Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dave Gibson: ‘Diversity is not Inclusion’

image001(4)It must have taken great courage, the kind needed to overcome the natural fear of rejection and isolation, for the first woman and the first person of color invited to join the board of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.

For one hundred years, from 1901 until 2001, those directing  the work of the Association had been entirely white and mostly male.  So had the boards and staffs of most environmental organizations in the Adirondacks, in the entire state and, I imagine, in the country. I hope we were all warm and welcoming of these courageous individuals when they first joined. Their experience and character made a difference.

The recent conference in Newcomb at the Adirondack Interpretive Center, “Toward a More Diverse Adirondacks,” brought the reality of courage, fear of rejection and isolation to everybody’s heart. It required everyone participating to re-examine assumptions. Many governmental and non-governmental organizations today applaud diversity and are trying to find ways to walk that talk and be more diverse. This recruitment is challenging, but what this conference made clear is that it is even harder to welcome, include, accept, and embrace difference.

Alice Green, a black woman born in the Adirondacks  where her father was employed in the iron industry, bluntly told the conference: “Diversity is not inclusion.” Alice is founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Justice in Albany, NY, and of the Paden Institute and Retreat for Writers of Color in Essex, NY, not far from where she grew up.

There were plenty of diverse people working the mines in her youth, people from all over the world, Alice told us. But there was not much welcoming, not much inclusion after the long, hard work day was done. “I had to find ways to cope with the void,” Alice said. “I had to think about who I am.”

Rocci Aguirre speaks during the Diversity conference at Newcomb's Adirondack Interpretive CenterI told the conference that part of what motivates me to diversify(and organizations I have worked for) was that not doing so placed ideals, principles, and laws we highly valued at risk. What might become of our “Forever Wild” Constitution for instance, if the soon to be majority of the state’s voters were not invited to care for that wilderness, if they had little interest and no stake in the success of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks?

Alice Green’s response was two-fold. Understand that black people have the same inherent love of nature, love of quiet, love of solitude as you do. In other words, this love is common to our very humanity. But value me for my culture, for who I am, not for what I can do to help you preserve the Adirondacks.”

There were other personal, heart-felt statements that day about inclusion, in addition to diversity, that caused all of us to feel more and to think again. A diversity consultant and a gay man living in the Adirondacks asked us: “what are you doing on a daily basis to help make me feel welcome?” Brian McNaught also reminded us that being inclusive and accepting is a skill and a muscle, and needs to be taught, exercised and encouraged at school, at the work place, at home. He put this another way: “what’s your music telling me (i.e. your expression and body language), as opposed to your words?”

Brother Yusuf Burgess, youth counselor for teens at risk and an outdoors educator, spoke of the years of struggle to raise transportation funds each season to bring several van-loads of at risk teens into the Adirondacks or Catskills to learn to ski, hike, kayak or fly-fish. It’s time for more sustained programs that allow these kids to mature in their appreciation of nature, and to grow and gain from those experiences vocationally as well as avocationally, he said. “No more one shot deals any more. We need to include these kids in everything we do from the very beginning, he said.” Yusuf  and some of the many teens he has mentored are featured in the 2011 film, “Mother Nature’s Child.”

One of the most arresting parts of the conference were Alice Green’s informal interviews of people of all ages on the sidewalks in Albany.  She recounted some of what she heard in response to her question:  What and where are the Adirondacks? Here are some of the responses:

“No people of color there.”

“I’m fearful there. They look at you funny.”

“I have sons there and they’re in prison.”

“I like the fishing. I like the water.”

“How do I get there”? “Are there any jobs there?”

There were other inspiring speakers in Newcomb at this provocative event.  Skip Hults, of Newcomb Central School, spoke about that school’s remarkably diverse, international make-up and academic program.  Martha Swan, Newcomb teacher and leader of John Brown Lives! asked us to imagine those who once inhabited our lands, towns, streets, lakeshores. By being more attentive to “unobserved history” we open our minds and hearts to other times, events and diverse cultures.

Rocci Aguirre who works for the Adirondack Council told us that he was born of a Mexican father and Jewish mother. One of Rocci’s lesson for the conference was “be prepared, be open-minded and embrace what comes to you,” just as his parents and grandparents of such different cultures managed to embrace each other. “It all starts from the heart,” Rocci noted.

And Ethan Friedman, a member of the board of the Adirondack Council, pointed to one key for being more attuned, tolerant, and inclusive in our Adirondack communities. “Living and life in the Adirondacks must not become perceived as a zero sum game of winners and losers,” he reminded a roundtable discussion that closed the afternoon.  We can all fall prey to it.

It was a thought-provoking conference, one involving many people I do not ordinarily get to interact with in an Adirondack setting. We had the chance to see each other and Adirondack Park “issues” in a new light.  Many thanks to the organizers and onwards for future re-engagement on these important topics for the Adirondacks, the state, nation and for our world.

Photo: Rocci Aguirre speaks during the Diversity conference at Newcomb’s Adirondack Interpretive Center.

This article is one in a series on diversity in the Adirondacks, an outgrowth of the August 2014 “Toward a More Diverse Adirondacks” symposium.

Related Stories

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.


19 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    This continues to be an interesting topic. I totally agree that if people don’t appreciate something they have little interest in protecting it. And they can’t learn to appreciate it if they cannot experience it.

    I think it is also true that there are other reason why the Adirondacks has the protection that it has. For example many of the original supporters (and ones with a lot of influence over the legislature) supported the creation of the Forest Preserve for two reasons other than Wilderness protection for the sake of wilderness.

