Park Equity Symposium: Community Engagement to Achieve Park Equity

Park Equity Symposium: Community Engagement to Achieve Park Equity


>So, thank you so much Alina, that was a very helpful presentation to set the context for the rest of today. I am now going to introduce our first panel, which is really bringing together three practitioners who work to engage diverse communities, stakeholders, and the work of addressing park inequities. Is Lark Galloway-Gilliam here? Hi, Lark. I’m pleased to introduce the first speaker on our panel. And I’ll actually, bring… ask you all to come up, all three of you to come up and then introduce you one by one just before your presentations. So, as Lark is making her way up here, Lark is Executive Director of Community Health Council, a health promotion and advocacy organization that focuses on improving the health of under-resourced communities through a focus on policy and environmental changes. Lark has played an active role in seeking health equity, environmental justice, and improving… Okay, sorry. We have more important things to do. She has improved the built environment and under-served communities. Her work challenges all key stakeholders to examine and work to undo the chronic conditions, confronting communities and that produce health inequities. Lark has received her undergraduate education at UCLA and her master’s here at USC, so she bridges the gap. She has published work in numerous peer-reviewed journal and she serves on a number of national and state-wide coalitions and board, including the national REACH: Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health Coalition. And she, also is on the board of the California Budget Project. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lark and her staff at Community Health Councils over a number of years, they do tremendous work in South LA, in the county, state-wide and nationally. And I’m very happy to have you here today, Lark, and addressing the symposium. Thank you.>Good morning, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m going to apologize for some redundancy. Alina just went and borrowed my presentations, so, you know, we’ll work with it, we’ll work with it. We’ll skip through it. So as Manal said, I am the Executive Director of the Community Health Council, we are non-profit. I think of us as a social justice health policy organization. Situated in South Los Angeles, I think, strategically because we understand that the community of South Los Angeles is both, I think the heart of LA. A wonderful place to live and work, and I do live and work in South LA. And yet, the consciousness of the city, in terms of challenging its values, its vision for its future, and its understanding of equity for all. CHC has grown, we have about four policy areas domains, if you will. We work very closely. I mean, we really got our start working on the issues of access to health care coverage. That was the issue in 1992. If you remember, then President Clinton, was trying to also introduce health reform and Hillary and that, of course, went over really well. But nonetheless, the state of California was then forcing over 2 million women who are on. And at that time, it was called AFDC, it’s our count of works now. Into managed care and the transition was one in which there was just a lot of hurting and injustices being done. We stepped into that void and worked very hard to make sure that people were being treated appropriately and had choices. After a while, we realized having health care coverage was not enough because in communities like South Los Angeles, we were losing hospitals, we were losing doctors. So, what good was an insurance card if you had to drive out of your community to try to get health care. To say nothing of the millions that were still uninsured. And so, we began looking at issues, sort of upstream if you will. Our first area focuses really around nutrition access and equity around physical activity. And since that time, we really expanded into the area of the domain of environmental health. And we’ve worked very closely with David McNeill back there with the Bovern Hills Conservancy and trying to shrink, if you will, the oil field… urban oil field footprint in our communities. So that, people actually have places to recreate and unfortunately, in communities like South Los Angeles, those recreation places are often adjacent on top of oil field. Anybody remember Bernie Mac, I love The Bernie Mac Show. And he used to sit there and say, “”America””, at the end. “”America, we’re changing. Get with it!”” And the program has changed. And people of color, racial and ethnic communities, are no longer something that can be ignored. 82% of the US population resides within urban cities. This 12% increase in population in urban America over the last 10 years, versus the nation’s overall increase of 9.7. So, we know the urban core. We’re no longer those wagon-train sort of a homogeneous community. We’re not… no longer those wagon train, sort of a homogeneous community. Things are changing and people are concentrating in our urban cores. A third of the US population is non-white and then I thought, a third seems low when you look around California and Los Angeles, in particular. But a third of the US population. 29% increase in that… 29% increase in racial and ethnic population over the last decade, accounted for 83% of the nation’s population growth. So, we are what is growing, America, America. I think this next statistic is fascinating because it really speaks to our obligation to think about the next generation. Non-white, racial, and ethnic populations under the age of 18, have already reached the majority status in large metropolitan areas. That’s a profound statement, get ready for them, plan for them, embrace them, change is coming. More than a third of the US racial and ethnic population live in the hundred largest Metropolitan areas. This issue of Park equity, this issue of equity to me…. I have another slide. I revised it this morning, let’s talk about that one for a second. Equity and access is really a very compounded statement. It is about… first I think, proximity… physical proximity to resources. It’s about the quality of those resources and it’s about the relative affordability of those resources. So when we think about equity, I think we have to think at least about those three domains. It’s not enough to have this cute little apartment right here. You know, compared to having something as wonderful as the Santa Monica Mountains or the Bowen Hills Cunningham Park. We really need to think of this in a much more three-dimensional way. As was stated earlier, we’ve been talking about this for a while. My first exposure to this was by, was through Jennifer Wolch, here at USC. She did, I think, one of the most important pieces that really talked about… brought that to the forefront. But that was back in 2002. What year is this, now? Community Health Councils through our REACH grant did an assessment of both the nutrition and physical activity resource environments in South LA back in… it was really at 2004. It took us *inaudible* to get the thing published. We published an article with the aid of Dr. David Stone here at USC in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved Communities. When we laid out our findings around the inequities and really talked about, perhaps, more than just quantifying the inequities in terms of park, we looked at the resources themselves. Those issues of quality and affordability. And so, it really took it to a different level. One which I think, we still needed to be a part of our conversation. Then in 2006, for God’s sake, I think it was Shick at the time. Shick, Shick, Shick? Who did an audit of the recreation and committee services department. And again, show, here we don’t have equal access. Here, we don’t have equitable facilities. There were all kinds of issues. And the studies go on. So, the project did a great mapping job and then we put up a scorecard in 2008, that really ranks South of Los Angeles in comparison to… we always like to pick on West Los Angeles. Simply because that is probably the healthiest community