An Interview with Reginald “Flip” Hagood, The Corps Network 2018 Legacy Achievement Honoree


Flip Hagood with Liz Putnam, Founder of the Student Conservation Association (SCA)

Reginald “Flip” Hagood, formerly of the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service, is the 2018 Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winner. We interviewed Flip to learn more about him and his experience in the Corps movement. Click here to read his bio.
 


Tell us a little bit about your personal background.

I’m a local kid here to Washington, DC. I grew up and went to public schools here, and still live fairly close to the same neighborhood where I grew up. My old high school, Eastern High, is two blocks away.
I also went to university here: Howard and American University for undergrad. For graduate school I went to NOVA Southeastern while I was stationed for the Park Service in Georgia.

I’ve lived in other states and traveled a lot in the last 50 years, having worked in Georgia and Arizona and in the beltway area in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, but right now we’re living on Capitol Hill near Lincoln Park. Most of my life has been spent here in the Mid-Atlantic region. I have a small family here in the DC metropolitan area. I’m married and I have one son and two grandchildren. 

 

Tell us about your career with the National Park Service and how you transitioned to the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

Career with the National Park Service (NPS)
I joined the National Park Service after serving three years in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam era. I spent a little bit of time in Vietnam and served the country. Upon my return, I learned about a program that transitioned returning veterans to public service careers. I passed the exam and got hired with the National Park Service as a law enforcement officer.

I was familiar with national parks. Growing up, I knew many of the parks within the National Capital Region (Anacostia Park, Rock Creek, etc.). As a Boy Scout, I went to Prince William Forest Park for my first overnight camping trip. As I grew older, my interest in the outdoors expanded when I went to Shenandoah as a high school student.

My interest in the Park Service came about by playing in parks and learning about the outdoors as a child. I credit my grandfather with a lot of that; every summer, up until I was 14, I spent with him in the Carolinas. That was outdoor time for me, doing everything one can do in the outdoors as a young person and exploring with him and learning about the land. Many ethics and lessons came from spending time with family in rural South Carolina during those 90-day summer breaks from school.

I have always had a love for outdoor work, and that certainly inspired me when I decided to look for a career. Even with the National Park Service, it always had what I call a “green side” to it, or what I think later translated into an environmental and conservation career for me.

I spent the first 15 – 20 years of my career in what they call law enforcement and protection work in the National Park Service. At the same time, however, I was developed as a training officer for the Park Service and was eventually assigned to be an instructor for law enforcement employees. That position sent me to Georgia for six years at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where I taught in the academy, including instructing national park rangers. In Georgia, I continued my education and did a little adjunct teaching at a couple community colleges and colleges in the Southeast. I worked with younger people, primarily college age and high school age, both as a formal instructor and as a volunteer.

In the latter part of my National Park Service career – a career that ultimately covered 30 years – I moved to the administrative part of the house. I eventually was in charge of both formal and informal training and professional development for the National Park Service. I served 20,000 employees as a key proponent of training and education. Within the Department of the Interior, I served 70,000 employees, looking at the human resource needs, educational needs, and training needs of all the employees. Working with youth in these agencies helped build a bridge for when I moved over to the conservation side of my career with SCA.

 

Career with the Student Conservation Association (SCA)
I became familiar with the Student Conservation Association working at the National Park Service because of the partner relationship that existed. That relationship – based on educating and training youth – was in my purview. My position at the Park Service gave me the opportunity to learn about a lot of youth organizations, like scouting groups, Corps, and other programs. I had staff assigned to help train park rangers and interpreters how to educate young people; this certainly fortified my understanding of working with young people and educating them in the outdoors.

After my career with the Park Service, I had an opportunity to retire early at 51 years of age with 30 years of federal service. I took that and went out to the non-profit sector. The opportunity to become director of SCA’s Conservation Career Development program came about. I worked to help them diversify their student base of participants.

The transition for me was an easy one because I was very familiar with SCA; I knew staff there. This new opportunity afforded me a chance to take my learning in the federal service and apply that to the non-profit area. I’ve counseled many others in public service careers to do the same. I let them know many of the skills, knowledge, and abilities they acquired in public service are applicable to the independent and non-profit sector.

