Dear Friends of NAAEE:
NAAEE stands in solidarity with every person in our country who is outraged by what we’ve witnessed as a nation—the recent and brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and David McAtee, and too many more. And with every person who is equally upset by the almost daily examples of racially motivated behaviors nationwide, including the individual who used her white privilege to call the police on a black man who was birding in New York City’s Central Park. We know that what we’ve seen and heard is only the tip of the iceberg, since so many egregious injustices are not captured on video and shared. As Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, a social justice leader in Broward County, Florida, said,
“These incidents, as well as the many thousands of others, committed on people of color that have been captured on video or personally witnessed, rekindle feelings of anger, anxiety, and fear due to historical and generational racism and oppression.”
We also know that words can’t sufficiently capture the pain and loss that so many are feeling. Systemic racism has been a blight on our nation for centuries. And although we’ve made progress, those of us with power and privilege who have benefitted from the current system have not done enough to stop the oppression of those victimized simply because of the color of their skin or their perceived background. Nor have we fought hard enough to reform the systems that are so unfair and life-threatening to people of color everywhere. Just look at how many more brown and black people are dying from COVID-19 or how many more have been arrested at peaceful demonstrations.
At NAAEE, we are committed to redoubling our efforts to work with our members, partners, and others to create a more just and sustainable future. This is another step in our journey to center equity in everything we do. Our path hasn’t always been easy or as fast as we’d like. And although we’ve made considerable progress, thanks to support from so many, we know that we have much more to do to ensure that civil rights apply to every person—regardless of color, country of origin, sexual orientation, or any other label.
NAAEE’s tagline, “Education We Need for the World We Want,” will guide us now more than ever. The education we need helps people think critically so they understand that we can’t have a healthy environment unless we have healthy people and communities. And we can’t have healthy people and communities if everyone doesn’t have equitable access to clean water, clean air, health care, jobs, high-quality education, and nature. The education we need helps learners weigh pros and cons, question things we’ve taken for granted, look at how the past has influenced the present, understand the needs of our communities, and learn how we can work together to help dismantle injustice, protect the
environment, and increase access to nature.
The education we need is also about creating a nation of individuals who are civically engaged. There has never been a more critical time to ensure our leaders are with us in fighting racism, fighting to protect the environment, fighting to address poverty, and overall, fighting for the better world we want to see.
I know that so many of you care deeply about creating a better “new normal.” We will continue to work with you to raise up voices of people of color—from our EE 30 Under 30 program that recognizes outstanding contributions by young leaders around the world, to building community leadership through our Community EE Fellowship programs, to partnering with the Center for Diversity and the Environment and others to help ensure that our field is trained to be effective allies in centering equity in all that we do. And we look to you, with humility, to do more, collaborate more, trust more, and listen more to create a new normal. We can’t do that unless we all realize in our gut that we can’t return to
business as usual.
We know that progress isn’t painless. In discussions with colleagues and friends, we have heard the sadness, grief, and anger that so many are feeling. But we also heard that education is one of the most important strategies we have to fight for justice. Creating systemic change starts with each of us wanting to be part of that better world, by listening to our colleagues who live with oppression every day, and taking actions that demonstrate that black lives matter, unequivocally.
Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and comments, and we look forward to working with you on this path toward “the world we want.”
PS: For resources on anti-racism and a list of organizations who are working to address racism, ensure that everyone has equal access to nature, and helping to build a more equitable environmental movement, please see naaee.org/eepro/resources/equity-resources. You can also view recent webinars focused on equity and inclusion with Drew Lanham and Angela Park. And please suggest other resources and opportunities on eePRO for all of us to continue learning and for taking action to address injustice.
Change is never easy, but it is surely possible.
—Superintendent Robert W. Runcie