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We are listening.

The killing of George Floyd and protests around the country remind all of us of the long history of racial injustice in our country.

June 4, 2020


The killing of George Floyd and protests around the country remind all of us of the long history of racial injustice in our country.  The team at PPA is listening and thinking about what we can bring as an organization to achieving justice and genuine community among the people of our region.  We also believe that fighting – one day, eliminating – racism is essential to the success of PPA’s mission and that of other environmental activists.

One reason PPA exists is to preserve natural areas and resources for the benefit of people.  To live that mission means to ensure everyone in our society has ready access to the Pinelands.  But we know from experience and statistics that Black and Latinx families enjoy the Pinelands much less than White families.  We are learning that that disparity has many causes, among them fear of harassment and violence from law enforcement and other users.  That fear feeds a vicious cycle of assumptions, stereotypes and habits.

We also believe that the Pinelands and New Jersey’s other natural places will only survive in the long run if all segments of society know, love and speak out for preserving these treasures.  New Jersey’s conservation groups and their supporters are very White, while the society in which we work is increasingly diverse in ethnicity, background and origin.  There are wonderful people of color working in the environmental field!  But our organizations are not representative of the diversity of our society.  This fact restricts our political power, deprives environmental groups of ideas and energies that would help them succeed, and inevitably sends a message that conservation is pretty much a White endeavor.

For now, we are listening and each finding our own personal ways to be involved.  But soon PPA needs to move beyond listening and talking to doing.  What should PPA be doing that we aren’t doing now, or what do we need to do better?  We have some ideas, but need more input from others.  If you have views on this, please contact us and let us know your thoughts.

Signed by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance & Pinelands Adventures Staff:

Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director
Isabella Castiglioni
Tom Dunn
Rob Ferber
Rebecca Free
Andrew Gold
Rhyan Grech
Audra Hardoon
Jason Howell
Alicia Plaag
Ryan Rebozo
Jaclyn Rhoads
Jeff Tober
Jane Wiltshire

Editors Note, 10/26/2021: Learn more about the work we are doing as an organization by reading our vision statement here. We welcome your thoughts and feedback.

37 responses to “We are listening.”

  1. Bill McBride says:

    All the comments about exposing kids to the outdoors to gain an appreciation for and foster the need to conserve nature is spot on. I’ve been working in the environmental industry mostly in natural resources management since the mid 90’s and have noticed its a predominately white male profession. It’s only in the last 8 yrs or so I’ve noticed women (still white) are having an increased presence. For the last 20 years, I’ve been with a government agency who partners with a state university to provide us interns. The professor running the program told my boss a few years ago that we need more diversity in the intern pool and seemed to blame us even though it’s the school that hires the interns. I was thinking, maybe the school should examine their own admissions process as their students in the environmental studies program are probably mostly white males! Getting kids of all backgrounds interested in nature would definitely work to increase the diversity in the our interns.

    Another potential partner is the NJDEP’s Environmental Justice group (https://nj.gov/dep/ej/). The current administration has been trying to build it up after years of neglect.

    Religious institutions maybe another partner. Each July for the last few years (except this one), our church has sponsored a “Christmas in July” where the parish has offered disadvantaged families an opportunity to go to an amusement park or the beach as a large group. Maybe a canoe trip in the pines could be an option.

    • Becky Free says:

      Bill thank you so much for your comments. We agree that looking at the NJDEP Environmental Justice Group is a good idea. We also agree that institutions must look at themselves first if they aren’t attracting applicants of color.

  2. Pamela Nelson says:

    As a White, long-time Philadelphian, I’ve been privileged to enjoy the Pinelands for many years. I only became aware of the Pinelands Alliance a year ago when my family did a kayak trip. I hadn’t thought of joining the Alliance before, but now, because of your commitment to become an anti-racist organization, I Just made a donation and joined. It’s become so clear to me that the intersection between racial justice and environmentalism is essential to healing the world (people and planet). I love some of the ideas in the comments — constructive, practical suggestions — we need as many of those as we can get!

    • Becky Free says:

      Pamela! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and for your donation!

  3. Yes it is important to reach out to parents and educators to organize field trips in summer months so even NJ inner city children can learn and participate in various activities that is offered in learning from the Pinelands Preservation field activities. In addition in your newsletter articles written and shown to public to know the things offered with memberships etc.

