Moving Forward Initiative Guest Series: Interview with Dr. Andrew W. Kahrl on African American Leisure and Recreation Spaces in the Era of Jim Crow

Dr. Andrew W. Kahrl is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on the social, economic, and environmental history of land use, real estate development, and racial inequality in the 20th century United States.

Dr. Kahrl is the author of The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South (UNC Press: 2016), as well as the forthcoming book, Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline (Yale University Press: 2018).

As part of The Corps Network’s Moving Forward Initiative, we spoke with Dr. Kahrl about the outdoor leisure and recreation opportunities available to African Americans during the era of Jim Crow. Read our conversation to learn how policies, events and social practices shaped the way African Americans recreated and utilized outdoor spaces in the first half of the 20th century. We also discuss historical influences on the modern conservation and outdoor recreation movements. 

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Tell us a bit about your area of study and how you came to focus on the intersection of race, the environment and the economy in 20th century America?

I wrote a dissertation, that then formed the basis for my first book, that looked at the history of African American outdoor leisure spaces in the Jim Crow South. The question that framed my first book was, “how did African Americans develop parallel social spaces in a segregated society?”

We’re familiar with whites-only swimming pools and parks, but there was less information available about how African Americans created alternative social spaces in a Jim Crow world. What types of spaces – especially outdoor spaces – were available?

I realized early in the research how extensive the network of black social spaces was. The importance of these spaces didn’t just reach into the world of recreation and leisure, but also into black economic life. Two of the main things I uncovered were, 1) just how widespread African American landholdings were in coastal areas, which was something I initially wasn’t expecting. And 2) how critical African American leisure spaces were to local black economies.

In my mind, these findings spoke to how we should look at people’s interactions with the outdoor world not just through the lens of environment, but also through the lens of economy. Furthermore, we should think of Jim Crow not only as a racial regime, but a land regime. Jim Crow profoundly influenced the built and natural environments of the South, both in the way whites excluded people, and in the way African Americans carved out spaces of their own.

For my first book, I gravitated specifically towards the history of black beaches because, for one, there were so many of them scattered throughout the South. These beaches were a product of opportunity: African Americans having land that they owned and could then turn into enterprises.
 


Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University - via Grist.org


 

Can you discuss why, in the first half of the 20th century, there was a need and desire to create black-owned leisure spaces?

In the era of Jim Crow, the types of activities from which African Americans were fully excluded tended to involve more intimate spaces: funeral homes, barber shops, restaurants, and leisure spaces, too. These were spaces where segregation was so complete that African Americans’ opportunities to carve out parallel institutions was greatest.

When we think about what people want when they seek out leisure, they want relaxation, comradery. Unless you are seeking to engage in a form of protest or challenge the social order, the last place you as an African American would want to spend leisure time is surrounded by hostile, racist white folks. It stands to reason that African Americans who had the time and resources to carve out moments of leisure would want to find welcoming environments.

It’s important to note how, especially for many working class African American families, it was rare to find moments of respite, and rare to find moments when you could rest from having to deal with white people. Daily interactions with white people in the Jim Crow South could be frustrating, hostile, humiliating – everything that leisure is not. So that gives you a sense of why it was so critically important for African Americans to have spaces of their own.


 

Can you talk about what the Green Book was? What was its purpose and what information did it offer?

The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guide – published from 1936 to 1967 – that provided a list of welcoming restaurants, hotels, and other accommodations for African American travelers trying to navigate a Jim Crow world. It was geared towards providing information on a town-by-town, state-by-state basis. If a certain town was not listed, that was a signal to keep driving.

The Green Book primarily provided names of small, black-owned businesses, but, as you get into the last days of its publication – you begin to see corporate chains making it known to readers – who were mostly middle class African Americans – that their business was welcome.

The Green Book existed because America was a racist country. It responded to a need among African American consumers for information about places they could go where their money would be accepted and they would be treated with dignity.

An important point for many African American mothers and fathers with small children was a desire to shield their families from racism. Not to try to create a fantasy world where racism didn’t exist, but to try and prevent any humiliating or dangerous encounters if possible. This need was part of what the Green Book aimed to serve. By patronizing businesses in the Green Book, families would not need to experience rejection.

In doing interviews for my book, one thing noted by African Americans who grew up during this time was that, if their family was travelling a long distance or going through the Deep South, they would leave in the dead of night so they could get to their destination while the kids were asleep. This was to avoid situations where the kids might say, “let’s stop here,” or “I have to use the restroom,” and the parents would need to have a difficult conversation where they’d explain why they couldn’t stop.

 


The Idlewild Club House, Idlewild, Mich., September 1938. (Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images) - via NPR.org
 

Where were black-owned outdoor leisure spaces? Were they predominantly in the South, where racism and segregation would have been more overt?  

A lot of African American leisure spaces grew up informally. Many of the black beaches I write about began with black families who owned land who would let it out to picnic groups, church groups, and people seeking a place to relax on the weekend. If you flip through the pages of the Green Book, you’ll find that many of the locations listed as lodging are people’s homes – or what are called “Do-Drop-Ins.” These are places where a black family that owned a house would let out an extra room. It was sort of like an early version of Airbnb.

As you might expect, black-owned leisure spaces grew up around areas with large concentrations of African Americans. They followed the demographic changes that unfolded during the 20th century. In the nineteen-teens and twenties, as the black population grew in northern cities, you began to see black vacation communities sprout up in places like rural Michigan or northern Indiana. In Michigan, there was Idlewild, which was a famous vacation destination for black doctors and professionals who lived in Chicago.

In the South, there were both formal resort communities, as well as destinations that would more resemble a space for local folks or the working class.

Black outdoor leisure spaces were as varied and diverse as black America itself. There were places for the highly educated or, as they were sometimes called, the “aristocrats of color.” These were places like Highland Beach, which is outside Washington, DC on Maryland’s western shore. This was where Howard University professors and the black cultural elite of Washington would go. This was a place where working black families would not feel welcome. The families that lived at Highland Beach worked just as hard as white elite resort communities in excluding certain people from their spaces. On the other hand, you had places that very much catered to working families. Class segregation or separatism was very pronounced in black America, especially when it came to leisure spaces.

 


Archival photo from Shenandoah National Park - National Park Service historic photos

 

Would African Americans have frequented national parks? In our research, we came across an archival photo from Shenandoah National Park of a sign pointing towards the “negro area” for camping and picnicking.

I’m not an expert on this, but, from what I’ve read, African American presence at national parks was very, very small. Especially in the South, there was certainly a climate of hostility towards African Americans seeking out these types of spaces. State parks in the South were segregated across the board. There was a great book about this – Landscapes of Exclusion, by William O’Brien – that tells the story of a whole parallel world of black state parks that developed throughout the South. Some of these parks were areas of existing state parks, while some were separate places altogether.

 

 

Could you tell us a bit more about African American beaches in the Jim Crow South and what became of these spaces?

The story I tell in my book is one in which many of these places – and, consequently, one way in which many African Americans interacted with the natural world – declined quite dramatically from the 1960s to the present as waterfront properties in the South became highly coveted. African Americans who owned this land often found themselves being swindled out of it or forced off the land by the courts or public officials.

The story of black land ownership in the South in the 20th century is one of decline. The high watermark for black land ownership in 20th century America was 1910. It’s a time we conventionally associate with African Americans lacking political rights and opportunities in the workplace, but part of the story is that, because there were so few avenues of opportunity, black Southerners worked extraordinarily hard to acquire land. Land ownership was a means of liberation. However, this freedom increasingly eroded over the course of the 20th century, even as African Americans gained political rights.

At the time when many African Americans acquired these coastal lands, they were not valuable. In fact, they were probably some of the least desirable properties in the South. Coastal properties were remote, hard to get to, and were often not conducive to largescale agriculture. Additionally, they were, and still are, subjected to violent storms. These were places that, by and large, white Southerners avoided.

As an example, the South Carolina Sea Islands became home to the largest concentration of African American landowners anywhere in the South. This was land that was essentially abandoned by slave owners during the Civil War. Edisto Island was the birthplace of “40 acres and a mule”: the idea of taking land that had been captured or abandoned during the Civil War and redistributing it to the slaves who had worked on it.

In short, these coastal properties were cheap and readily available. Also, if you’re an African American seeking to create as much physical distance between yourself and white society, this was the type of place you would gravitate towards.

Now, of course, things change dramatically over the course of the 20th century as we begin engineering shorelines, building roads and bridges, and taking other steps to make these areas conducive to largescale development. That’s an important story of the 20th century: the story of the increased effort to bring land under control and make it profitable at a time when more and more Americans have the time and means to vacation and buy second homes. That’s the story of how these places became so highly coveted and how African Americans who owned land often found themselves in the crosshairs of speculators and developers.

 

 

Most of the black-owned outdoor leisure spaces you write about have died out. Can you talk about why this happened? What would you consider to be the legacy of these spaces?

