The day was hot and dry in Coldwater, Kansas, and per usual, the wind blew, throwing clouds of dirt across the land. The weather never deterred my grandparents from spending nearly every weekend at Coldwater Lake, with me in tow. I remember splashing in the waves, digging up worms from the hard earth and casting a line with my grandpa in hopes of catching dinner. These are my very first memories of the outdoors. What I don’t remember about these trips is finding other children that looked like me.
I attended Western Kentucky University to pursue my passion for the environment. I studied geology, with a concentration in cave and karst environments, and journalism. While the journalism department was teeming with diversity, in the geology department, I found myself in a similar place I had been in my childhood. Once again, I was the outlier – the only black woman mapping outcrops and squeezing through tight cave passages.
All children have a right to the outdoors and to the advantages of being able to connect to nature. Environmental equity is a crucial part of ensuring that all our children are growing up healthier, happier and smarter. The communities who have the greatest challenges finding that connection are typically minority and low-income groups. These communities are also groups who experience the greatest health risks as children and adults in the United States.
Nature provides us with a valuable asset both intrinsically and as a resource. Studies show that kids who play and learn outside are healthier physically and mentally, have higher self-esteem, are tomorrows conservation leaders and have parents who are more financially independent and capable. These are just a few facts concerning the way nature showers us with gifts.
Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA allows me to serve these underrepresented communities by building capacity that will better connect families with available opportunities to enjoy and explore nature. By building capacity, I am also providing families with educational opportunities that will increase awareness toward conservation efforts. By advocating for children to get outdoors, I am helping to fashion a sustainable movement by creating generations that will grow up with an appreciation for nature and will hopefully pass down the gifts of nature to their children.
Being a Texas Children in Nature VISTA is a truly rewarding experience that allows me to work in several of my passions – sustainability, empowering people in nature, environmental education and creating more awareness for conservation. As a VISTA, I hope to create an outdoors that is more diverse and inclusive – a nature that everyone feels welcome in.