That’s an overview of my Park Service and SCA story, but what I’ll add to that is that I started to work very early on. My first formal job was at 14 years of age, when I no longer went to Carolina in the summer. I had a job every summer. I had my first government job at 15 in a new program started in the Washington area where they hired local youth. I was a laborer in that job, working at the Pentagon. I worked while I was at Howard University at the government printing office, working on a night shift, running machines and binding books that were then sent out to governmental folks. So, my government and public service career started quite early in my life. That allowed me to retire with 30 years of service when I was still in my early 50s; all that time accrued. I got a real jump start on the federal career and federal retirement.

 

Who are some of your heroes? What did they do to inspire you?

I have two people that I lean towards as heroes: Frederick Douglass and Thurgood Marshall. I’m inspired by Douglass for his life well-spent in championing the cause of freedom for slaves. Many people know who he is and the work he did, but it’s interesting to learn more about him personally, in terms of how he was self-educated and later acquired formal learning. He transitioned himself from someone who toiled as a youth on a farm, to become a respected leader in the abolition movement. Douglass has always been a champion of mine. I have numerous photos that I have collected of him. As an early park employee, I worked at the Douglass home in Southeast DC. It was one of the places where I often had protection and security responsibilities. There was a caretaker who worked at the building that I got to know well. I’d stop by to check on her in terms of her personal safety, but it also gave me real exposure to the house, the property, and the man. She shared many stories about him and I learned insights about the work Douglass accomplished. I also learned about how he spent part of his life in New England. When I met my wife in Southeast Massachusetts, we spent time in New Bedford, MA, where Douglass lived at one point. I could broaden my understanding and get a different look at him at that point of his life.

I’m inspired by Thurgood Marshall because I’m a child of the sixties and grew up during the Civil Rights Movement. I recognized the need for change, having spent many a summer in the South and dealing with bias and Jim Crow laws; dual water fountains and those kinds of experiences. One of the real icons in law at the time was Marshall, later to be Justice Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court. He has a special place in my heart and is a hero because of the personal fortitude he showed and the impact he had on our society.

I view both men as having very impactful lives. The work they did helped change this country.
 

Given your experience, what is the primary piece of wisdom you would give to a young person currently enrolled in a Corps? What is the primary piece of advice you would give to staff at Corps?

For both Corpsmembers and Corps staff, I have very similar advice. Focusing first on the Corpsmembers: simply listen and learn. When I say listen and learn, I mean it in a very broad sense. Open yourself up to new experiences, challenge yourself, and do things that you might enjoy, as well as things you might not enjoy. Try to expand your boundaries.

By listening, I mean listening in every way. Listen to advice and counsel. On the counterbalance, I encourage Corpsmembers to question. I think a lot more is learned through the answer of a question than it is by just having information told to you. When you can learn and find answers through your own inquiries, I think the assimilation of information occurs in a much better way. To young Corpsmembers out there, I’ll say what I always used to say to SCA participants: you don’t have to be as verbal, but turn on your ears. You have two of them, but one mouth. Embrace that 2:1 ratio. Make a query and listen to the answer.

I apply the same advice to staff, because as educators, trainers, leaders, and supervisors, staff really need to listen to the youth in every way. One must hear them, validate them, take in their messages, be respectful of them. Even though the relationship is somewhat parental in terms of the age and experience dynamic, open yourself to also be a receiver of information and the relationship will be much stronger. The fact they know they’ve got someone they can go to who’s willing to listen provides a safe place and an opportunity for you to be impactful. Taking the time to understand their music, dance, culture, heritage goes a long way.

Listening is important, but the questioning role also applies to staff. Through what I call the one-on-one’s and the one-on-group, one should posit questions that hopefully motivate and inspire others to seek out learning. Positing questions can be a platform for learning, for the growth of the Corpsmember as well as the growth of the staff member.