One of the most obvious examples of the legacy of black beaches and resorts was that these spaces nurtured a whole generation of black performers who would later go on to become some of the most famous artists of the 20th century. James Brown, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Moms Mabley – these were African American performers who would cross over into the mainstream and become world famous, but many of them got their start performing at black leisure spaces.

The important lesson of these spaces is one that I stress in the subtitle of my book: “how black beaches became white wealth in the coastal South.” With the Civil Rights movement and the end of segregation, there is a demise of black Main Streets and other African American cultural institutions and businesses that segregation had necessitated. When this happened, what was the loss to the sense of community and camaraderie these spaces fostered?



Highland Beach Picnic Group, 1930. Image Courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution - via BlackPast.org


One thing that was undeniably lost was wealth. The places I write about – like the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands, Maryland’s western shore, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi – these are places where the land that African Americans owned in the first half of the 20th century is now some of the most valuable property in the United States.

Property that’s worth in the tens of millions of dollars used to be owned by African Americans and it was taken from them, often through various forms of chicanery and deceit, if not outright theft. The black families that owned that land never saw a dime.

When we have these conversations about the origins and persistence of the racial wealth gap in America, many times people seek to identify all the opportunities that African Americans have been denied. And that’s important, but we often lose sight of what was taken from previous generations. This was wealth that was in their hands, but they were never able to fully realize it. Instead, it became someone else’s wealth. It became the wealth of corporate developers who acquired the land for very cheap. African American families are now sometimes cleaning the bathrooms and tending to the lawns of land that their ancestors owned. That should give us pause when thinking about the legacy of these spaces.

 

 

As part of the Moving Forward Initiative, we hope to examine why there is a persistent lack of diversity in visitation at parks and participation in outdoor recreation. Do you see any historical context for this disparity?

Well certainly there’s the role of urbanization and the concentration of non-white populations in inner cities. During the 20th century, you saw African Americans being systematically excluded from becoming homeowners in the suburbs, coupled with the lack of public transportation options to access areas outside the urban core. This severely limited the ability of African Americans living in the urban North to have access to outdoor space.

Additionally, the natural environment has a whole different meaning in the collective memory for African Americans than it does for white Americans. Historically, spaces that for many white Americans provided a sense of adventure were, for some African Americans, a place of fear and uncertainty. These were places where their ancestors or own family members were terrorized. Outdoor areas in the rural South are littered with stories of lynching, violent deaths, unsolved murders – all sorts of crimes were committed against African Americans in these places.

Then, you combine that with the fact that many outdoor destinations that were once familiar to African Americans disappeared with integration. For some African American families, part of why they may have little direct experience with outdoor recreation is because the places that were once a part of their family tradition are gone.

 

 

Relatedly, do you see any historical context for the lack of diversity in the mainstream conservation movement?

The conservation movement has, throughout much of the 20th century, been white-dominated and defined by issues that concern white Americans. At the very least, the movement has certainly been oblivious to the concerns of black Americans.

There has been a sense among African Americans that the conservation movement was not for them, it was not in their name. There’s a perception that the interests of the conservation movement are directly in opposition to the interests of African Americans; this is due, in part, to the way opponents of conservation have tried to exploit division

To give you an example, there was a famous controversy in the area around Hilton Head over the efforts of BASF – an international conglomerate – to locate a plant along a waterway. The plant would’ve brought lots of jobs, but also would’ve polluted rivers and streams. Folks in the environmental movement, who were dead-set against this plant being located there, were framed as an enemy for blocking job creation. Part of this was BASF trying to work-up divisions and appeal to African Americans for their support.

That’s just one example of how, particularly in struggling African American communities that need jobs, many have come to see, either through direct experience or perception, that the interests of the conservation movement come at the expense of their own pocketbooks.

 

 

You have another book coming out soon regarding race and beaches in America. Could you tell us a bit more about the issues this book explores?

This is a story of the Northeast, and particularly Connecticut. In a way, I’m looking at the flipside of the story that I write about in my first book in that I’m telling the story of exclusive white beaches along Connecticut’s Gold Coast. These are communities that worked diligently to exclude the public.

Alongside of that, you have the issue of segregation in the North. The children of those who migrated north during the Great Migration are, by the time we get to the 1960s and ‘70s, living in very concentrated urban neighborhoods with very little practical access to the great outdoors due to a whole host of factors.

So that’s setting the stage for the story that unfolds, which is one in which a social activist – Ned Coll - started an anti-poverty organization that was dedicated to improving the living conditions within Hartford’s black neighborhoods. He was also trying to engage the support of white America – specifically liberal white America: the folks that expressed their solidarity with African Americans, yet often lived in all-white suburban communities and had very little direct contact with African Americans. Coll was trying to break down those walls separating white and black America.

One idea that he latched onto was to get black children in Hartford and other cities out of the ghetto in the summer and down to the beach. This would provide opportunities for them to venture into new places, and would help foster better understanding among white Americans.

But when he tried to bring a busload of city kids down to the Connecticut coast, he discovered there was nowhere to go. Almost the entire state shoreline was closed off to the public. At that point he became an activist, a very creative and inventive one, for the cause of open beaches.

He would do amphibious landings where they would come ashore and kids would get off the boats and play on the beach. Legally, the beach belonged to the public, but you had to get creative if there was no way you could get to the shore from land.  

He was trying to draw attention to this lack of access to the shoreline. Also, he was trying to draw attention to the real deprivation of the urban poor, especially in regard to outdoor spaces and outdoor leisure. He wanted to challenge the liberals that liked to talk a lot about concern for the poor, but did very little in their own lives to improve conditions for marginalized populations. 

 


For Your Consideration 

As you read this blog, here are some questions for you to consider: 

  1. Scroll through copies of the Green Book using this digital collection from the New York Public Library. Do you notice any patterns in the advertisements or listings? How does the Green Book change over the years and what might these changes say about society?
     
  2. What do “the great outdoors” mean to you? What comes to mind, or what do you feel, when you hear that term? What has shaped your thoughts and feelings about the outdoors? 
     
  3. In the modern day, have you witnessed any racial or ethnic division in how people choose to (or are able to) recreate and spend leisure time? If so, why do you believe these separations exist? How might these divisions be problematic? In what ways might they not be problematic? 
     
  4. When you were growing up, or in your own family and friend groups today, where did/do you go to vacation or recreate? To what extent were/are your leisure decisions based off traditions with which you were raised?
     
  5. For Corps: When working with Corpsmembers who may have limited experience living and working in the wilderness, what do you do to support them? What are reasons why these Corpsmembers might have limited exposure to camping, hiking, boating or other outdoor activities in which your crew engages? Have you ever had a discussion with Corpsmembers about barriers to outdoor access?

 


Resources & Supplemental Readings

View the complete Moving Forward Initiative Resource Library here.

 

Douglas, Leah. “African Americans Have Lost Untold Acres of Land Over the Last Century: An Obscure Legal Loophole is Often to Blame.” The Nation, 26 June 2017. Web, https://www.thenation.com/article/african-americans-have-lost-acres/, 07 November2017.

A look at how African Americans gained land following the Civil War, but gradually lost it throughout the 20th century due to a variety of reasons, including legal loopholes, forced buy-outs, discriminatory lending practices, and the Great Migration.

 

Engle, Reed. “Segregation/Desegregation,” Resource Management Newsletter, January 1996. Web, https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/historyculture/segregation.htm, 07 November 2017.

Cultural Resource Specialist Reed Engle looks at the segregation and desegregation of Shenandoah National Park.

 

Goffe, Leslie. “How the 1964 Civil Rights Act Cost Black America,” New African Magazine, 08 May 2014. Web, http://newafricanmagazine.com/how-the-1964-civil-rights-act-cost-black-america/, 07 November 2017.

A look at how the Civil Rights Act led to the movement of African Americans to white suburbs and the decline of African American businesses, cultural institutions and community in urban areas.

 

“The Green Book.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-green-book#/?tab=about. 12 September 2017.

Digital copies of the several editions of The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide published annually from 1936 – 1967 that listed lodging, restaurants and businesses that catered to African Americans.

 

 “Idlewild, Michigan (1912 - ).” BlackPast.org, http://www.blackpast.org/aah/idlewild-michigan-1912. Accessed 07 November 2017.

 

Kahrl, Andrew W. The Land was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South. Oxford University Press. 2012.

By reconstructing African American life along the coast, Kahrl demonstrates just how important these properties were for African American communities and leisure, as well as for economic empowerment, especially during the era of Jim Crow in the South.
https://www.amazon.com/Land-Was-Ours-Beaches-Coastal/dp/1469628724

 

Leland, John. “Investors Move Next Door, Unsettling a Black Beachside Enclave,” The New York Times, 25 August 2016. Web, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/nyregion/new-neighbors-unsettle-black-enclave-sag-harbor-hills.html?_r=0, 07 November 2017.

Some residents of Sag Harbor, NY have grown wary of an increasing number of investors sweeping up properties in the area.

