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Don Edward-San Francisco Bay NWR: Honoring Black History: Past, Present and Future of African Americans in the Outdoors
California-Nevada Offices , March 27, 2017
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Trisha Thornton, Student Conservation Association Intern, and Shelton Johnson, Park Interpreter at Yosemite National Park, pose for a photo after recording their interview.
Trisha Thornton, Student Conservation Association Intern, and Shelton Johnson, Park Interpreter at Yosemite National Park, pose for a photo after recording their interview. - Photo Credit: FWS Staff
Participants enjoy the view before taking a hike on the Refuge.
Participants enjoy the view before taking a hike on the Refuge. - Photo Credit: FWS Staff
Trisha Thornton presenting on the history of African Americans relationship to the outdoors in America.
Trisha Thornton presenting on the history of African Americans relationship to the outdoors in America. - Photo Credit: FWS Staff

This year Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge hosted their first black history outreach event honoring Black History Month. The event was on February 25th and was led by the environmental education intern Trisha Thornton. Trisha Thornton is a student from Sacramento State who came to Don Edwards on January 10th. Multiple partners from different organizations helped her during her experience. Her internship is with the Student Conservation Association and funded through the Explore the Coast Grant obtained by the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society provided by the California Coastal Conservancy.

 

One of her projects for a school assignment was to leave her mark at the agency. Knowing she wished to do more with public outreach, she proposed the idea to get the refuge to reflect more diversity within the Bay Area community by doing something special for Black History Month. With just a limited amount of time Trisha was able to plan, organize, and implement a program Don Edwards could utilize now, and for future outreach events.

The goal of the program was to discuss the involvement of African Americans in outdoor spaces within the past, present, and future. The event was designed to show participants that their history was also imprinted on our public lands. Provided at the event was a viewing of the film “Through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier” with a Q & A interview with national park ranger Shelton Johnson following. Also, brochures, lists of upcoming events, a nature walk lead by deputy refuge complex manager Chris Barr, information presented by Trisha Thornton and Ennis Chauhan, and snacks and beverages for participants.
The program started at 10:00am with an introduction from complex refuge manager Anne Morkill. Trisha introduced herself briefly and began the film “Through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier”. The film showcases the history of buffalo soldiers within Yosemite National Park and their experiences working as African American park protectors. Once the film finished, Trisha then began her follow up interview with Shelton.

Ennis Chauhan, an intern through the Pathways Program working in visitor services, accompanied Trisha to Mariposa to meet Shelton. Trisha conducted the interview while Ennis remained behind the scenes to record. During the interview, Shelton shared his experiences about being the only African American park ranger in Yosemite National Park, his view on the low participation rates among African Americans in the great outdoors, his work with keeping the buffalo soldier story alive, and his hopes for future visitation. Both the film and interview received positive feedback from participants.

Trisha gave a PowerPoint presentation of the history, current trends, and future of African Americans within outdoor spaces. After the film, she presented the history and what was going on at the time effecting African Americans from recreating. She also discussed how Jim Crow laws limited African Americans to exploring outdoor spaces and what prejudices they fought to be equal in American.
After having a lunch break following the information, Chris began the nature walk. Participants were engaged during the hour long walk asking many questions about the surrounding area and taking pictures. Chris’ overall knowledge about the refuge and communities around it was very beneficial during the walk providing all participants with answers.

After the walk, they met back in the auditorium debriefing the walk and what they had learned. Ennis then presented his demographics report discussing the demographics of those within the Bay Area. An interesting fact learned by the participants was that the population of African Americans within cities such as Newark, Fremont, and Union City fell at less than 4%.

After Ennis concluded his presentation, Trisha talked about what African Americans are doing currently in terms of recreating and what barriers there are stopping them from doing so. She then concluded with more ways to get involved in outdoor spaced in the future recommending Don Edwards as a free facility for public use, as well as upcoming events Don Edwards provides for the local community.

The event then closed out with a poem Trisha wrote for Martin Luther King Jr. Day which received applause from the audience. Surveys were passed out and after viewing the data, the event proved to be an overall success. In the future Don Edwards hopes to host this event to educate the general community as well as implement similar outreach events in the future.


Contact Info: Genie Moore, 408-262-5513, Ext. 100, genie_moore@fws.gov
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