in Los Angeles and that should be at least the floor that we are all trying to achieve, right. There is a greater reliance of the study that we looked at, 75% of the physical activity resources were really about public facilities in their *inaudible*, you know, the valleys and the LA fitness and those just aren’t in our community, you have to, you know, areas like South Florida LA are like this doughnut, there’s this hole. And then things are around them. It’s a new form of red-lining we’ve come up with in this country. It’s mind-boggling. There is a significant variance… we found a significant variance in, not only the programs, but also in the quality of the facilities. I remember before I even began to do this work. I remember fighting to try to reopen the pool at Rancho Park. It had been closed. It was a miserable summer. Trying to get the darn thing fixed for the children in the community, not just… not. There are about 25 state parks in LA County. And if you look at this map, you could see where they are situated. I wish I was tall enough, but you see the most yellow there… central city below the South LA? We just don’t have the parks and communities of color. And what you’re seeing there is the poverty level, right? The darker the barrier, the poorer the community. That darkest… on the darkest spots are around 40% and more poverty tracks. And when you look at population density versus park access, and if you haven’t taken the time, go on LA’s city planning website, they have put out this health atlas that is really wonderful. It’s a little hard to post the map, so they’ll make it easy. But they have a variety of maps. So, I think the visual display says it all. In this particular instance where the dark… the coloring is the… green coloring, of course, is parks, and the darker colors you see, they are population density in the same pattern. That funny little… the courses *inaudible* down here, you go up that. I don’t know why LA is so strange with that quarter, that’s money… it’s all about money. And then, just above that, when it… the money dries up and it gets into South LA and you can see that again, the density. The same kind of phenomenon in Pacoima and Bayou Heights. But of course, South LA to me, is a case study. South LA accounts for about 80% of the city’s adult and 24% of the youth population. And only has 8% of the city parks, something is wrong with that, right? You thought… you would hope that it would be somewhat closer than those numbers would, otherwise, suggests. The ratio, and I think we talked about this earlier, 0.4 park acres per thousand versus the city of Los Angeles, which is 5.39, right? And there’s a lower percentage of facilities. And what we found when we went in and we looked at the hours of operation, the park’s facilities themselves tend to be, in South Los Angeles, closed for more hours than you would see in, perhaps, like the West side. And it was pretty startling. Park acres per 1000 residents again, you see the target to pick it out but that lighter region right there, that’s, again, South Los Angeles and you can see that very high population but less than 1 acre per 1000 population. Why parks are important to us? I think, it’s just about… gets down to things around health. Health inequities, believe me, if you don’t have your health, that’s everything. It’s an economic driver, you know. It’s our ability to survive. Just really quickly, a couple of numbers to… so to make the link. This is looking at adult obesity weight by health districts, unfortunately. But the Southeast and Southwest, again, of South Los Angeles. And you can see, they’re suffering, we’re suffering at higher rates of obesity. This is children. Now, this is a crazy thing. This and of course, we would never have the same data set. This is for community plan areas, the city’s way of mapping. And again, we’re looking here at childhood obesity rates. And looking at the bottom again, we’re seeing these communities such as South Los Angeles, Harbor Gateway, Arleta, Pacoima, in the light. This, to me, is the most startling one and I think we have to continue to remember this image. This is life expectancy. We have a variation of 13 years between West Los Angeles and in South Los Angeles. That’s just unconscionable. And again, when you think about the fact that these are communities that don’t have access, it helps to understand why these charts look like this. Understanding the cause, I think, I’m doing a really great job talking about issues of racism, poverty, segregation, I’m not going to go through that outcome again. But I do want to talk about overcoming park inequities. And, you know, it really is about increasing open space and parks for communities. And there’s lots of ways we can do that. We need to increase funding for park acquisition, we need to streamline the acquisition process and tight control process, we need to provide greater incentives for the use of vacant lots. We need to provide public access. Our schools for communities like South Los Angeles, which are really old communities and pretty much built out. Schools provide a wonderful opportunity. Okay. And one of the things that I’m really big on is, we talked about park acquisition. We also need to make sure that there is funding for programming and maintenance, so that we don’t have the facilities but we do have are in fact, functioning. And communities need to be a part of this process. In terms of policy opportunities, the assembly passed a bill that can… in 2013. LA is now going through a review of the Quimby, a policy here in Los Angeles. And we’re hoping there’s going to be an opportunity to utilize that, to break the chain on those dollars, so that they can come into communities of need. This assembly Bill 551, I think it’s fascinating. It was the bill that was passed to try to create these agricultural zones and to utilize vacant lots for agriculture. We should have something like that for parks. I don’t know understand why not. Joint use again, we’re doing through our community plan updates. And then, of course, proposition 13. We all need to understand its implication. There is funding available. We are not doing an adequate job of training and building capacity in these communities to go after this funding. And how much of that is still left on the table. But we need to make sure that we have a process in place, so when these funds become available, we’re in a position to grab hold of them. And I also think we need to start looking at other kinds of funding like transportation, there’s a lot of money in transportation. How do we link parks and the like. I just wanted to talk a little bit about something that we’re doing. CHC has created this open acres website. We are going to be launching it very quickly soon, I’ll make sure that we get the notice out. It is going to be a resource for the committee that will identify the vacant lots, both public and private, in Los Angeles County. And we’re hoping folks will take advantage of that at the local level to be able to identify who owns that lot and how do I begin to start talking to that owner about acquiring it, if nothing else, for temporary use. There’s also in the work, what we’re doing in the collaboration with wonderful organizations like LA Land Trust and TRUST South LA called, “”Free Lots Angeles””. I didn’t get it for a while but now I get it. And now, that age and talent, you got to get to that age. It’s really… it is our effort to try to utilize vacant lots for a day. And get the community involved, which is seeing how it could be transformed. And then, hopefully, they will go back to that website, work with those owners and try to find ways of transforming those lots into more usable space. A one-day pop-up event, I think you’re going to be hearing more about that in the years to come. Thank you so much. Did I make it? Okay, close. Are we staying up here or?