 

O’Brien, William E. Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South. University of Massachusetts Press. December 2015.

From early in the twentieth century, the state park movement sought to expand public access to scenic American places. During the 1930s those efforts accelerated as the National Park Service used New Deal funding and labor to construct parks nationwide. However, under severe Jim Crow restrictions in the South, African Americans were routinely and officially denied entrance to these sites. In response, advocacy groups pressured the National Park Service to provide some facilities for African Americans. William E. O’Brien shows that these parks were typically substandard in relation to “white only” areas.
http://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/landscapes-exclusion

 

Winerip, Michael. “A Legend and his Catskills Resort for Blacks,” The New York Times, 15 July 1985. Web, http://www.nytimes.com/1985/07/15/nyregion/a-legend-and-his-catskills-resort-for-blacks.html?pagewanted=all, 07 November 2017.

A look at Peg Leg Bates Country Club, a resort for African Americans in the Catskill Mountains of New York that operated from the 1950s to the 1980s. The business closed two years after publication of this article and now sits abandoned.

Hurricane Harvey Recovery: Firsthand Account of Relief Efforts in TX from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa AmeriCorps Member Caleb Bell


AmeriCorps members gut homes damaged in Hurricane Harvey.
 

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, several member organizations of The Corps Network have sent crews to Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cooridnation of most of these deployments has been through the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team (A-DRT) program.

Corpsmembers from across the country have assisted with a range of activities, including clearing debris, coordinating volunteers and donations, conducting damage assessments, and helping muck, gut and tarp homes. Below, read the firsthand account of Caleb Bell, an AmeriCorps member from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa who deployed to Texas.

 


By Caleb Bell

My name is Caleb Bell. I was born in Des Moines, IA, raised in Colorado, and I went to Iowa State University for college.

My AmeriCorps term this year has been great. I joined Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa (CCMI) for the professional experience of leading a crew and learning new land management skills. I wanted to get more field and leadership experience and I have received both during my AmeriCorps term.

One big reason I joined AmeriCorps is because I didn’t know what to expect. It was something new and unpredictable. My home base is in Western Iowa. All I knew going into my term was that I would be doing land management: using chainsaws, brush sawing, treating invasive species, and hopefully having the chance to work on prescribed burns. I ended up doing a lot of burning. My crew completed over 6,000 acres of prescribed burns in about three months. Before being deployed on disaster, my plant identification skills increased and my professional communication and leadership skills grew.

 


 

Heading to Texas

When I found out I would be deployed for disaster response, I was excited. I knew there would be a lot more to learn; that’s a huge reason I joined AmeriCorps.

Going into the disaster response deployment, all I knew was that I was leaving for Texas. I knew that I would be in Austin for training, but had no idea what would come after that. I was told either Corpus Christi or Houston were the most likely locations, but I wasn’t told what I would be doing. I left my shop in Honey Creek, IA at 7:00 am on September 5 for Ames, IA; then I drove from Ames to St. Louis, MO that same night. I arrived in Austin just before midnight on September 6.

When I got to Austin, I thought my deployment would only be for 30 days. Three weeks into my deployment I was told I could stay until November 13. This would make 72 days of deployment. When I arrived, six of the seven people from my crew were deployed to Texas. In total, there were 52 Corpsmembers from CCMI.

 


Houston

We were originally sent to Houston. We lived in an old Wal-Mart that had been turned into a FEMA responder camp. The space had a capacity of 1,400 cots and a small dining area. We had shower trailers and were doing laundry at the laundromat.

Houston was definitely different than I expected. It was a shock at first to see how much devastation the flooding caused. In the neighborhood where we served, there were people who had experienced four or five feet of water in their homes. The people we helped hadn’t started mucking and gutting at all; the water had just receded a few days prior to our arrival.

I was in one house that really needed help. The homeowner had belongings in every room, floor to ceiling. At first it was extremely difficult to work on her home. I had a really hard time believing what I was seeing, and she had a hard time letting things go. The more I worked on the home and talked to the owner, the easier it became to help her. She knew that things needed to go, and began to let us throw things away, even though it was hard for her.

The most rewarding part of helping this survivor was when she thanked my team for helping her. She told me she hadn’t seen her walls in 25 years. It was so moving for me when we finished the house. Just before I drove away, the trash collectors started picking up the 200+ cubic yards of debris we had moved. It really showed how 10 strong backs and three long days can really change someone’s life. In the case of this survivor, she would never have been able to remove everything herself. Both physically because of her health condition and mentally because it was so hard to let things go.

Around the time this house was being started, our living situation changed. We moved from the responder camp at Wal-Mart to Hilton Americas in downtown Houston. The Hilton had been rented out by another agency and they didn’t want the rooms to go to waste, so, for five days, all 52 of us had our own room in a Hilton. I would say the Hilton offered a huge attitude boost. I was exhausted. Mentally, it was hard to see everyone’s lives affected so much by the storm. Physically, I was tired from working 14-15 hour days with a 110+ heat index. I needed the break, and the rooftop pool didn’t hurt.

 


Brazoria County

Right before our day off, we were told that we would be leaving Houston and going south to Brazoria County. The news that we were leaving Houston was really hard for me. After canvassing and working in the neighborhood, I knew there was a huge need for us in Houston; it was really hard to wrap my head around the fact that we had to tell homeowners that we wouldn’t be able to stay in Houston. I know that Brazoria County fit with AmeriCorps’ mission, but I still had a hard time. I was happy being deployed because I had a really good chance to help people who truly needed our assistance, and in Houston we found just as much need as I found in Brazoria County.

In Brazoria County, it was definitely easier to find a place to stay, laundry facilities, food, and there was a very supportive community, but it was much harder to find people who needed help. The first day in Brazoria County, my team drove around for four hours canvassing and didn’t find any homeowners who needed our help. Part of this was because we were later in the recovery process in this county, and part was because it is a lot less densely populated than Houston.

We have been able to find survivors who needed assistance, it just took more looking to find the ones who were hardest hit. There are some homes in Brazoria County that had 10 - 11 feet of water in them. A lot of homes here had water sitting in them for 10 days before the flooding receded. These homes were in really rough shape; the ones we found in the last week that hadn’t been touched yet were so full of mold that even ceiling panels needed to come out. Most houses being mucked and gutted now need full floor to ceiling mucking.

 




Change of Responsibilities

With the move from Houston to Brazoria, I transitioned from strike team lead to the assessment team. As a member of the assessment team I was often one of the first AmeriCorps faces these survivors met. This was definitely a change of pace. In the city, there was an attitude that everyone was all promises; we definitely weren’t the first group that had showed up offering help. In the county, we were often the first group that had stopped to even ask if people needed assistance.

After a week or so, I switched from assessments to AmeriCorps Liaison. As Liaison I really helped to build relationships within the community. These relationships have led to continued community support and a lot of help from the community in feeding and housing the AmeriCorps members here, and helping find high-priority homes for us to clean.

The relationship with United Way has been extremely helpful. The Long Term Recovery Executive Committee voted to donate money towards our food needs, helped us relocate a survivor whose home hadn’t been worked on at all, and continues to help us with our needs. We also help them by doing assessments and muck-and-guts for some of their cases. This kind of teamwork is making it so this community has a really good chance at recovery. As Liaison I have also really learned to talk to people. Whether it is asking for help, asking someone if they need help, or just starting small talk, I have definitely grown as a communicator because of my role with A-DRT (AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team).

One role I’m really proud of is helping to create an AmeriCorps presence in Little Cambodia. Some of the connections I made at the Long Term Recovery meetings asked me one day if I could help bring some pallets of food to the refugee village. The process of moving the food and helping the survivors unload the food was amazing. It really felt like I was doing something meaningful. Since the first food delivery, I have helped with a water delivery and a second food delivery. Each time I went to the village, more of the residents recognized me, and I just felt like I was doing the right thing. Between my donation visits and the assessment team spending time there, we were beginning to gain the trust of the village. I believe A-DRT has a few houses scheduled for roof tarps in Little Cambodia soon. I’m definitely glad that I was able to be part of such a unique opportunity.

 


A Learning Experience

In the community, I have met people from all walks of life. There have been people who always see the positive, even though their life was flipped upside down, and there are also those who only see the negative, even when their lives haven’t changed a lot. It is really interesting to see the effect that just listening to people’s stories has on their outlook. I have definitely found that some people who are having a hard time with everything that has happened tend to do a lot better after you just listen to their story. This is definitely something I will try and take with me after deployment.

My interactions with survivors have been really good for the most part. Most people are really happy to receive help, and I had only a couple of negative encounters. I think the people who I had rough encounters with were just at a really tough point; after we helped them, they really opened up and were very happy with the work we were able to do.

I think I have learned a lot about people during this deployment. I’ve learned that a lot of people who seem strong and confident have a hard time during times of crisis because they aren’t used to things not going well. I’ve also learned that a lot of quiet, more reserved people really shine during situations like this. However, I’ve also learned that neither of these things are true for everyone. Each person deals with stress differently.

