Celebrating Black History, Present & Future in Conservation
By Sheba Person Whitley – Executive Director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board & Pepperwood Board Member
I was introduced to Pepperwood when I first came to Sonoma County in 2019. What struck me was the beauty of the natural environment, of course, but also the passion of all the people involved in the conservation and education initiatives. I really wanted to be a part of this vital work and support in any way I could. I was honored to be asked to serve on Pepperwood’s Board.
2020 was a tremendous year of change for our country. We saw the elevation of, and calls to action on, a number of important issues including social justice, racial equity and environmental justice. Now it’s February 2021 already! We are two months into a new year and full of fresh perspectives and high hopes.
As you know, February is Black History Month and as such I wanted to take a moment to celebrate just a few notable Black/African Americans who have made significant contributions to environmental conservation and environmental science. I pay homage and respect to environmental leaders like George Washington Carver but also acknowledge contemporary contributions of others such as Lisa Jackson, the first African American to serve as EPA Administrator; Marjorie Richard, the first African American to win the Goldman Environmental Prize; and Kari Fulton who led the Environmental Justice and Climate Change initiative of the United Nations. And, there are so many, many more.
Pepperwood looked at the events of 2020 and didn’t avoid them but saw them as an opportunity to examine their internal perspectives, and ways to support their own organizational value systems of integrity, inclusivity and innovation, and how to walk their talk by leaning in on diversity and inclusivity. Not only are they leaders in conservation and environmental science but they are also holding themselves accountable to making those resources accessible to a diverse audience and participants. As a Black woman I’m happy to see such reflections and am proud to be a part of supporting this work.
As we reflect on Black History Month and the work ahead of us all for the rest of 2021… let’s make the names I mentioned earlier household names, let’s continue to make the programs Pepperwood offers even more accessible, let’s continue to elevate the importance of diversity, and let’s continue to walk our talk.