>Jose Gonzalez is the Founder and Director of Latino Outdoors. He will be sharing with us his work at Latino Outdoors and why engaging the Latino community is critical in building urban park advocates and stewards. He’ll be talking to us about the connections between engaging Latinos in the outdoors and why having parks in all communities; low-income communities, communities of color, is really critical to building the next generation of park advocates and park stewards and leaders. As an experienced educator, in both formal and informal educational settings will save developing Latino Outdoors as a collaborative partner for organizations who are seeking to diversify their outdoor and conservation programs. He conducts training, workshops and speaking engagements around topics of conservation, the outdoors and outdoor education and environment. Jose received his Bachelors of Art at the University of California, Davis, and his Master’s of Science at the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and the Environment. His teaching credential coursework was at the bilingual at Multicultural Education Department at CSU, Sacramento. Jose, welcome.>Well, hello everyone. Buenos Dias, good morning. That’s what we use to say, right? Good Morning! So, it’s a pleasure and treat to be here. Thank you, Alina and to the… just the Neighborhood Land Trust because I’ve had the opportunity to be down in LA so many times. I’m not from the LA, I’m from the Central Valley. Born in Mexico and I grew up in the Central Valley and I’ve been in other parts of California but every time I come down to LA, running from Boyle Heights down to California Historic Park, right? So, I’m just loving the experience all these time. And so, I’m here to talk about, you know, a lot of this will, I think, hopefully stress and highlight what has been already been shared. And when it comes to that question of like, the importance of engaging Latinos in parks, it’s almost like that question has been asked for so long, and it seems like we’re, “”Duh?”” or “”So, how?”” or “”Why or what?”” And for me, it started in the same way. And I use this idea of “”Cuento””. And especially, your “”Cuento””. Which in Spanish has, you know, the meaning of “”I count but also I tell a story””. So, I like that because I really get to that point of how cultural understanding and storytelling plays a big role in value, along with the data and information that we have. And we know that in environment and conservation work, data’s important. Information is needed. But a lot of times, you know, you also need end and in addition to, because we know that information by itself doesn’t always change behavior. We know that we need to also add the social, emotional aspect and especially for culture. Those connections have a lot of value that sometimes are not quantified. Sometimes, you know, they’re felt, but not measured but they have an impact and just as when we talk about poverty and other things that… As we hear people say, “”Well, we know it’s real. But, well, can you measure it?”” That’s a separate question and issue. But, so that’s why I go with the idea your “”cuento”” because Latino Outdoors started with that idea, that question. If I were ask you, you know a year… over a year ago, two years ago, to go on to any search engine, Google it as we say, and type in Latinos and Outdoors, just those two words, what would come up? Who would be the individuals, who would be organizations doing this work? Because that’s what I did and I found little to nothing and I thought, well, everybody’s talking about Latinos and engagement with conservation and the outdoors. So where are we? Where is the professional community that is here, that is growing, that has been doing this work since the 60’s, 70’s, you know, before and up to now? But it doesn’t have… you know, like community building is different than when we talk about immigration, then when we talk about health, when we talk about education and yet, it’s all connected. So a couple of things is related to us beneficiaries. The demographics and storytelling, value in this and why engaging the Latino community and we’ll get a little bit into just even that term itself. Why it’s critical in building urban parks advocates and stewards in LA and urban cities across the State and of course, across the nation as a whole. Because this is the time to do it. And especially now, that in California how the demographics are changing and since the 2012 election, federal election, all of a sudden, realizing that that political power is there if it’s engaged. And of course, the questions of equity, privilege and justice and what does this mean in terms of division in the future? So the first thing’s for the demographics and story is that some of these questions and issues, they’re not new. I mean, they’re sometimes… they feel much more present nowadays. Part of that is just the kind of the environment we’re in, in terms of social media and how everything seems a lot more in your face all the time. But when Latino issues formed started doing some of this work back in the late ’90’s, it was the same thing. That Latinos throughout the State cared about the environment, especially about parks. And yet, there seem to be a disconnect with conservation organizations, in terms of saying, you know, why are the Latino communities… why don’t they care about the environment? So, why was that disconnect there? Because when the measurement came down, it was support for clean air, water and park was clear. So it’s really about, how is the story-telling not coming across conservation communities and Latino communities, which is still to this day. It’s not a question of if, but rather how. How is this concern in value shared and how is the conservation community listening to and willing to be open to what are the conservation stories, and values, and ethics in Latino communities, just as we expect Latino communities to be open to the conservation story and ethics and values. So it’s not that we have to separate distinct, opposing stories and narratives, it’s really about how are they connecting. And that’s what I want to say with Latino Outdoors is was, where are the Latino-led conservation organizations? And is that needed and does that matter? For me it is, it does. Because I find that sense of connection and as they say, that sense of “”kultura”” has value, that I know I get to see and experience everyday, when I do the work that I do. And this idea of demographic and story, you know, some of us is kind of like, “”Of course, we know it’s obvious.”” You know, Latino’s reach in plurality in California this year and that that’s going to keep growing. So we know that throughout the state, I mean, LA for a long time has had a strong Latino presence. But throughout the whole state, we’re seeing these changes. And that is an opportunity. It really is. It unsettles some people. It can be a question of what do we do, but it’s really like it’s an opportunity. It presents an opportunity to all work together to do this. It is not a challenge in the sense that it’s just a win-lose, some zero game. But yet, we’re dealing with the narrative of what does this mean. And I put this up here because I thought it was telling how, you know, the question was in 2013 – 2014, but that line struck me. This is going to be surpassing whites for the first time. Which I thought, that’s not true. It’s ignoring the fact that what has been the Latino presence when the state was founded and prior to that. It would not be for the first time. There already was a predominant Latino. In that case Mexican-American, Spanish, Californian population before this. Right? So just this presumption then, of, again, we’re looking at one of the mainstream and cultural narratives. Because that matters. You know, when I came first to the US, I had a sense of history but it’s striking for me to come to California and say, “”Why are there so many towns and streets in Spanish?””