 

You’ve worked to try and break down barriers and increase diversity and equity in the conservation movement. In short, what do you believe is the primary reason for the lack of diversity in conservation? What are steps we can take to address this disparity? 

I’ve spent a lot of time in this work over the last 50+ years. That includes my own personal experiences of not being allowed to participate, whether that was not being able to swim or get a drink of water because of someone’s perception of me primarily based on color. Exclusion to me is a negative that I won’t accept.

It’s always been a motivator for me personally to, at any chance, try to open opportunities across the board and break down barriers that might keep someone separate because of their race, ethnicity, gender, age, any factor. I’ve tried to break down those barriers and create more equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the green movement. This isn’t easy because exclusivity is a part of this movement and part of its history.

To remedy that, and allow people to experience what I think are the values of spending time outdoors and experiencing nature, we can meet people where they are. It’s all very relative.  I’m working on the steering committee of a group called the “Green Leadership Trust,” which is trying to increase diversity among the board members and professional staff within not-for-profit and green organizations. I am working with them and other conservation and environmental justice organizations to strengthen their leadership by having more brown, yellow, red, and black people at the table; more women; and more young people.

I think one reason a lack of diversity exists in the conservation sector is its heritage and history. It also has to do with opportunity. A lot of times, getting to the outdoors is part of an economic issue, or because someone is excluded. Opportunity and exclusion are the primary reasons for the lack of diversity that we face in conservation, environment, and recreation.

We see a lot of this being institutionalized and present today. I certainly see change within my life and I applaud every step that has been taken. I also see our losses occurring today when decisions are made to stop the protection of cultural heritage sites and natural resources. I think we have to continue to work very diligently to address this disparity, this lack of opportunity, lack of inclusion, and lack of the ability to be a voice at the table.

When we talk about biology and the concept of diversity, its value to the planet is so overwhelming. Without diversity, there would be nothing. I believe the same analogy aligns with human beings: the more diverse we are the stronger we are.
 

In the future, what developments would you like to see happen in the Corps movement?

Growth. I know many of the recipients of this award in the past have said the same thing, but we’re not there yet. There needs to be many, many more gateways to the outdoors through conservation Corps, as well as service Corps and educational Corps.

The more learning opportunities like these, the better, but we need to be on guard and know our budgetary facts. We hear about budget constraints on education and youth and public lands; that should alert all of us who are part of Corps. We need to be focused on that so we don’t lose what we have gained. At the same time, we need to seek the investment to grow more in every dimension and open ourselves up to new opportunities.

I was in this movement long enough to remember a time when the number of women who participated in Corps was miniscule. In my lifetime, I’ve seen that change. I know we’re not there yet. Among other diversity issues, the gender imbalance needs to change. One of the things that was a great moment in my life at SCA was when the percentage of women participants versus males changed. There was a flipping of the script. It used to be male-dominated and finally there was a 51:49 year, I recall. To me, that was momentous. I can remember the first all-women crew and the first crew for LGBTQ youth. Broadening up the platform, broadening up the gateways, expanding the number of Corps… they don’t need to be government-sponsored, they could be corporately-sponsored, they can be foundation-sponsored. Those in leadership need to be entrepreneurial and creative so that we build towards this future of expanded Corps opportunities. I think that’s the one development I would like to see happen: continued growth so that more young people can be impacted by serving in a Corps.

 

What do you hope your legacy will be?

Well, that’s a tough one, because you don’t quite know. I guess my wish would be that every young person that I have touched, if there’s any seed I planted in them, I hope they would do the same for others.

I hope through their learning and experiences in the conservation movement, their public service, their working on the land and working to aid others, I hope that that inspires them to be servants throughout their lives. I hope they take on a philosophy of learning and apply that in service to others.

If I have any legacy at all, I would hope that I would have some motivational impact such that others would pick up the mantel and be champions for younger people in their field, even if they don’t work in the conservation arena. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you’re doing…lawyer, doctor, public servant, laborer, educator, any job in technology…there are ways to impact the next generation. Hopefully they become inspired to be the next champions so we’re always growing a larger cadre of those to follow us than those that came before us.