I was recently invited to speak at the Urban Academy hosted at National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I was honored to represent Tualatin River Valley National Wildlife Refuge by way of Kim Strasburg, the Visitor Service Manager in Sherwood, Oregon. Most of my speaking opportunities revolved around my latest film Conservation Consciousness Runs Deep. The audience was full of many key influencers and national leaders from organizations such as the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Wildlife Refuge, and the U.S. Department of Interior. The conference was four days packed full of high-level conversations about social and environmental change, in attempts to pursue direct demographics for the most direct impact and influence. There was a lot of discussion around deciphering the code of cultural barriers in hopes to understand and reach out to inner city communities, analyzing opportunities for getting youth outdoors, inspiring and educating all communities and social groups, and determining why our wildlife refuge is critical for the future of our society.
Investing in our young people will dictate how our environment will be taken care of in the future. It is critical that we spend time connecting with influencers or leaders of our communities in order to ultimately prioritize the future generations. Inner city culture is a massive, growing demographic mixed with so many challenges and attributes including diverse professions, educational accomplishments, and lifestyle. Much of inner city culture lacks the connectivity to what the outdoors has to offer. In order to impact the future generations within the inner city, we must inspire and lead them into the outdoors. This guidance must come from traditional and non-tradition sources such as community leaders, parents, mentors, educators, ambassadors, and influencers of the outdoors. The outdoors brings out the inner-child in all of us. It also brings out the inner-scientist that has been waiting to step into opportunities of exploring nature. For children, the outdoors gives the gift of purposeful exploration as it is a tool to embark on adventure. For the veteran, the outdoors provides a chance to receive a life that has been holding its breath, anxiously awaiting to exhale. This is precisely what fly fishing has done for me. Fly fishing is a sport but yet has become a lifestyle of health, mental stimulation, and ongoing exploration of the natural world of rivers, species, and love.
Second showing of short narrative film Conservation Consciousness Runs Deep
How do we break the barriers of race, economics and social complexities that most communities face? We know there is a disconnect to the outdoors, so how do we connect with the right community influencers to help gain trust in order to ultimately impact a child and the family? What does one need to do to gain trust of the community? There is a rich blanket of history smeared with blood, hate, ignorance, discrimination, and misuse of authority that should not be ignored. The history of where communities have come from should be respected and acknowledged as a first step before one attempts to understand the culture. Only then can we embrace what was and now what is and rather than teaching the community, learn from the community. Communities are powerful and can inspire and influence all of us. Communities know survival and a lifestyle that has influenced their daily rituals and supported their ability to adapt to their environment. Within a community is a culture that includes even smaller entities called cell groups. An example of a cell group would be the homosexual community amongst Asian Americans. Asian Americans are already categorized as a diverse population, but the next layer of diversity (being homosexual) categorizes the group even more specifically. Cell groups live amongst a culture protected by leaders and influencers who all desire for change.
So what is the code of cultural barriers? We simply just want to connect a child to the outdoors, but there are many layers that must be pierced through in order to actually accomplish this. It is inspiring for me to see our government in the midst of making an effort for change. Our government does see a need for getting future generations into the outdoors and it is so paramount to make this happen. The urban community populations are growing each day and while the growth spurt continues, there is a prominent disconnect, especially with single-parent-family and lower-income households. In order to connect youth from these communities into the outdoors, it is critical that we connect with parents and families.
This really means that we must work with all generations of the family unit. I coin this term as Generation Shellback, meaning older generations influence younger generations by unknowingly imposing their beliefs, mistrusts, or assumptions onto the younger generations. Originally, the term “generation shellback” comes from the past when a soldier had been exposed to intense trauma of war that conclusively impacted their mental state. When a soldier returned home, attempting to move forward in life, the mental trauma would actually hinder and haunt that soldier. I see this with parents and grandparents mainly amongst African American and Hispanic cultures. What they have personally faced has actually traumatized and imprinted their memories making it hard to erase or forget. If grandma was afraid of the woods because of historical violations and discrimination, as well as what the woods is associated with, she may never take her children or grandchildren to the woods.
As we move forward into the future, the lines of cultures become prominent and strong but the desire to come together even within our government still faces the obvious – that we all still have a lot of work to do in bringing together our veterans and youth together into the outdoors. This is especially true of diverse, urban youth communities, supporting a reconnection to what nature has to provide for healing wounded soul. New generations coming up face new challenges, as well as our veterans coming back facing the trials of fitting back in to daily civilian life. It is apparent that even within our government walls the awareness of including inner-city youth is slightly forgotten, yet there is an obvious desire to welcome and include this demographic. There is an urgency to make more than just an effort but to actually execute a change. The success of change will roll itself into future leaders and ambassadors of nature. It will prompt options of jobs and develop conscious caretakers of our natural environment. We can support our veterans to achieve the same goal by partnering them with the Wildlife Refuge as a volunteer, or simply just connecting them to nature knowing that it can heal deep wounds of prior trauma.
Attending the Urban Academy at the National Conservation Training Center was an amazing trip and an awesome experience! Meeting various government leaders and having the opportunity to collaborate and partner with these key influencers was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is clear that we all have high hopes and are working toward a common goal. My hope is that the future generations resemble that of a quilt, consisting of partnerships, including images of thriving races and communities, respecting the outdoors. What feeds my soul is seeing young generations on the water with a fly rod in their hand, exploring our rivers as scientists, biologists, ichthyologists and ultimately being ambassadors of Mother Nature.