. Right? And then later on, it’s like I’m saying it one way and I’m getting corrected. It’s not Vayeho, it’s Valleho. And I’m like, but that doesn’t make sense to me. So, that matters in the sense of community. And it can be a challenge because we’re saying equity, privilege, and justice because these can be and are uncomfortable issues and themes for a lot of people. And they can come from a sense of being defensive, of not understanding, of not being ready but I think that it is doable, it is done. I have done it especially, when I say we engage it through story-telling. Because by… come at someone and say, “”Hey! Let’s look at your privilege.”” That can trigger something, in terms of saying like, “”Whoa, whoa, whoa, okay. I’ve had this discussion. Every time I engage in this, I get attacked or whatever comes out of it.”” But if we’re talking about and if I ask you, you know, tell me what is the Latino story in California? You still even have to look at… well, what does that mean? What are the biases? What are the assumptions? Who are the characters? What did they look like? What did they say? What do you think about them? Where did you get that story from? Who are the storytellers for that story? Who are the characters? All of that is embedded in there. Because it matters in the same way that if I ask you, what is the conservation story. And when I talked about those stories, I think about the story book. And then, we talk about how do we want to welcome others to our storybook but also how do we want to be part of their story book. And that really gets more of these questions… then we can have these conversations about privilege, equity and justice, because they do need to be addressed. As we talk about equity, it’s a question of not just being equal, but about making sure that needs are met. And it doesn’t mean that everybody necessarily gets the same thing, but we address the needs that are there, and that it’s not about taking away what you have but rather how, you know, what is the underlying reason that it’s different, that what you have is better than I have. And if I’m asking for addressing that level of equity, why is that a problem? Why is that a problem? So, a quest for racial equity and parks has some wary because it’s a conversation that some would not rather have, but it’s needed. And when we come across by saying we can work together at this because it’s a common issue, it helps everybody. It lets people know that it’s not that I am angry and bitter about not having what you have, but rather, if we’re all working together and we want to help have equitable communities across the board, that it is a benefit, a public and common good benefit for the whole community, then, you know, it gets out that question about what do we really mean when we want to operate as a city, as a county, as a community. Otherwise, what you’re indirectly or directly saying is we want segregation. We expect there to be inequity. So, when we look at mission statements from organizations or from city charters or whatever, and it says to serve the community, are you actually doing that or you’re indirectly saying to serve only this type of the community. And that’s the challenge that we say. So, look at the work that you’re doing and then just put the action behind that. And we talk about park equity because especially when we see this and other issues, or even like food, for example, right. We all want to have access to organic food, to be healthy, to have all types of food available and then we forget at times, where does this food come from. So, what is the kind of labor and hidden cost that it takes to get this kind of food. So, it’s the same thing things for parks. If we say we want to have public parks, you need to say, well, what does the “”public”” look like. And what do we mean about what public access looks to these parks? And then, we need to be open and attuned to how these parks can be used, how they maybe used differently and don’t expect one set of requirements about to… how parks be used. So, we’re going to grow corn on a grill, that’s just as great as having ham and cheese sandwiches. And again, we can then… I say this because we laugh about it for a second. It’s being open to that and saying, well, we… I do want to know. I want to know rather than I want to prescribe. And so, some of these information are already shared. It’s the question of… we can gather the data and information, it’s there. And we have cases and we have studies, and so, we need that. And this percolates down into actually on the ground work. This is the photo from another study and I want to say, I think, Georgia, Alabama, in which they were looking at… as demographic change in a community. So, as we have more Latinos coming in, what do they inherit? So, maybe, as they’ll come as… the Latino community is coming into our neighborhood and then another demographic moves out. Do they get that same access to parks? So, they have less access to park or does anything change? And that was exactly what was happening, they really think they’re not getting any better access to parks. So, as demographic has shifted within LA as well, you know, what’s happening to the green spaces with that? And vision and future, I talk about this because they are too pretty clear examples of… when we talk about the youth and young, how they see themselves engaging with open spaces, but also whether you’re already, you know, you’re not youth or young anymore. But now, you have a connection to the outdoor and open spaces, and you connect the cultural identity to this. So, I love sharing this and this is my “”kolega”” from Sacramento and he identifies as a Chicano in the wilderness. And he hikes, he doesn’t have a… a positive outdoor transformation experience as it’s the prototype. He started doing this last year. Why? Because he’s a teacher and he cares about what his students do. And through that work, he got connected to this and now he’s had this positive transformation experience. And because of that culture identity he carries, there’s a whole community that rallies around him. Because they trust him, not from, you know, being an outdoors person, but because he’s an artist, he’s an immigration activist, he’s a poet, he’s an educator. and now he’s a cultural connection for a lot of other community members to access their open spaces. And so, we’re looking at this in other ways, too. Social media, so “”millenials””, young Latinos who are much more diverse and inclusive with all of their communities. And if you’ve not seen this, this is parksdamon.com, they’re trying to do a little bit of work about how social media is present in parks. So, you can go on there and look up all types of different open spaces and parks throughout California and see the photos from Instagram, from Twitter, from Flickr, that people are uploading and hast-tagging to these open spaces. And then, to close a few things here is if the health connection is there, as I’ve already shared. And in the Central Valley, you know, I think we use as case studies, too, because it’s similar to urban spaces in LA, in terms of that’s a natural connection. Once we get people going out on nature health walks, they’ll go as long as you address other questions. So, it might be culture, it might be language, it might be safety, they’ll go. And I have a group of mothers that go with me to walk up and down the river because they’re like, José with you, we want to go. We’ve always wanted to go. But they don’t have that the being a male… the privilege that I have. So, I can use that to say, “”Well, let’s all go together.”” Because they’ve always wanted to go. And that’s how we’re accessing those park spaces. So, these are the questions that I threw out there, you know. How is Latino leadership supported in this work, and why does this matter to you? The questions of what you do know and don’t know and how you have those conversations, because if you’re not having them, you make the assumption that they don’t matter or that, well, I’m here, how come they’re not coming to me? And are you willing to put in the work? Are you willing to put in the work? And that’s why I did this. I could have had a much different and comfortable job just teaching in the classroom but I felt this was needed. And it’s a challenge but It’s an opportunity, like I said. And that’s why I decided to found the Latino Outdoors because I was looking for that leadership infrastructure. I wanted to see how youth beyond just getting them into outings, how are we connecting to mentors. That I have done this for a long time whether they work in city parks, urban parks, state parks. Are we getting