  4. Teresa Brown says:

    Representation–Hire a diverse crew. Access–help bring resources to schools and communities or bring these communities to you. I know many groups like CUMR and Wetlands Institute do this, but it needs to happen more and on a larger scale. Mentorship–how can kids grow to also be a protector of the earth? People need basic needs covered, and extra time and income to support environmental education. Kids need a path–they need to see a way to get there. Simple support in inspiring education and passion matters! Would love to see if we can partner for shared initiatives in Cumberland Co. Reform and support Public education–NJ can do better. Reform is needed and educators need our help connecting w resources.

  5. Nancy Caulfield says:

    No ideas to offer just now but I am So happy to see that your organization and others are reaching out and opening the discussion and actively looking for ideas. This is very exciting and gives us hope for real change. I haven’t seen so many groups responding to these feelings in the country before. It looks like you are getting many good ideas too. A very positive and exciting movement. Thank you for this.

  6. James Rice says:

    Thanks for your efforts and for asking for input. 3 years ago a kayaking and camping trip to the Pinelands was my first experience camping ever, and I am a college-graduate black man in his 40s. Is there anything you can do to facilitate access to a Pinelands experience for black and brown youth? Maybe guided summer camp experiences or internships for youth from Philly or AC who are interested in ecology (or even those who are not). Additionally, could you find camp counselors and guides and ecology experts who are People of Color (they ARE out there)? This could be a potentially life changing experience that could open a door to a completely different field of possibility for one of these kids. Exposure is key…and with privilege comes a plethora of exposure, whereas those without as much privilege lack exposure and therefore a limited vision of how they can construct a Life during their time on this planet. Your organization can play a part in addressing this. Thanks again.

  7. Warren Marchioni says:

    I am a retired HS science teacher who taught in an urban school in Northern Jersey that had a diverse enrollment of students. It was important to me to get the students to explore the ecosystems that I discussed in class. For youngsters of any background to become adults that value and protect nature, it is important for them to experience it, particularly when they are young. So, I conducted numerous field trips such as whale watches and trips to the shore. However the most popular were those to the Pine Barrens as we called it then. The location was not even on their radar and it produced surprising reactions on our canoe treks through the wilderness. Since I had a school bus driver’s license, the cost to each student was minimal which allowed disadvantaged students to afford to join in. The photos taken by me of the expeditions showed a mixed group of students who enjoyed the opportunity. The point here is that all youngsters are inherently attuned to the pleasures and excitement of natural settings, not to mention the congeniality, if given the opportunity. From what I gather talking to current teachers prior to the pandemic is that field trips are discouraged due to cost and other restrictions, being replaced by virtual experiences. There are many other suggestions already offered that are good and deserve adoption but I feel that it is very important to get out of the classroom on occasion. Perhaps PPA can offer or obtain grants for urban schools to conduct a field trip to the Pinelands.

  8. Mark Smith says:

    Blood in the Soil by Christopher Carter is a helpful in understanding the lack of diversity in environmental groups.

  9. Vic Alba says:

    I am Latino, I visit the pine lands for kayaking trips several times a year. Your post really touched me almost to tears, finally the questions are being asked and hopefully solutions are soon to follow. In my opinion if we could come up with some type of plan within our communities to show the adults how beautiful New Jersey is there families and children will follow. I respect the conversations being had and I’m willing to be a part of the solution if I can. Thank you Pinelands Alliance and all that support a good cause.

    • Becky Free says:

      Vic! It would be great to talk so more – we will email you. Thank you!

    • Becky Free says:

      Thank you so much Vic! We are looking forward to talking to you and will send you an email.

  10. Steph A. says:

    Hello! I’m a nature lover of color who also did years of advocacy for gender equity in tech. I’m madly in love with the pinelands ecosystem, and I’ve felt both welcomed and out of place there. I have a lot of thoughts and resources about this, but before I overthink it, here are some quick ideas:

    1) Follow @queernature on Instagram, listen to the interview with them on the “How To Survive The End Of The World” podcast, and check out the naturalists of color that they uplift. Their perspective on justice, inclusion and being in right relationship with other species is absolutely clear as a bell and extremely helpful. If the things they’re saying don’t resonate at first, keep watching and listening with the anticipation of understanding why it doesn’t resonate for you and why it does resonate with people who are different from you. Sit with the ambiguity until it starts to lift.

    2) Study the Bartram’s Garden Community Boathouse and other programming at the historic garden. They have cornered the market on radical inclusion and abundant joy in their small, magical patch of green in Southwest Philly. I volunteer with the boathouse and I am constantly impressed with their leadership and creativity.

