Addressing a lack of diversity or representation of the local community isn’t a one-time repair to be made, but “a change, a shift in the way that we think about [what] we do and how we do it.”
Statements and policy changes from organizations such as the DCNR, the Land Trust, and Natural Lands are initial steps. Organizations like Morningstar’s are waiting to see what happens next.
“I have sort of this angel and devil sitting on my shoulder,” Morningstar said. “One is saying, `Oh, look at all the amazing people coming to support you, the awareness this is building’ … the other is saying, `Yeah, but just wait how long this lasts.’ That’s the cynical part of me. But it’s also the part that is carrying the trauma of generations of broken promises.”
WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.