the whole family out there? And, as well as getting the youth, also the families and why that matters. And the story-telling, so that these stories are just as present as any that you see in outside magazines, for example. And so, we’re online. So, we welcome you to come, check it out, some major stories, check out what the story-telling that we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do on the ground work in terms of… at city parks, state parks, open spaces. But also, so that it goes up to the leadership infrastructure. So that, you have a sense of connection to a community, so that we can, you know, there’s this phrase about Si Se Puede. Pero Hazlo, but it has to be done, it’s got to be done, so I’ll pause here, because we’re going to have a lot more questions, and I’m hoping that everybody here knows who this is. Yes? No? Okay. Now, this is Dolores Huerta. So, if you know Cesar Chavez, then you need to know who Dolores Huerta is But I say this because when I presented this picture at other conferences and communities, it’s important to say why she matters. Because just as much as she has been a civil rights and immigrants rights advocate, she’s also an environmental activist that I think a lot of people don’t pay attention to. Thank you so much. Out of time.>He has made a real effort to get here through LA traffic. So, we welcome you, Charles Thomas, Jr. He’s the Regional Manager of Youth Programs for Pacific West region, National Park Service. In this role, Charles is responsible for establishing strategic youth engagement initiatives in six Western states and 59 national parks and managing four million in congressionally-appointed funds to support youth outreach programs throughout the Pacific West region. Charles is a man with a long history of firsts in promoting diversity and inclusion in the outdoor world. In the early 80’s, Charles was the first person of color in the history of Southern Oregon University to graduate with dual degrees in physical geography and environmental studies. While at the university, Charles fought tirelessly, that’s a hard word for me to say, tirelessly with the administration to diversify its student body. Ultimately, the administration created the Minority Student Program, for which Charles became Chief Recruiter. Also, while at the university, Charles created Third World Union, a club for American minorities and students of color from around the world to share their common culture and experiences. During his college years, Charles approached the US Force Service and assisted in the design of a program that recruited African-American students into seasonal employment positions in the Gifford Pinchot National Force in the state of Washington. Charles has worked as a naturalist for LA County Outdoor Schools. He wrote the section of the staff handbook on how to work with ethnically diverse students. Later, as an ecologist for the US Army Corps of Engineers, he was honored by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission for designing a program that introduced urban youth of color to the environment and the work of the Army Corps. Throughout his work, Charles has… His life, his work has revolved around Outward Bound Adventures, where he worked seasonally and part-time for nearly 20 years and worked full-time as Executive Director there for 16 years. He has created several award-winning programs dedicated to enriching the lives of underserved urban populations, especially high-risk youth and their families. By introducing them to therapeutic value of spending time in wild places and open spaces, including our national parks. Charles has received numerous awards and recognition for his work. He has been a White House invitee, honored by congressmen… his Congressman, honored by the State Senate, County Board of Supervisors, Board of Education, City Council, and numerous community-based organizations. His favorite award so far, has been the National Mosaic Conference Award, given to him in 2000 because it was given by a jury of his peers and the population he served. Charles continues his efforts to ensure that all youth have access and opportunity to engage in meaningful nature-based programs through his consulting work and his position with the National Park Service Currently, he’s working on a book that will assist others in designing programs that connect urban youth to nature. I’m looking forward to hearing everything you have to say and thank you so much for joining us here today. Welcome. >Thank you for having me and it’s so nice to see all these smiling faces and, you know, when you hear people read stuff off like that about you, you say, “”Hey, are you sure that’s me? Did I do all that stuff?”” But, indeed, it was and I guess that I have been. I’m known for my modesty, by the way. But I guess that I have been in the game for quite a while and I’m glad to see some new faces in the game. I see people that I recognized. I am not in uniform for a couple of reasons, because I’m sort of wearing two hats and dual roles here and I’ll explain that to you in a little bit. The programs I’m about to present to you are really programs that I created somewhere else and then got carried over in other agencies. But specifically now, into the national park service. so, I want to first start out by saying that, I used the broader definition of green space and I’m sure that most of you guys would agree with me, is that it includes human-created or human-generated park areas, as well as naturally occurring areas throughout, wherever, or wilderness areas. So, why don’t I just jump right into it. I know that this afternoon you guys have been very, very patient. Let’s start with some 10 fun facts, I’m not going to even say anything, real facts. I saw some tongues. I saw some tongues Alright. You know, whenever I put together a presentation, especially with young folks, it’s very, very important that they understand that this is all about fun. Okay? It’s all about growth. It’s all about inspiration and it’s all about fun. And for us as adults, it’s all about fun. Well, some of us are adults. Some of us are a little bit, you know, just hitting that border. But let’s go right into that. So, how do we expand access? Well, let’s start with what you guys already know. The very best way to expand access is remove barriers. Okay? And what are the most common barriers for keeping people away? You guys know this one, lack of proximity to green space, like our kids in South LA. And, of course, there’s no historical network or context. Their uncle didn’t take them out there, grandmother didn’t take them out. They didn’t have agencies like MRCA getting them out. They didn’t have agencies like LACC getting them out, or whoever you guys represent. Lack of knowledge. Where do we go? What do we do when we get there? And that is a really big one. Okay? And I’ll explain that in more detail a little bit later. The other one, lack of transportation. We might want to bump that one up a little bit. As you know, a lot of folks just don’t know how to get there. But more importantly, how are they going to get there? A lot of folks, when we start talking about low-income communities of color, they just don’t have the transportation network. Expenses, food, permits, and gear. That’s a really, really good one. Especially if you do the kind of programs and trips and stuff that I’ve designed over the years, gear and permits always trip people up. We spend an enormous amount of time training staff on how to do gear. They don’t see themselves portray… and images that promote people going out into the out of doors. You know, I did this survey. I worked for Outward Bound National and I did an international symposium for them and I surveyed 27 magazines. Just looking for some skin in there, right? I did find one person. It was a cartoon of a native American, okay? But besides that, every face on those magazines outside and all that at this time, this was 11 years ago, There were no urban people color portrayed in that. So, that is very, very important to our kids. And then, there’s a fear of discrimination. I remember talking to the founder of Outward Bound Adventures, the