    One was to ensure that their very large private estates were protected from “intruders”. The cheap and easy way for them to do that is to support turning much of the land their estates bordered into protected Forest Preserve.

    Two was for owners of large tracts of timberland to further consolidate their stranglehold on the Adirondack timber markets. The best way to ensure good timber prices for wood coming off their land was to make it illegal to cut trees on much of the competing timberlands.

    The first example is a reason that has something to do with wanting to protect the Adirondacks. The second has nothing to do with it. With both the protections afforded the FP are really, at least partially, a by-product of greed.

    • John Warren says:

      That’s pretty revisionist. You have any evidence for these claims?

      • Paul says:

        John, I actually think I read about this in The Great Forests of the Adirondacks by Barbara McMartin or perhaps in her other book The Privately Held Adirondacks? I will check it out an get back to you.

        • Outlier says:

          It would not be at all unusual that we have a case of “doing well by doing good.” In “The Triumph of Conservatism”, Gabriel Kolko documented how many of the reforms of the Progressive Era were actually dominated by financial interests seeking to maintain their power. For example, the Federal Reserve Act was essentially written by representatives of the large NY banks and given a once over to disguise its origins. The anti-trust and railroad regulations laws of the time tell a similar story.

          Kolko was a socialist (though an intellectually honest one) who passed on about a year ago. By “conservatism” he means preservation of the status quo not what we think of as conservatism (bombing people and Bible waving).


          • John Warren says:

            Not one thing you’ve said here backs Paul’s claims and you’ve wildly misinterpreted Kolko.

            It will be immediately obvious to anyone who cares to investigate, that your claims that Progressive reforms were really all about helping the rich and powerful fall flat on their face.

            It’s basic High School level history: http://www.regentsprep.org/Regents/ushisgov/themes/reform/progressive.htm

            • Paul says:

              I certainly did not say that these were the only reasons that there was support for creating the Forest Preserve. I didn’t make that claim. Those references I refer to are up at my camp and I will check it out this weekend.

              I am fairly certain that is where I got that information. I am certainly not clever enough to come up with it myself!

            • Outlier says:

              If you READ what I said, you would see that WHAT I said was that Paul’s assertion would not be unusual.

              When I READ Kolko several years ago, the conclusion I drew was that he believed that government control or ownership was superior to the reformist approach. What was your conclusion when you read TOC?

              Are lobbyists discussed in the Regents body of knowledge? Or the revolving door between government and special interests? That legislators often vote on bills that are thousands of pages long that they could not possibly have read since they are modified minutes before a midnight vote on the last night before recess? No? So I guess this must not happen.

              Maybe you believe that laws are made exactly as depicted in the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoons:


          • John L says:

            So Conservatives to you are simply religious fanatics who bomb people??? What an idiot.

            • Outlier says:

              Not all, but many are. Most of those who weren’t were ostracized when they questioned the war(s) on Iraq.

              Then there are the real moonbats who take the Bible literally, particularly biblical prophecy. In fact, they want to speed up the rapture. Check out “Pastor” John Hagee.

              • John L says:

                Hey Outlier. You’re making my case for your being an idiot. BTW, there are lots of people who believe the Global Warming moonbats too (your words, not mine), but that doesn’t mean they’re bad people, just misinformed.

                • Outlier says:

                  It’s OK to be misinformed. You are forgiven. But when someone’s misinformation means I have to pay, that’s not OK.

                  Now pick up your gun and go fight ISIS before they impose Sharia law on us or nuke us or whatever it is they threatened us with.

  2. SLMP defender says:

    I don’t recall that in the Adirondack history books? Have I missed one?

    • Paul says:

      See my comment above. I think even the ASLMP talks about the value added to private lands gained by addition of Forest Preserve land to the park (given your name you would know better than I!).

  3. Ethan Friedman says:

    It was a terrific symposium, and this is a great summary. Thanks for mentioning my tiny contribution!

    Alice’s point was, for me, so key: value diversity not just for its economic benefits but because you value the different cultures and perspectives diversity brings for their own sake.

    I deeply want the Park that I–and all here–love so much to be valued and appreciated by all New Yorkers of all colors and sexual orientations. Not just because I think it will benefit the Park economically (although I do) but because it will make the Park a better place for me, for those who live there full-time, and for everyone who loves and appreciates this corner of the world.

    I hope all Almanack readers, including those skeptical of such efforts, try to participate in future symposia!

    • John L says:

      So help me out here Ethan. Do you want ALL 20 MILLION New Yorkers to ‘enjoy’ the Adirondacks at once? Wouldn’t that be a bit crowded? There must be a point of diminishing returns on the number of people that visit versus the advantage the area sees.

      • Ethan Friedman says:

        Nice attempt to invalidate my point by carrying it to an absurd extreme.

        But consider it realistically: from a purely economic point of view for Park inhabitants, more visitors is a good thing, right? And from a purely moral point of view, more visitors of more backgrounds is a good thing. So what’s the matter with the idea of encouraging that?

        • John L says:

          Encouraging is OK, I guess. Fixating on it as has been done on this forum recently as a ‘panacea’ for what ails the Park is not helpful, IMHO.

        • Outlier says:

          “And from a purely moral point of view, more visitors of more backgrounds is a good thing.”

          Why is that?

  4. Outlier says:

    “…But value me for my culture, for who I am, not for what I can do to help you preserve the Adirondacks.”

    “what are you doing on a daily basis to help make me feel welcome?”

    THESE are the sentiments of those who will hold the future of the Park in their hands? Sounds like it’s all about THEM.