I’ve become a lot more comfortable talking with people I don’t know. I can talk to someone I meet on the street about the work that A-DRT is doing here, or just about how their day is going. Before deployment I wasn’t much for small talk. I tended to avoid social events and had a really hard time talking to strangers. Now I can talk to anyone about almost anything.

I think that everyone should take the opportunity to help with disaster response if they have the chance. This deployment has definitely been life-changing for me. I wish that I had been able to stay longer. It’s hard for me to know that there is no more work to do here, but I have to go home and have three weeks off. I think there is a lot I would change about this deployment, but I am really happy with the difference I feel that I’ve made here.

Single Identity-Based Crews Research: Update from the Road No. 3


Members of Southwest Conservation Corps' Ancestral Lands program
 

As part of her studies at the University of Oregon, graduate student Jordan Katcher plans to create a toolkit that provides resources for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within Conservation Corps programming. To do this, Jordan hopes to combine academic research with insights from the field.

During the summer-fall of 2017, Jordan is traveling throughout the country to visit several Corps that operate identity-based programs (e.g. Veterans Crews, ASL Inclusion Crews, Native Youth Crews, LGBTQ Crews, All-Female Crews, etc.). She'll be conducting interviews and gathering information about innovative and effective practices. The Corps Network is hosting a blog where Jordan will share her experiences from the road.

 


By Jordan Katcher

Hello all! My name is Jordan Katcher and I am a current Community & Regional Planning graduate student at the University of Oregon. For my master’s degree, I’m focusing my research on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within the outdoors. This summer, I traveled across the country, and conducted site visits with conservation corps that have implemented/are implementing single identity-based initiatives for marginalized populations within the conservation world. To read more about my research project, check out my first blog post here, and my second blog post here.

For my third trip, I ventured through the Southwest region to conduct site visits with Conservation Legacy, Utah Conservation Corps, and Idaho Conservation Corps. Below is a brief snapshot from the visits:

 

VISITS IN THE SOUTHWEST
 

Conservation Legacy (CL) Site Visits – Durango, Colorado

As a previous program coordinator for Conservation Legacy, I was so excited to visit Durango and see so many familiar faces! Given Conservation Legacy’s large size, I was also eager to learn about their multiple single identity-based crews: Ancestral Lands, Veterans Fire Corps, and their brand-new Wyoming Women’s Fire Corps.

ANCESTRAL LANDS
Ancestral Lands began in 2008 with an emphasis on local relationship-building for Native American communities located primarily in the Southwest. For Conservation Legacy, the need for this program was born out of an equity initiative to meet the needs of tribal youth, while also providing them with the necessary technical and professional development skills to potentially launch careers in natural resource conservation. This goal, however, is met with a handful of barriers, one of which is: will natural resources career opportunities be located within these reservations, or would these opportunities require Corps alumni to leave their homes in hopes of employment? Understanding the end goal of these crew opportunities is crucial in providing skills and professional development experiences that are desired by the Corpsmembers themselves.

Ancestral Lands is very intentional about promoting cultural awareness for their members and staff. For example, members serving during the recent eclipse were given the day off for their traditional beliefs. The program would also like to expand into increased language immersion with their staff, but funding creates limitations for this. They’d also like to develop professional certificates for native restoration and “traditional ecological knowledge” (TEK) that recognize the importance of Indigenous knowledge within the environment. A large asset that has grown out of this program is the embeddedness of storytelling, especially across multiple tribes that historically may not have seen eye-to-eye. These barriers are being broken down through relationship-building, shared experiences, and crew work.
 

VETERAN’S FIRE CORPS
The Veteran’s Fire Corps initially ran just like other crews within Conservation Legacy. Over time, however, staff realized that the needs of their veteran crew members required a shift towards professional development and certifications. Additionally, in recognizing the challenges veterans face when reintegrating into civilian life, it seemed ideal that this transition could be accomplished within a safe space, serving on a fire crew. Conservation Legacy has also been intentional in raising the stipends for their veteran crew members, as they understand the limitations that come with such low incomes. The organization also takes great strides in their recruitment and screening processes, and asks necessary questions to ensure that potential members are both emotionally and physically ready for the program.
 

WYOMING WOMEN’S FIRE CORPS
After ongoing conversations about gender balances, especially regarding a need for increased diversity within the Bureau of Land Management, an opportunity arose to create an exclusive Wyoming Women’s Fire Corps. In the 10 years that the Veteran’s Fire Corps has been running, only about five of their members have been female veterans. The launch of this new crew is essential to providing a place for female veterans to connect with one another within the intersection of their female and veteran identities.

 


Utah Conservation Corps (UCC) Site Visits – Logan, Utah

In 2005, Utah Conservation Corps had a crew leader, Andy Zimmer, who, while riding his bike back from dinner in downtown Logan, UT, was hit by a car. The accident resulted in a C6 spinal fracture, thus paralyzing him from his shoulders down. After Andy underwent physical therapy, he came back to UCC with the intention of completing his assignment. This tragic accident was the impetus for UCC’s Disability Inclusion Crew, where UCC had to ask themselves: What would this experience look like for a member serving in a wheelchair? What unmet needs can they serve through this experience? And how can they bring the traditional conservation corps experience to a member with a physical disability?

At the time, UCC was a fairly small program, yet they had a combination of experience and passion to help get the program off the ground. Assistant Director Kate Stephens had served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Options for Independence (and helped start Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, which does adaptive outdoor work for members). Additionally, Program Director Sean Damitz had the personal experience of growing up with a father who had MS. The two of them shared inherent values that pushed them to really examine their organization and ask themselves how to move beyond the typical “burly, white male” crew member, and make UCC a more welcoming and inclusive space for a diverse population of corps members.

To UCC, a successful inclusion crew starts with having really meaningful projects that involve a dedicated, passionate sponsor that sets goals and takes ownership of the project (which leaves program expansion up to the sponsor base). The inclusion crew integrates both members with disabilities and members that are able-bodied, which utilizes the strengths of all crew members. Members with disabilities are trained through the Forest Service with iPads to assess campsites and trails and input USFS database information, and the members that are able-bodied undergo chainsaw training for trail development. What’s so fascinating about this crew is that not only are the members with disabilities creating access within these sites for themselves, but they’re also transforming trails, campsites, restrooms, and more to provide access for tourists with disabilities to experience these areas as well.

In the beginning, the crew members were about 50/50, but lately, it has been imbalanced given the difficulty of recruiting individuals who may have physical disabilities. Recruiting locally has really been the best solution, since members with disabilities have ADA-compliant living quarters and are familiar with the area. Asking someone to move to a different state, secure ADA-compliant temporary housing, and ensure that their medical needs are met (especially for a 300 to 500-hour service positon on an AmeriCorps living allowance) is truly a large struggle.

UCC said that they’ve heard of other corps thinking about starting Disability Inclusion Crews, but they also understand that it’s a steep learning curve that requires a great amount of resources, time, and consideration. For these crew members, though, these crew experiences have made a considerable difference in their lives, which makes it all worth it in the end.

 


Idaho Conservation Corps (ICC) Site Visits – Boise, Idaho

The idea for the brand new ICC Women’s Crew came from an assistant crew leader-turned program coordinator- who realized the change in dynamics when more females were involved in crew positions. With approval from Northwest Youth Corps, the Women’s Crew was designed with the intention of creating spaces where everyone can have an equal share in their own growth and development.

It was noticed that on co-ed crews, things that were more technical (lifting rocks, working on engines) were often taken on by the men of the crews. The designated Women’s Crew was a space for females to learn those same skills and apply them on their own. The hallmarks of a successful Women’s Crew, while similar to other crews, focuses on getting more women into leadership positions, which don’t have to necessarily be within ICC, but within any land management agency, or at whatever previous job they were in.

Due to the constraints of losing a fellow program coordinator before the launch of their summer crews, some of the goals of the Women’s Crew did not come to full fruition. For next year, however, they’d love to hire a female crew leader months in advance to set up relationships within the broader community and ask female leaders to conduct lessons or just discuss their professional journeys as women in the natural resources workforce.

During the interview process for potential crew members, a main question that was asked (and not asked for any of the other crews) was, “Do you have a very specific reason to enter this space?” The program coordinator was looking more for someone that had a specific experience of feeling uncomfortable in male-dominated spaces, someone that wanted to grow their technical skills, or someone looking to get into land management positions; and for the most part, those that reached out to her were those kinds of applicants.

The biggest struggle they encountered during their first run this summer was retention. The crew went through eight different members that quit, which resulted in only two members staying on. However, those two remaining members were promoted to leadership positions, which was truly at the heart of this new crew. There are a few speculations of why retention was a struggle this year, but the hope for next year is to restructure the experience from perhaps seeming like a summer camp to, instead, focusing on leadership building. Moving forward, ICC would like to have more input from members themselves on what specific skills they’d like to develop, and would also like resources on marketing this crew to a population that isn’t already in the corps world; because some their most solid corps members were previous bank tellers, and now they’re using chainsaws in the woods, which is awesome.