program that she was telling you about. And he started taking African-Americans into the woods in 1959, okay? He’s a former Tuskegee airman. And I said to him, “”Mr. Chris, weren’t you get terrified not knowing what to do when you go out in the woods?”” And he just laughed at me. You know, and he said, “”You know what I was terrified of? I was terrified of people coming and getting us.”” And that was a real fear for him at 59, 60 all the way up to the 70’s. So, there’s discrimination and there’s still a fear of discrimination from a lot of our kids. Just recently, we had a group of kids from a group in Santa Ana going through a preserve. And a woman, she had the temerity… she had the nerve to come up and ask the staff, “”Do you really have a permit for your parade?”” Meaning, that these kids didn’t belong, they had a long string of kids. So, there’s still that kind of discrimination. Animals. Yeah, bears. They’re going to get you, right? At least the kids and everyone… I think you can use that to your advantage when you’re doing wilderness trips, too. And, of course, getting lost. Alright. Hey, look at that. That look good on me? Here’s one of the programs that I created about 12 years ago, in conjunction with my good friends over at MRCA, too. This was a Teach Me To Camp Program and what it did, we focused on low-income, single moms, and if they had a man in their life, he was welcomed to come along, too. But low-income single moms just getting them out and teaching them how to use gear, how to get out there, how to purchase gear. So that, program was really, really important and it was really funny how that whole thing happened because I happened to be walking through the woods with a very wealthy man, and if I said his name, most of you guys would know who he is. And he said, “”Charles, what do you want to do? What do you think is the best thing we can do working with these populations?”” I said, “”We need to teach the parents. We need to franchise parents, so they know what the kids are going through.”” And he said, “”How much do you think it would cost?””. And I said, “”Oh probably, 60-70 thousand dollars for me to run a year’s worth of program and do 250 families””, which is really very loaded. Nonetheless, he put out his checkbook and wrote me a check for 80 thousand dollars. Don’t you all wish you had friends like that? And that’s what kicked the program off, then I went over and later on it became funded through MRCA, a part of it, and then through the National Park Service. So, we have to create programs that really start in the community, not too far from home, and I push this all the time when I do talks, the axiology of the group and that is the science of how humans, especially different ethnic groups, how they assign value and beauty to things. You must understand the axiology, as well as, the epistemology, how these groups acquire knowledge. You use those two modalities and you design your programs around that. If you’re going to expand access to folks like these, you have to expand people’s ability to understand the value of access and what that can bring them because some folks still don’t understand that. So, this is one of the families. You involve the entire family. However, the participants define the family. Okay? Not the regular way that everyone wants to define family. When they… I remember growing up, I am African-American, Native-American and Japanese. And you know what kind of havoc that wreaked on me and the folks when you have to… you know, color in that little box. They didn’t have “”other”” back in the day, and I couldn’t even do “”other””. So, I was torn between having to pick an ethnic group, you know. So, I always just not… I put a nay nay, not a poo poo. And so, I said you guys figure it out, okay? Anyway, let them define how their family is because families are very different in different cultures and communities. Okay? And you must guide the experience so that the participants have adequate time to bond in an outdoor setting. That’s really the most important thing. Guide the experience, it doesn’t mean you step in and lead it, but you guide the experience so they have time to bond and that means a lot to families. Okay. Have the staff, that’s one of my former staff, cook and eat with them. Breaking bread is real big. Latino community, Black community, Native-American community, Hawaiian community, you better eat. You better eat with them folks. Break bread, sit at the table, show him how to use the stuff, and eat. Eat the food. That’s really important. That helps develop real, meaningful relationships. If there is an adult male in the family, I historically worked with… 93% of the families that I’ve worked with didn’t have an adult male in the family. However, if there is an adult male in the family, you make sure that he’s active, he’s involved, and he learns right alongside the children with whatever you’re doing, because from there he’s going to be inspired to go into the outdoors. He’s franchise more engagement, more ownership, enrich your experience with nature and that therein lies him getting his family out again. So, here’s another program I created. Look at that mugshot. I love that guy! So, I created a program called “”Get out and Learn””. Okay? And I think every outdoor program probably has a “”Get out and Learn”” program. I did this because, and I think all of you know, so I’m sort of singing to the choir here, in nature we tend to build a more cohesive community faster than any real community can… neighborhood can. So, what is “”Get Out and Learn”” all about? First thing we do, empower them by showing them how to control their destinies through knowledge. First thing we do, you’re here, this is Watts, this is Devil’s punch bowl. Now you tell me three things: what highways are you going to take to get to Devil’s punch bowl, how long it’s going to take you and what direction are you travelling in. That’s very empowering to young people. They can get back on their own but there’s a map activity that goes along with every program that I design, where we teach the families or the kids how to go out to where we’re going. That’s the first tool in their tool box. Now, this, compliments, again, of MRCA. It takes seriously… It takes real intentionality to deal with or remove disproportionality. Okay? Long words just saying, you know, there are a disproportionate amount of low-income urban kids of color, as you all know, that are not getting into the outdoors. And it takes real intentionality, and I’m going to get into the real part of the intentionality in my last few slides. This is half an hour from their concrete existence. The kids never knew that that that was there. But if you look at that group, and you look at that instructor, it doesn’t look like most of your average outdoor education program. But he’s just as qualified and he’s doing just as good a job as anybody doing that. But this slide’s about intentionality to remove disproportionality. And then, the other thing is, I teach this process called “”DEVO””, alright. Not the group from the 80’s. Devo – Direct Engagement Vigilant Oversight. What does that mean? That your staff or you guys are directly involved in the process of their learning but you’re not teaching them, you’re not lecturing, you’re not a talking head. You’re just there to directly engage and be engaged with them for connecting them to nature. And remember that their reason for not connecting to nature is far stronger than your reason to connect them. So, you have to be able to overcome that. You have to provide opportunity after opportunity and the challenge. And most kids will tell you that they hate it, that don’t provide them with a physical challenge. No matter what they say, that’s a key barrier. Provide them with a challenge. Then, when they overcome a challenge, they begin to associate the out of doors with a personal accomplishment. Provide them with a challenge each time. That’s another challenge. Then, this is another program I created called the YAC. I think most programs have YAC – Youth Advisory Council. And I’m trying to bring that into the Park Service, thank you. It is just grow on your own, get your