    3) Hire or contract one or more (many more!) guides or instructors of color. Nothing says “you are welcome here” more than seeing who is already welcome.

    4) Avoid the temptation to pull in guests of color through half-baked “outreach”. Partner with environmental justice activists who already have those precious relationships and pay attention to the things that they say PPA has to offer to their communities. Build your own robust atmosphere of welcome while building those relationships so that when new guests try you out, you are ready to give them an overwhelmingly positive experience.

    5) Talk to PATCO and NJT about shuttle service to points of interest. Transportation has been a major impediment to me at various points in my life (I did bike from Philly to Batsto one time but bike camping isn’t for everyone!) and it’s a well-documented impediment more generally.

    I’m open to talking more if it seems helpful!

  11. Dianne says:

    Thank you for your position. We do need to work harder to get POC outdoors–children are spending too much time on the screens.

  12. Jane Wille says:

    Thank you for the message above. I completely agree and have often wondered what to do, how to do. Growing up in Ocean County, as a child I wondered why there were no people of color on LBI at the beach but assigned the lack to lack of population in that particular part of the county. There were less than half a dozen Black families, maybe; at Southern Regional in Manahawkin, there were no more than four Black kids in my class of 200+, kids I never saw, segregated as we were into some kind of academic “levels.” I confront the same questions you raise, on a personal level–what can I DO. What I have read most recently says, “Listen.” Interestingly, the AJ Meerwald schooner project in Bivalve seeks to actively bring kids to the ship, to the bay…maybe a collaborative effort somehow to involve more kids from more areas? I currently live in Oregon, a state about as “whitebread” as my high school class, with much work to do. Anything I can do, however, with or through PPA, I am willing and eager.

  13. Barbara Trought says:


    Naming the ways in which our racism shows itself is important. Even though reading the ways makes me squirm, thank you.

  14. DEBORAH Gilbert says:

    Thank you for acknowledging the unjustice treatment of African Ameicans and Latino Americans. Further, the acknowledgement of police brutality.
    I have took a PPA tour 2 years ago.
    It was my idea to explore! The first suggestion I have is advertise in the public schools. I believe if black and latino parents knew tours of our awesome Pine Barrens was even possible you could see more of us in these tours.
    Hiking, camping, and nature education must be advocated in these communities. I believe addressing elementary and middle schools could help.

    • Becky Free says:

      Thank you Deborah. We are continuing to improve our school programs especially through Pinelands Adventures. Thank you again.

  15. Luann Webster says:

    Individual members can make it a point to share all PPA Facebook postings with friends. I, personally, have friends on Facebook who are probably not aware of your organization or the myriad of activities that are available both to individuals, families and groups to enjoy in the Pines. Spreading the word is something that anyone can do.
    If people of color truly have “fear of harrassment and violence” it should b PPA’s responsibility to assuage those feelings and encourage participation, perhaps through a non-white spokesperson.

    • Becky Free says:

      Thank you Luann – no question that inclusion and safety are critical issues.

  16. Patricia A Merkel says:

    Thank you for speaking so eloquently on a topic near and dear to my heart. Not only are we white, but we are also old.

    I am a Pennsylvania Master Naturalist volunteer and will gladly lead families and mixed ages on nature walks in the Pines.

  17. Jeanne Sears says:

    I have worked with many groups over the years which were mainly white. That question comes up a lot. My feeling, anecdotally backed, is that people go with the problems that are bothering them the most and that the people we were trying to recruit had more pressing matters in their lives. When we worked on matters we chose but were closer to their priorities, they showed up.
    This has been my experience in living in Baltimore, a majority black city, for the past 52 years. I am 84.
    This is the quick version of my experience with the personal feelings and friendships left out.
    You may already do this so if I am just adding to the discussion, okay:
    Do you adopt lots and help start playgrounds or vegetable patches or gardens in less white neighborhoods? I know it’s not your mission and not all people of color need this. Just mentioning possibilities.
    Well, that’s my contribution for the day. I need a nap.

  18. Michael Wildermuth says:

    You need to have more of a presence in the schools. There is so much emphasis on screens/technology and fearing the outdoors (extreme weather brought about by climate change, ticks, UV radiation, allergies) that I see children turning to their screens, games and social media more and more. Children of all ethnic and racial backgrounds need to be exposed to environmental education and experience opportunities. The youth are disproportionately more diverse.

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