Now that I’m back in Eugene, OR, I’ll be conducting Northwest site visits throughout the fall term, so stay tuned! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions related to my research, always feel free to reach me at jkatcher@uoregon.edu. Thank you for reading!

Corps Recognize 9-11 National Day of Service and Remembrance 2017

September 11 is known as “Patriot Day” or the “National Day of Service and Remembrance.” It is a time when Americans honor the lives lost in the terrorist attacks of 2001 by coming together to volunteer and make our communities stronger.

Every day, young adults at America’s Corps engage in service to our communities and public lands. On September 11, Corps often coordinate neighborhood volunteer events or participate in emergency preparedness and resiliency trainings.  

Here are just a few ways member organizations of The Corps Network are recognizing the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance this year.

 

Maine Conservation Corps

More than 50 AmeriCorps members with Maine Conservation Corps will gather in Canann, ME to complete a short hiking path with two observation decks along the Carrabassett Stream. The year’s event stemmed from the wishes of Canaan citizens to build a trail in memory of Bill Townsend, a prominent lawyer and environmental advocate who passed away last December. 

Concurrently, other teams will upgrade trails at Lake George Regional Park as a thank you for hosting the Corps’ annual Summer Recognition Event.

Update 9/13/17: Click here for a report summarizing project outcomes from the day's event.

 

Texas Conservation Corps at American YouthWorks

In the morning, members of Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) will join participants of American YouthWorks’ YouthBuild program for a moment of silence and a recitation of the AmeriCorps pledge.

Afterwards, members of TxCC and YouthBuild students will disperse to two projects: a park clean-up at Montopolis Greenbelt (which TxCC adopted through the Keep Austin Beautiful “Adopt-A-Creek” program), and a trail project in Austin’s Zilker Nature Preserve.

Meanwhile, TxCC currently has more than 20 AmeriCorps members participating in the Hurricane Harvey response effort.

 

Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps

In recognition of National Preparedness Month (September), AmeriCorps members with Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (GLCCC) will participate in a functional training exercise as a capstone to their summer-long disaster response and emergency preparedness education classes.

Corpsmembers will respond to a scenario where a twin-engine aircraft crashes into a housing enclave. The members will perform search and rescue operations (incorporating drone flight and HAM radio operations), manage vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and staff a spontaneous volunteer management center adjacent to the Incident Command Center in the Town of Burlington, WI.

Read more about the project here. 

Update 9/13/17: Click here for a TV news report on the event

 

Southwest Conservation Corps

[From SCC Facebook page, following their 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance event]

9/11 is a day of remembrance and acknowledgment to all of those we have lost and to those who have served our country. In honor of this our Veterans Fire Corps Crews and several staff members in Durango cut, split, and hauled fire wood for a couple local Veteran families in need.

We cannot thank our crews enough for volunteering their time today to help others. Big thanks also go out to the San Juan National Forest for donating fire wood permits as well as Ted's Rental and Sales, Grand Rental Station for the use of a log splitter.

 

Single Identity-Based Crews Research: Update from the Road No. 2

As part of her studies at the University of Oregon, graduate student Jordan Katcher plans to create a toolkit that provides resources for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within Conservation Corps programming. To do this, Jordan hopes to combine academic research with insights from the field.

During the summer-fall of 2017, Jordan is traveling throughout the country to visit several Corps that operate identity-based programs (e.g. Veterans Crews, ASL Inclusion Crews, Native Youth Crews, LGBTQ Crews, All-Female Crews, etc.). She'll be conducting interviews and gathering information about innovative and effective practices. The Corps Network is hosting a blog where Jordan will share her experiences from the road.

 

By Jordan Katcher

Hello all! My name is Jordan Katcher and I am a current Community & Regional Planning graduate student at the University of Oregon. For my master’s degree, I’m focusing my research on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within the outdoors. This summer, I’m traveling across the country, and conducting site visits with Conservation Corps that have implemented/are implementing single identity-based initiatives for underrepresented populations within the Conservation world. To read more about my research project, and to read about my upper Midwest site visits, check out my first blog post here.

For my second trip, I ventured through the Northeast region to conduct site visits with Maine Conservation Corps and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Below is a brief snapshot of my visits:

 

Visits in the Northeast:

Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) Site Visits – Augusta, Maine

Since I was taking a personal trip to Maine, I decided to visit Maine Conservation Corps to learn more about their opportunities for veterans. While MCC doesn’t currently have a single identity-based crew, I was interested to learn about their philosophy on an integrated model. For MCC, they believe that having diverse teams brings about new exposures, perspectives, and learning experiences for all members involved.

Throughout my visits, a reoccurring topic is the distinction and purpose behind both single identity-based crews and integrated crews: what are the benefits of either, and how do you choose which crew to implement? On top of that, individuals inhabit multiple identities at a time – all of which are on a spectrum – so how do you create program models that are inclusive of those multiple identities within a single crew?

For MCC, they’ve been working on ways to meet the mandate from AmeriCorps to provide opportunities for veterans to serve with Conservation Corps. Previously, MCC operated their Veteran Community Leader program, in which veterans came together for 11 weeks of training, and were then assigned to single-placement positions with a host site. After funding fell through, they transitioned to an integrated model with veterans serving with non-veterans on conservation crews.

MCC struggles with recruiting veterans. In part, this is because, while Maine has a higher veteran population, most of the state’s veterans are older. Additionally, MCC does not provide higher stipends for veterans. Because veterans serve on the same crew as non-veterans, it is difficult to justify paying them more for the same amount of work as their fellow crew members. However, MCC has found that they have a lot of success in recruitment when they have a veteran coordinator; someone who served in the military can better connect with potential applicants.

Resources that MCC would find useful to their organization include: (1) strategies they can implement to ensure that veterans who commit to serving actually begin their service, and (2) information about different program models, including best outcomes and funding resources.

 

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) Site Visits – Richmond, Vermont

Previously, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps had a crew for blind and visually impaired members. Recently, after a few serendipitous encounters with The Forest Service, Corps That, and the Lexington School & Center for the Deaf in New York, VYCC’s goal to provide opportunities for Deaf and Hard of Hearing members came to fruition. They launched their first crew last summer using an integrated model; their crew included both Deaf and hearing members. In the future, they’d love to see multiple American Sign Language (ASL) crews for different age groups, as well as provide both single identity-based and integrated crews.

Last summer, they had two crew leaders: one was Deaf and the other was hearing, and both leaders signed. This seemed like the ideal arrangement for their integrated model. This year, they were unable to recruit a Deaf crew leader, which became a struggle for this year’s crews. VYCC is constantly evaluating and redefining their program models and resources on a seasonal basis, and presently, they implement both Silent Meals and Silent Days, where all crew members can only communicate through ASL. This not only creates a more inclusive environment for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, but it also challenges hearing members and in turn, provides for new growth opportunities in how they communicate with one another.

For VYCC, they really want to invest in Deaf-specific education curriculum, not only for their crew members, but also for their entire organization. They do provide a workshop led by a Deaf instructor that teaches about Deaf culture, which has been a great asset to their crews.

What VYCC has found is that in terms of recruitment, making meaningful connections and relationships with Deaf schools, programs, and organizations is key. They originally cast a broad net for applicants, but they’ve realized when they put more filters on crew member positions, a smaller population arises that really wants the positions. For them, targeted outreach has been a challenge.

Funding is really at the heart of whether they can increase their resources or not; if they had the funds, VYCC would absolutely hire a Deaf/ASL-fluent field supervisor, which would increase their amount of applicants and strengthen their programming. Their partnership with The Forest Service provides traditional fee for service dollars, but not for developing curriculum, which is something they’d really like to invest in for the future.

If VYCC could change one thing from when they first implemented these ASL opportunities, they would have been more proactive about creating an inclusive workshop focused on Deaf culture for everyone, including their board members, their employees, and their crew leaders/members.

VYCC critically evaluates their opportunities for crew members and the intended outcomes of these experiences. For VYCC, the end goal is to not only empower crew members within their own identity group, but to help them know their identity within a larger, diversified setting.

Resources that would be beneficial to VYCC include: (1) funding resources for both Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, (2) greater opportunities for hearing students to strengthen their ASL skills for future employment as interpreters, and (3) increased sharing of resources related to developing new crews. 
 


Stay tuned for the last leg of my road trip adventures in September, where I’ll be venturing through the Southwest region! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions related to my research, always feel free to reach me at jkatcher@uoregon.edu. Thank you for reading!

Moving Forward Initiative: The African American Experience in the Civilian Conservation Corps


Picture from Forest Army blog
 

In 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression, the overall unemployment rate in the United States was well over 20 percent. African Americans were hit hardest, experiencing an unemployment rate two to three times that of white Americans. 