staff together. Grow them. Grow them out of programs like that. More YAC. Now, I’m going to zip through these final slides, but there’s one thing I want you guys to see, which is this cultural peace If there is an element and any way you can interpret the culture of the people, make sure that their story is told. Whatever event that you’re having, that’s absolutely key. And work. You can see the OBA shirts. Let them know that there is value for the time that they’re working on the land. That’s really important. It’s not just going out and picking up trash but they’re doing real work and there’s value for their time. And this is some of the members, again. And this is part of something that a program that we had with, most of you guys know *inaudible*. Well, they were going to present before the Coastal Commission here. Right? On why there was a need for camping areas. Give them a voice. Always get them involved in the politics of it. That’s really important. These kids grew by leaps and bounds after they did their presentation. And then I’m going to zip through these slides. This is a new program that I just created. Now, you see why I don’t wear my uniform. It makes me look fat. And I just don’t like that. No. Thank you. So, I created something called Diverse Outdoor Leaders Institute and basically what it is, those united nations of outdoor educators including the LGBT community. So, it is about training instructors that look like and come from the communities that these kids come from. They understand the context of these kids’ lives. Okay. So, I’m going to zip through them. These are them going through some of the national park information, learning about the national parks, so they can interpret the national parks. And as you can see, you’re not going to go to certain outdoor schools and see an instructor with big tatts all up and down his neck. You might find it in some places locally. But this guy turned out to be an excellent instructor. So, we want to make sure that our instructors look like the kids that they’re working with. Okay. And we train them and we train them and we train them. So, they’re some of the best out there in conditioning. They started out with a 120 instructors and we ended up with 14. A lot of them couldn’t make it. Alright, then, return home. Return home to their parks. Their work should be done in their own community and this is them at home in one of their local parks. I think I’ll wrap with how do we provide greater access for the out of doors. This is the stuff that I’ve just been telling you. Okay? Design the programs that engage the entire family. Make sure you have culturally competent staff. Design programs that have matriculated links to other programs, so that there’s longitudinal engagement. The kids have to go through these serial epiphanies, right? First time I went out, I hated it. I said I’d never go out again. How? Take the outer doors. And I’m not saying that our kids are going to jail. I was the one that was quickly heading that direction. Okay. Create opportunities for stewardship activities that go beyond just picking up trash. And have staff that look like, come from similar backgrounds, and grow your own staff and leadership from within your organization, provide transportation, absolutely. And expose participants to a variety about their learning experiences. If you take those eight things, then you got the start of a very good program. And then to conclude, I won’t suppose that you can’t read, but I’m going to read. To connect an inner city child to nature, don’t attempt to remove the inner city. That’s the worst thing I’ve seen. Some organizations do. They want the kid to behave a certain way. Of course, you have to have the kid… you have to have a standard of behavior. But if you have an instructor that doesn’t understand the culture from which that kid is coming from and they’re saying, “”Hey, don’t call each other fool.”” And that’s how the kids are relating to each other, are “”dawg””. “”Hey, why are you calling him a dawg? He’s not a dog, you know.”” When they say, “”Hey, dawg! What’s going on?”” Don’t try to remove that from them. Just increase the child’s ability to see what nature is all about. This young man right here, I was with this morning. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I’m a little bit behind schedule. This morning, I sent 12 kids off for an 8-day high gear backpacking trip. That’s Rogelio and his dad was a gangbanger and he was a gangbanger. And today, he was heading out on his third 8-day backpacking trip. And I said, “”Rogelio. Hey, man. Why do you keep coming back?”” And his answer was what we all need to know, “”Because you asked me.”” So, ask them and keep asking them and get them out. Thanks for my 20 minutes.>So now, I’d like to invite Lark and Jose back up to the panel to be joined… to join Charles. And thank you, again, I think a nice round of applause for all three of our excellent speakers. To be in order.>Why do you address the historical use of land, our methane prognosis, the oil fields, the methane omissions? I’m missing that part, especially in intercity, because that’s what we have in LA, it’s oil fields. Where you can address that the intercity can start being engaged with the natural part of it, including the animals, in with the urban park.>I do think the point was made earlier. There’s a distinction between sort of this natural habitat and which issues such as water conservation and the like, are perhaps more dominant. And this push to create park land in environments in which we don’t have those natural resources. We’ve lost that. The opportunities to restore that. I mean, I think you see that in places like the wetlands that they did over on… was it Avalon and 54th. I think a lot of what we… particularly for communities of color, you have to appreciate from my vantage point is we’re on a trajectory. You know, we’re at the very fundamental starting gate of just saying, we want space. We want to be able to go out… we want to learn about nature. We want to, you know, we’ve been sort of locked out of that experience and are faced with so many challenges that these issues… a lot of the environmental issues are just now coming to the forefront. And I think it’s just a matter of time in which you’ll start seeing the convergence of these larger, sort of global environmental issues, and urban planning, and urban parks started merging together. But we’re talking about the basics of just even having a little piece of… a little apartment next door to somebody. And I think that that’s the tension that you’re trying to express right now. We’re just not there yet. But I don’t doubt that we will, given the drought and given all the concerns around the environment. That that will have to be growing in central part of the conversation of how do we increase access to open space in urban settings.>One is like, this question also comes out, you know, how do we get urban communities to care about national monument, designation, up in the California coast, for example. Why does that matter in terms of just preserving wilderness or the like. And the second, we’re talking about the ecosystem services like, Marshes. I think, you know, for me… I agree, and in addition to… it’s almost like as an English language learner, when you say just because you don’t know the language, it’s assumed you’re not competent or intelligent. So, I take that from the classroom. So, a lot of times it is about connecting the language because I’ve had those conversations with families and with mothers, you know, we can have a conversation about the value of wetlands and repairing ecosystems, but first we need to get them out there. So, they could see this is the difference in terms of having and repairing ecosystem, versus the channelized river that you have, and then we can have those conversations. But it’s just that those primary connections are at times missing or they just look so different, especially if they’re recent immigrants and where they’re coming from, versus what might be missing, if they’re like second or third-generation because they grew up in the city. So, I don’t think it’s like, necessarily, this chasm or schism but rather it’s like I think, it’s just about… keep making more of those connections.