In these desperate times, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): a federal work relief program that, from 1933 until 1942, put 3 million unemployed young men to work building and restoring America’s natural resource infrastructure. In exchange for their labor, corpsmen received $1-per-day, regular meals, housing, and access to education. Though the CCC disbanded when the US entered World War II, its model lives on in more than 130 modern Corps across the country, most of which are managed by nonprofits or units of state or local government. 

The CCC was created with progressive intentions. With persuasion from Oscar DePriest, an Illinois representative and the only black member of Congress, the legislation that established the CCC included language forbidding discriminatory practices based on “race, color, or creed.”

Throughout the years of the program, more than 200,000 African Americans and 80,000 Native Americans served in the program. However, their experience was, in many cases, markedly different from that of their white peers. Under the argument that “segregation is not discrimination,” the CCC failed at its promise of inclusivity.

The CCC existed during the era of Jim Crow segregation. Though CCC camps were, at least in the beginning, supposed to be integrated, this largely only happened in areas where the African American population was not large enough to warrant a separate camp. To reduce community outcry, many of the 150 African American CCC camps were built on remote federal lands, away from the public.

In 1934, Robert Fechner, Director of the CCC, ordered the Army to review national practices around African American enrollment. Contradicting the Army’s conclusion that the CCC should not enforce segregation, as this would exacerbate the problem of finding locations for black-only camps, Fechner issued an order in 1935 to make the “complete segregation of colored and white enrollees” the rule.When questioned about this action by the NAACP, Fechner wrote.

“I am satisfied that the negro enrollees themselves prefer to be in companies composed exclusively of their own race…This segregation is not discrimination and cannot be so construed. The negro companies are assigned to the same types of work, have identical equipment, are served the same food, and have the same quarters as white enrollees.”


Picture from Digital Public Library of America
 

To appease citizens concerned about the placement of all-black camps in their communities, only white supervisors were put in charge of such camps, leaving black corpsmen little opportunity for advancement. President Roosevelt suggested this practice be relaxed to allow a few token “colored foremen,” and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was vehemently opposed to Fechner’s racist policies against having African Americans in leadership roles. However, pushback from communities and legislators, as well as Fechner’s beliefs and prevailing discriminatory practices meant that African American corpsmen generally did not have the same upward mobility as white corpsmen.

Meanwhile, Native Americans almost exclusively served on reservations in programs operated in collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Critical infrastructure improvements were needed on reservations, and tribal leaders in fact had quite a bit of say in which projects were completed. There is limited literature on corpsmen from other non-white racial and ethnic groups participating in the CCC, but many Hispanic and Latino men certainly participated, especially in the American Southwest.*

African American enrollment in the CCC was capped at 10 percent, reflecting the racial profile of the national population, but this ignored the fact that African Americans faced disproportionately worse economic situations than white applicants. Despite the CCC’s founding language barring discrimination, qualified African American applicants were frequently turned away. When hired, they often faced hostile work environments. This included racial slurs and jokes, forcing black corpsmen to the back of the line, and giving them the least desirable quarters and equipment. Certainly reprehensible, these aggressions were unfortunately common in society at the time. However, there were more extreme cases of racism, including one account of an African American corpsmen being discharged from a camp in New Jersey for refusing to fan flies from a white officer.

CCC camps in some Southern states initially outright denied African Americans under the argument they were needed to tend fields. John de la Perriere, the Georgia director of the CCC, stated all applicants in Clarke County be “classed A, B and C” based on need. However, all non-white applicants fell into classes B and C and were far less likely to be recruited. In Florida, state director John C. Huskisson agreed, when pressured by the federal government, to "lower his standards" enough to accommodate two hundred black corpsmen.

Despite Fechner’s segregation order, some camps remained integrated, particularly in the North and in regions with smaller African American populations. Fechner allowed this “because of the natural adaptability of Negroes to serve as cooks.” In some integrated camps, African American corpsmen were indeed assigned kitchen duties as opposed to more technical work outdoors. Also, contrary to Fechner’s claims that African American camps completed the same projects as white camps, there are accounts that black camps in some regions only did routine work and were not assigned special or priority projects.


Picture from Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives.
 

Despite this, it is undeniable that African American corpsmen played a significant role in conservation efforts and the development of our nation’s public lands. Aspects of the CCC were certainly discriminatory, but, as stated by historian John Salmond in his book on the CCC, “to look at the place of the Negro in the CCC purely from the viewpoint of opportunities missed, or ideals compromised, is to neglect much of the positive achievement.”

Black corpsmen did ultimately gain much needed financial assistance through their service, and tens of thousands of African American corpsmen participated in educational programming from the elementary to college level. There are countless anecdotal reports from African American corpsmen who were grateful for the opportunity to learn and work in the CCC. 

To this day, however, the more than 200,000 black corpsmen of the CCC remain “hidden figures” in the development of our nation’s public lands. Most African American corpsmen were from cities where the forestry and conservation skills they learned in the CCC were not applicable. As Dr. Olen Cole, Jr. states, this work “must have seemed artificial and impractical- or at the very least, to have little relevance to their past and future lives.” Many CCC members went on to “negro jobs” as chauffeurs, cooks and gardeners. Many desirable public lands jobs were not, at the time, open to black men, or were more likely to go to white applicants.

As Cole states, the CCC had little lasting impression on the way African American corpsmen felt about the outdoors. It was merely a temporary way to make money, not prepare for a career.

“This failure, critical then, remains a failure of many environmental organizations today.”
 

 

*More to come on this topic – including the experience of Native American, Hispanic and Latino men in the CCC - in future blogs.

Please find a list of resources used for this blog on the Moving Forward Initiative homepage. 

 


For your Consideration:

As you read this blog, here are some questions for you to consider: 

  1. What do the policies of the CCC tell us about how the federal government viewed racial discrimination at this time? 
     
  2. As some historians state, the CCC's work opportunities seemed irrelevant to African American corpsmen who mainly lived in urban centers. How might this relate to the problem public lands agencies face today with limited visitation from non-white populations?
     
  3. What can federal resource agencies do today to increase the presence of people of color visiting and working on public lands? 
     
  4. Read this firsthand account from Luther Wandall, an African American member of the CCC. What was positive and negative about his experience? How do his remarks make you feel? 
     
  5. For Corps: What measures have you taken (or can you take) to increase the presence of people of color in administrative or leadership roles in your organization? 
     
  6. For Corps: How do you conduct outreach in your community to people of color? Have your ideas been accepted? Do you believe the information you provide is culturally relevant?
     
  7. For Corps: Have your Corpsmembers ever experienced any racially-motivated hostility in the communities where they work?
    • How can this be combated? What conversations do you have with Corpsmembers in the event racism, hostility, or discrimination on the job occurs?

 


 

 

#CCCAnchor

Single Identity-Based Crews Research: Update from the Road No. 1

As part of her studies at the University of Oregon, graduate student Jordan Katcher plans to create a toolkit that provides resources for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within Conservation Corps programming. To do this, Jordan hopes to combine academic research with insights from the field.

During the summer of 2017, Jordan is traveling throughout the country to visit several Corps that operate identity-based programs (e.g. Veterans Crews, ASL Inclusion Crews, Native Youth Crews, LGBTQ Crews, All-Female Crews, etc.). She'll be conducting interviews and gathering information about innovative and effective practices. The Corps Network is hosting a blog where Jordan will share her experiences.

 


By Jordan Katcher - submitted July 7, 2017

Background:

Hello all! My name is Jordan Katcher and I am a current Community & Regional Planning graduate student at the University of Oregon. For my master’s degree, I have the opportunity to complete a professional project of my own choosing; given my background serving with AmeriCorps and working for Conservation Legacy, I knew I wanted to focus my research on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within the outdoors.

Coming from the Conservation Corps family, I know how difficult it can be to oversee program logistics while maintaining sustainable relationships with members, team leaders, community partners, and funders. It’s a lot to juggle, and being able to perform thorough program evaluations and share what’s happening throughout the larger network of Conservation Corps can also be a struggle, too.

Knowing the limitations that face Conservation Corps led me to think more about D, E, I practices within these organizations, especially as I started to learn more about “single identity-based crew” models. Throughout the country, several Conservation Corps have initiated single identity-based crews that not only create access for traditionally marginalized populations within the Conservation Corps world, but also integrate and share the identities of these members within the larger environmental movement.

Knowing about several single identity-based crews, such as the Utah Conservation Corps Disability Inclusion Crew, the Northwest Youth Corps American Sign Language Inclusion Crew, and the Idaho Conservation Corps All-Women Crew, led me to think more about how important these crews are and how crucial it is that the evolution of these crews be shared throughout the larger Conservation Corps network. I decided to create a toolkit that combines both on-the-ground experience as well as academic research centering on single identity-based crews.