>It seems that we’re moving towards a concrete with no trees or greenery but open space that you can walk and exercise. And I guess my question is, when you’re trying to create open space, is all open space created equal ? Or as community members, should we be advocating for mixtures of open space? And I do think it’s about language. I think it’s about getting communities to understand the level of expectation needs to… we need to increase that. And so that, we are demanding and expecting more. I think the more that we have children and families out and *inaudible* in natural habitat and they begin to understand what the possibilities are. Hopefully, our expectations will increase because we shouldn’t just have a little, it shouldn’t just like this table cloth, that’s not what it’s about. And then, you know, we’ve been working… just trying to get trees put back in South Los Angeles, much less in the parks themselves. And I think it’s… we need to start training and educating and give people the language to know what is it that I want? I don’t want just that green grass. I want… you know, and begin to design those elements and create standards, by which, we all enjoyed the same type of resources and I think that it is… really speaks to an issue of equity. But you wouldn’t see some of the parks that we get in our community, you wouldn’t see that in other areas. It just wouldn’t be tolerated and I think we just need to learn what to… we need to raise the bar.>A lot of times young folks, especially urban folks, they don’t have an understanding or they don’t have… open spaces doesn’t have an identity for them. And to get back to what you said, “”Is all open space created equal?”” It can be, but it depends on the impact that it’s having on the intended beneficiary. So, the kid… so, where one kid may consider just a regular urban park, you know, deep wilderness, another kid may consider it exceptionally, you know, mundane and I don’t want to be here, I want to be somewhere else, but it depends on it. But one thing that we know that is true, is that getting a kid outdoors is really, really important and outdoors aside from, you know, the major concrete in urban areas so, I don’t think all open spaces are equal, not at all. But it depends on how the response from the young people or the families.>*inaudible* one quick statement. We took a little, it’s a 3-year-old, I think, and we got to, again, just by repairing, park a lot of oaks, I mean, it’s very different than in city parks. I mean, the first thing that he says, “”So, where is the park?”” Because he’s used to a city park and so, but once we went through, like this is just another type of park. Like it wasn’t a question of like, “”I don’t believe you””. It was just “”Oh!””.>The organization and it’s situation is one thing, but when we start seeing community’s assets being threatened, you’ve got to figure out ways of getting that community involved. What’s the value to it? To that community of the space and that they need to be the champions or stewards for that effort.>In March, I was at the groundbreaking ceremonies at Los Angeles State Park in Chinatown. Something *inaudible* developed and one of the state leadership *inaudible* after the ceremony and said that there’s money sitting in Sacramento right now, that’s ear-marked for parks in Los Angeles but it’s just sitting there unused because Los Angeles had poor leadership. I’m just curious what that means to you.>This is a city that loves to, you know… we’re bankrupt, right? We’re always on the verge of bankruptcy. So, but I’d be curious to find out what specifically he was referencing and why that’s sitting there. I mean, that’s part of the work of engagement. We as a community need to be active about ensuring that we maximize the resources that are available at the state, federal and local level to develop this plan. So, you know, you need to push him on that one.>There’s all these different groups doing a lot of great things *inaudible*, everybody reaching out to these different groups. I’m wondering if there’s any advantage to having kind of a lead, a network where… I’m learning more about different groups. But I don’t know if they’re talking to each other, conversing and how, you know, ultimate *inaudible*, go places with actual networks and ideas or at least just the… the coalition that could become from that. And I was wondering if there’s any process and how you handle that.>So, yes. The short answer is yes. Because it’s almost cliched when we go to all of these conferences and just like, “”Oh look, one or five.”” Right? And that’s my impetus for this. And now, the same thing, the challenges starting really small. Because it’s the question of everybody’s saying, “”Oh yeah, that sounds like a great idea but then who does it?”” Like, who walks the walk, so to speak. So, I’m putting myself out there in that risk because I could, like I told you, I could be doing something else working, for one of these organizations. But… So, yes, so I talked to Rue, for example. I talked to Marlene. It’s that idea of how are we connecting and supporting each other and that’s where I am. I’m trying to remove myself more and more from direct programming. As a Latino, because we’re still doing direct programming through a volunteer base. Like that’s how I help. I tell them, “”I can’t pay you.”” So, how can we work together so that it benefits you as a leader? Because that’s what we need and that’s why I tell people there’s power in community, being able to have these convenings and gatherings. Where we can be doing this because a group like this is rare. I look at this audience, it looks very different than other conferences that I have attended. And that’s credit to the community here and to the Land Trust. Even when we visit, you know, other conferences in the same way. We have to remember that the power that is and having something like this. The answer is, yes. We are talking to each other, but there’s a bigger need and reaching out. And so, it’s a start. But it is being done, I want to say that.>For people who might not have been be able to hear in the back, it was about safety at the parks, around the parks and when safety is a barrier to participating in parks that may be there.>I know there is a safety issue. I just hate that it is a story that gets told about our parks. Because they’re, you know, it’s rare. And… By the end of the day, like anything else, because I think it’s about… Does this community feel connected to this park? Does this community owns this park? Has an effort been made to really take back the park in a way that… Has the park been designed in a way that it supports a more, sort of, all eyes on the park kind of orientation. Is there active programming that’s happening at the park? I think we’ve got to flip that switch around and that story about safety and realize that really, it’s about connecting people to their open space and having that be an integral part of the community. And that I think this conversation around safety just sort of… it’s not the story. >I think it’s about franchising folks and running a program in there and the, actually, the dangerous element are the safety issue. It’s about getting them because I worked on a project, which was in urban park, where I kept getting tagged and finally I just caught the taggers and I hired them. And the tagging went away. So, it’s about engage… I know, you may have a safety issue much larger than tagging, but it’s about franchising the elements that are causing the problem in some way *inaudible*.>The Summer Nights Lights Program does a great job of making the park a place where people want to be. And of course, that’s an investment on the part of the city, to actually put programming in the park. But there are a lot of people who are, you know… I had a great shot of folks who were just up in the bar, one of those parks, and did a boot-camp on Saturday mornings… They’re just taking over the park. You know, they just own it. And that’s what we have to encourage.

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