Once I solidified my professional project scope, I partnered with The Corps Network to set up site visits with Conservation Corps across the country. I was also honored to speak with Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin and Ava Holliday from The Avarna Group (who recently published a blog post on the importance of supporting single identity spaces), who assisted me in creating a list of interview questions for each of these site visits.

Two weeks ago, I embarked on my first of three road trips this summer. My first road trip covered the upper Midwest region, where I had the honor of visiting: Montana Conservation Corps in Bozeman, MT; Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa in St. Paul, MN; and SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps in Traverse City, MI. My second road trip will focus on the Northeast region, and my third will focus on the Southwest region. For each of these trips, I’ll be guest blogging for The Corps Network, and sharing bits of my findings with all of you. I want these blog posts to serve as a catalyst for ongoing conversation related to D,E,I initiatives, so definitely reach out to these conservation corps to keep the conversations going!

 

Visits in the Midwest:

Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) Site Visit – Bozeman, Montana

MCC implements single identity-based crews for Native American youth and veterans. Both of these programs formed out of funding opportunities that came up in the past. For MCC, initiating and supporting these crews takes a great amount of work, but, if you qualify the assets and opportunities of these crews, it’s an incredibly important part of their D,E,I goals and objectives. These programs offer so much value to program participants and staff, and MCC highly values the new perspectives that come from these crews.

For their veterans crew, MCC invested in a number of resources for their members, including paying veterans a higher stipend ($150 more each paycheck), providing housing, offering a scholarship program, and giving actual certification for post-service job opportunities. For their initiatives with Native American youth, MCC would like to eventually create an advisory committee of Native American youth that would involve members, alumni, and partners deciding what crews need and want for their crew experiences. MCC has also been able to implement increased resources for their single identity-based crews through The Kendeda Fund.

For MCC, they would like to define the success of their crews from more of a quality than a quantity standpoint. One of their questions is, “outside of numbers, how do we tell the stories of these programs to funders?” Additionally, what recruitment and retention strategies are there for single identity-based crews?

 

Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) Site Visit – St. Paul, Minnesota

CCMI implements a Native American crew, called Restoring Relations, which began in the summer of 2015 in partnership with local community stakeholders. Additionally, while CCMI does not run a single identity-based American Sign Language Inclusion (ASL) Crew, they do provide many opportunities to ASL crew members within their existing crews.

The Restoring Relations Crew evolved out of CCMI asking how they can change their program models and their assumptions to genuinely provide worthwhile opportunities for Native American youth. CCMI hopes that, through Restoring Relations, there is a space for Native American youth to dive into nature through their own identity and history; this starts from in the very beginning of the program when, during training, crew members take a trip down the Mississippi River in traditional boats.

Like MCC, CCMI wants to strengthen more relationships with Native American leaders and have more voices at the table. Currently, their program is based in the Twin Cities, but they’re thinking about expanding in northern Minnesota once they reach capacity.

With Restoring Relations, CCMI provides time for smudging in the morning. The Corps really focuses on reflection across the board, working with crew leaders to decide what kind of reflection activities make the most sense. CCMI strives to be flexible and ready to listen in order to understand what may or may not work for the crew each year.

For CCMI, they would like more resources to educate their staff to feel more knowledgeable about multiple historical narratives of the land, places, and people that they’re working with. They’d also like to know more about recruitment and retention strategies, as well as ways to talk with staff, crew members, and youth about identities within the outdoor environment.

 

SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps (SEEDS) Visit – Traverse City, Michigan

SEEDS noticed that the majority of their crew members were male. In response, they decided to launch an all-women crew, called GURLS Corps (Girls United in Resilience, Leadership and Service), in hopes that this initiative would integrate more females into their organization. All the crew members identified as female and came from the foster care system.

Since SEEDS knew many of these crew members had difficult pasts, they wanted to invest in a well-trained, considerate, and understanding team leader, so they hired a woman with experience as an after-school educator. The crew model allowed for crew members to organically share stories about their foster care experiences and connect with one another. The focus of the program was not only about job experience, but also about providing an opportunity for female crew members to be in a healthy environment.

SEEDS also partners with local tribes for crew model development. Local tribes assist in recruitment and provide half the funding for the initiatives. SEEDS provides the training and materials needed for the service experiences.

Most of SEEDS’ single identity-based crew initiatives, whether focused on female, Native American, or foster care identities, form out of their partnerships with social services, schools, family courts, and tribes. SEEDS is also very conscious about how they approach their crew experiences; they’ve invested in a holistic approach that focuses on integration between social and ecological aspects (including all species).

For SEEDS, they would like resources on understanding the respective benefits of integrated and single identity-based spaces; what unique experiences come from each model, and how do you decide on one model or the other? They’d also like to see stories on how other Conservation Corps approach the work they need to do with an ecological, social, and/or STEM focus; how are Corps integrating STEM into their every day practices? Additionally, SEEDS is interested in comparing price points for their crew expenses; how much are Corps spending on training, uniforms, and supplies?

 

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my next blog post in a few weeks. If you have any questions about my research, have D, E, I resources that have worked for your crews, or would like to set up a potential site visit, please reach out to me via email at jkatcher@uoregon.edu

Next Generation of Aquatic Restoration Leaders: Abbey Toomer

 

Operated by Trout Headwaters, Inc., Waders in the Water (WitW) is an interactive, webinar-delivered training that instructs students in common restoration industry tools, techniques, and processes, workplace safety, and proven, practical, & innovative habitat enhancement. WitW graduates have a path to projects, jobs, and careers in the $10B/Yr restoration economy. Corps that offer the WitW training are better positioned to participate in the growing number of public-private restoration partnerships with for-profit, non-profit and government entities.

This summer, The Corps Network and THI are partnering on a blog series to highlight young adults who have benefited from the WitW experience.

 


She grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas where she loved to fish Lake Norfork and the White River with her Dad and Grandfather, “Pa”. It was this draw to nature and the outdoors that, in 2011, led Abbey Toomer to join Florida’s Community Training Works, Inc., also known as Young American Conservation Corps. 

Starting as an office assistant in 2011, Abbey, now 28, learned the ins and outs of financing and managing a Corps. After three years in this position, she transitioned to working in the field and training other crewmembers.

Over the years, Abbey numerous certifications and completed trainings in proper ax usage, Wilderness First Aid and CPR, and wildland firefighter basic management. She also completed the Waders in the Water training, which introduced her to water safety and the concept of how all environmental systems are connected. With this experience, Abbey spent three months in Mississippi training new Corpsmembers with Climb CDC Conservation Corps in skills such as endangered species tracking, processing, handling, and cataloging invasive species.

Abbey has worked mostly in the Florida Panhandle, but has also worked in Ft. Lauderdale, St. Augustine, and on the Florida National Scenic Trail. Recently, she and her crewmembers are worked with the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory to expand Living Dock; a learning platform used by thousands of school children, marine biology and aquaculture students, and medical and scientific researchers. They also recently partnered with Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory on oyster restoration, coastal restoration and trail maintenance.

Abbey believes the Waders in the Water program provided her insight into new perspectives on nature. While she has always considered herself environmentally conscious and tries to live as “green” as possible, Abbey’s made some changes since the training. She now uses a “First, Do No Harm” approach in her work, pausing to assess both the environment and proposed solutions before taking any action. She asks herself, “Is this solution really the BEST thing to do for nature and this particular habitat?" Abbey strives to help Mother Nature heal herself, instead of counting on nature to fix whatever problems humans impose. She now considers the unique qualities and needs of each project location, knowing that, in restoration or rehab work, one size rarely fits all. 

The professional training she has received through WitW gave Abbey greater confidence to work on bigger restoration projects and communicate more knowledgably with land and project managers. She is excited about continuing Gulf Coast restoration work and looks forward to, along with her team, applying the knowledge she gained through WitW.

“So many folks living in rural Arkansas, and other communities throughout the US that struggle with crippling high unemployment, could really benefit from this training,” reflected Abbey. “These folks would not only become better job candidates for organizations and companies restoring lands and waters, but they would also improve their lives, the lives of their families, and their communities, for many years to come.” 

Sweat and Long Hours: Texas Conservation Corps Puts in the Work to Maintain Trails

Corps play an essential role in helping address the maintenance backlog on America’s public trails. In 2016 alone, young adults enrolled in member organizations of The Corps Network built or improved almost 22,000 miles of trail!

In honor of National Trails Day this Saturday, June 3, we’re recognizing Trails Across Texas (TAT), an AmeriCorps program of Austin-based Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) at American YouthWorks. Learn about how the TAT crew connects their community to trails and helps get more people outdoors.


 

Meet the Crew Leaders:

Trail work isn’t easy. Keeping popular public trails in operation requires hours of physical labor, often in harsh conditions. However, as the members of the Trails Across Texas (TAT) program at Austin-based Texas Conservation Corps will tell you, maintaining trails is one of the most rewarding jobs out there.

“Trail crews put in sweat and long hours to make the public's experience greater,” said Ian Munoz, a TAT Crew Leader. “It’s hard, but I do it because it brings me joy like nothing else. I am constantly motivated by my surroundings when I’m working on a trail. Having the chance to work on or create something that people from all over can come to enjoy will keep me working on a trail crew for as long as I can.”

Born and raised in El Paso, Munoz is a self-described “Texas Outdoorsman” who joined TAT to give back to his home state. He recently led a project at Bastrop State Park in Central Texas. Using chainsaws and a range of hand tools – including mattocks, Pulaskis, shovels and McLeods – the crew removed hazardous trees and constructed hundreds of feet of new tread for the Lost Pine Loop.   

“With all of these tools comes daily maintenance and skills to keep them working well,” said Munoz. “The skills needed for chainsaw operation and hazard felling can be overwhelming, but safety and sound judgement are essential. With trail digging comes the skill to understand the science of water-flow and erosion.”
 


 

Managing water-flow is critical to maintaining trails. Karissa Killian, another TAT Crew Leader, also recently served at Bastrop. In addition to felling hazardous trees, her crew removed woody debris from the downslope of the trail. This allows water to flow off the trail instead of pooling.

“Trail crews maintain trails so that users can enjoy them,” said Killian. “We focus on making trails sustainable so that they can be used by many future generations.”

A native of Salt Lake City, Killian graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science. Her first job was with a U.S. Forest Service trails and wilderness crew. Her passion for this work led her to the TAT program, where she became immersed in the routine of working and living outdoors on multi-day assignments, or “hitches.”

“I enjoy working outside, using my hands, and being engaged in physical activity,” said Killian. “[Trail work] is like working in a community. Everyone is so nice and supportive. It can be a hard transition to living on hitch for most of your time, but it is rewarding to make close connections with other crewmembers.”

The TAT crewmembers are a diverse group of young men and women. Some came to TAT with experience in the outdoors, while others came from office jobs, looking to get more in touch with nature. As AmeriCorps members, these young adults receive a modest stipend for their service and can receive an AmeriCorps education award (scholarship) upon completing their service. Through their day-to-day service with the TAT program, the crewmembers gain the skills and experience to later seek jobs in conservation and lands management. Here are some of their insights from the trail.

 

 

Meet Trails Across Texas Crewmembers:

Carl Woody
Age: 28
Austin, TX

“Before this I did a previous AmeriCorps program, but before that I was working at a law office for about 3 years. So, this is a little bit different from what I’ve been doing before.”

“I absolutely feel more connected with nature. When it is your office and your home, you kind of have to appreciate it. You learn to really care for what’s important and how important it is to take care of the environment. It’s the only one we’ve got, so we might as well take the best care of it we can.”

“Well, trail work requires a lot of communication and team work. It’s 10 people trying to accomplish one goal at the same time, so you have to really know how to work with each other and communicate well.

“What do I like the most? I just like working with my hands a lot. Getting dirty, hard work, sweating a lot, obviously. What do I like the least? Probably sweating a lot…it’s hot and nasty outside here most of the time.”

“I’m actually going to graduate school next fall for environmental policy and environmental science. So, keep fighting the good fight!”

 

Brigid MulRoe
Age: 22
Malta, NJ

“Before I joined this program, I graduated from college a year ago and I did another Conservation Corps last fall, just for 3 months. I liked it so much; I got a little taste of the Conservation Corps world and decided that I wanted to do more, so I joined the Texas Conservation Corps for a 5-month term.”

My perspective on the environment has definitely changed since I’ve been living outside every day in a tent. We’re definitely forced to get up close and personal with the dirt and bugs and the rain, but I have really enjoyed it! I think that I feel a lot more connected to the work that I’m doing than if I were just sitting in an office thinking about it.”

“I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. Just the fact that I’m capable of doing this work has surprised me and made me think about myself a lot differently”

“I really enjoy hitch life and living with a group of 10 people that are coming from different places and have totally different perspectives on everything, but working as a team when working on the trail or camp life. The thing I like the least, at least for this week is the bugs. Bombarded with ants, mosquitoes, chiggers, so we’re all learning to deal with that.”

“I’m planning on doing another AmeriCorps program. An emergency response program in St. Louis.”

 

Arturo Gonzalez
Age: 25
Salinas, CA

“Before this program I was in a back country trails crew with an AmeriCorps program with a California Conservation Corps. My supervisor told me about the TxCC program, so I came here after that.”

“I feel like I already was connected to nature. I really love nature, so even though I enjoyed it before, I still enjoy it now.”

“Being on this crew has taught me that you don’t need technology or a lot of the stuff that you’re used to having.”

“The things I enjoy the most about being on TAT crew is probably all the hiking and the general work itself, especially backcountry style rock work. My least favorite is probably chores, especially dishes.”

“Right after this, I’m not sure what I want to do, but I am gold-listed to be a sponsor for a backcountry trails crew.”

 

Michael “Mikey” Thomas
Age: 29
Rhode Island & Austin, TX

“I’m originally from Rhode Island but I’ve lived in Texas since I was 15 years old. I have lived in Austin for 11 years now. Before I joined TxCC, I was a kitchen lead at a restaurant. I have been doing that, primarily, my whole life. I was traveling and playing music, also.”

“I would say I always felt connected to nature, but through this program I feel more so.”

“As for what I’ve learned through this program - Lots of technique, but as far as life skills or lessons, there is a level of contentment that you learn when you’re outside, away from everything for 10 days at a time. You find pleasure in simple things; when you go back into the city, that carries over. So, I’m more content in general.”

“I love the work itself. I like the lifestyle of living in a small group and sharing food. I also like the solitude and rock, tread, and chainsaw work. There’s nothing I don’t really like. I enjoy working with my hands, so I like it all.”

“The initial goal coming here was to get a job doing park maintenance, but after doing this for a long time, I think I would like to eventually get into trail design and layout.”

 

Ryan Garwood
North Texas

“I’ve been living in Austin, TX for about 5 years now. Originally, I am from North Texas. Before this, I was working in an automotive shop.”

“I joined this program to do something new. I started working in the shop and being in the daily grind, and then I found this job on Craigslist. I didn’t know it was in Austin and I had been living in Austin for 5 years and never heard about it. Thankfully I found it and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

“Since working on this crew, I feel way more connected to nature now. Being out 10 days at a time, you definitely get one-on-one with nature. One of the biggest things I have learned is just how powerful nature really is. That it can rebuild itself; the elements are very powerful.”

“The most valuable lesson I have learned is walk in a single file line, not shoulder to shoulder so you don’t broaden the trail out.”

I like the comradery of the trail crew. It’s like a family environment everyone has each other’s back. Do chores, one person does one thing, and another person does another thing and it all works out. My least favorite thing is probably the bugs and insects, and creepy crawlies.”

“After my term of service, I would like to do another term, but, at the end of the day, I would like to be in Texas Parks and Wildlife or do some firefighting. That would be cool.”

 

Anna Jones
Age: 21
Waco, TX

“Before this I was working in a zoo at their gift shop, and before that I was working as a grocery store clerk. I heard about TxCC on Reddit and it sounded like something I would be interested in and maybe a career field that I would like to move towards. I’m really glad I made the decision!”

“I do feel more connected to nature. I’ve never really camped a lot in my life, only once before this program. It’s a different experience completely to be out in the wilderness for 10 days at a time. Especially out at Cap Rock where we were primitive camping, which was a unique experience but I really enjoyed it! Something I have learned about nature is that it is amazing what the environment can do. Out at Cap Rock we had to the stone staircase, because the rain just carves out gullies and stuff. Erosion is a big thing, it’s amazing what can happen to the earth over a span of a few years.”

“Honestly, my favorite part about this work is probably camp related things. Learning how to live out here and learning to live with minimal things. It’s a very different life than living in the city with all of these things you think you need, until you just go out into the wilderness and realize you don’t need any of them.”

“I think what I enjoy the most is honestly the comradery in the crew. You get so close with these people, working with them 10 days at a time and living with them for hours. My least favorite thing is probably the bugs. I love animals, just not insects. They get in my tent and it’s very upsetting.”

“After this, I plan to go back and finish off my degree. I want to get a degree in Wildlife Biology.”

 

Josh DelRio
Age: 28

“I joined TxCC for a new experience. Before TxCC, I was playing Rock n’ Roll and working for a moving company.”

“My perspective on nature has changed. What I’ve learned is that nature heals itself pretty readily, considering what humans do to it. That’s definitely the best thing I have learned about trails and nature.”

The most valuable skill I have learned is how to live outside for more than a week. Definitely got that on lock down.

“Being on a trail crew, at least for TAT, we’ve been to a lot of different areas. So, being able to go to all of those places and different environments were the coolest part. My least favorite, recently, is the chiggers.”

“After my term of service, I would like to get into wildland firefighting. Hopefully get the Travis County fire rescue gig. Somewhere around there, chainsaws are cool and fire is awesome. After seeing that at Cooper Lake, that probably sparked my interest very much.”

 

 

 

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