A Message from Capri St.Vil, Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
Around this time last year, I shared my thinking around The Corps Network’s Moving Forward Initiative, which is an effort supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to expand career exposure and increase employment in conservation and resource management for young adults of color. To increase diversity in these fields of work, we recognize the need to acknowledge and address issues of racial equity in the outdoors. Through the Moving Forward Initiative, we look to explore unconscious bias and structural racism within our own organization and at our member Corps. We recognize that, although unintentional, unquestioned bias limits opportunities for young adults of color and feeds off economic inequality, which we also aim to address in this initiative.
A Focus on Corpsmembers
Every year, the member organizations of The Corps Network enroll roughly 25,000 young people, 46% of whom identified as people of color in 2018. We understand and recognize our commitment to each one of them.
For 2019-2020, the Moving Forward Initiative will focus on Corpsmember Development. With the help of our facilitator for this work, Berwick Mahdi Davenport, a core trainer with The People’s Institute, we have entitled this work, “Corpsmember Liberation and Leadership: Undoing Disempowerment.” We initially considered using the word “empowerment” to describe this work, but we struggled with the use of this term since we felt that “disempowerment” much more aptly addressed the situation. Disempowerment allows one to look at how disenfranchised groups are made to feel ineffectual or unimportant through the deprivation of power, authority, or influence. We recognized that we are not here to empower, but instead to help our Corpsmembers understand structural and institutional racism and explore how disempowerment impacts how they see themselves and how others see them.
With the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Moving Forward Initiative, Mahdi has designed a series of workshops (in-person and virtual) where he will work with Corpsmembers from six of our Corps that are part of the Moving Forward Initiative (PowerCorps PHL, Civic Works, Mile High Youth Corps, Montana Conservation Corps, Los Angeles Conservation Corps and Civicorps). These workshops will address how disempowerment leads us to accumulate habits and tendencies that quietly live inside of us and possess the momentum to keep driving us in directions we really don’t want to go.
As Mahdi has said, “Disempowerment lives in our habits. We must focus on creating habits that work to empower us rather than disempower. Disempowerment in the final analysis ends up being the unconscious ways we are distracted from our own power.”
The intention of these workshops is to assist the Corpsmembers in changing the narrative on how they see themselves and their communities; to help them understand the impact of “internalized oppression”; and how to see oneself with new eyes. The goal is for Corpsmembers to learn how one can take power back and reclaim it, particularly if you never knew you had it.
The Corps Network also plans to introduce a series of interactive blogs that will join the existing Moving Forward Initiative blog series housed on our website. With these blogs, Corpsmembers will have a space to critically analyze the concepts presented in the Corpsmember “Liberation and Leadership” workshops.
A primary goal of these blogs is to position the Corpsmember as both the receiver of content but also the producer of content. Corpsmembers will actively engage in amplifying their voices and identifying how, as a creator of one’s image, they can resist through the power of words and visuals. Many of the Corpsmembers we serve have been disconnected from the academic space for some time; these blogs will give them the opportunity to understand that one can be both teacher and learner.
This series will encourage Corpsmembers to engage with research about conservation and environmental issues, but through the lens of how their communities and poor communities are impacted. This work will give Corpsmembers the opportunity to engage in the concept of equity and recognize their role as the “environmental stewards” of their community, including their social media community.
The third element of this work is the “Career Adventure.” Developed by Julene Jarnot, the Career Adventure is a competency model that addresses what, independent of technical expertise, our Corpsmembers need to know to successfully navigate their career. Career Adventure incorporates elements of “gamification” to increase motivation and generate a sense of ownership of learning and an “adventure mindset.” A curriculum will also be developed for Corps staff members to become learning facilitators to Corpsmembers. In this Competency-based approach Corpsmembers will show what they know; they will demonstrate in several ways that they have mastered important knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Later this year we will also introduce a series of “Virtual Workshops” that will give us the opportunity to further examine key topics introduced at our national conference in February. Please stay tuned.
And last, with the Google Classroom we have begun the process of starting a Learning Community where we can share and learn as we grapple with the topic of racial equity. It is here where we can develop a foundation that will provide us with the tools in which to critically examine how the concept of race has been constructed, how it has been maintained, and the role that we play as we look to explore these topics in facilitated small group discussions. If you are interested in learning more about this, please reach out to me and let me know.
When talking to Corpsmembers across the country about the impact of the Corps experience, we often hear how Corps give them “a sense of purpose” and a “feeling of “hope.” These elements resonate for us at The Corps Network, and we are looking to bring that deeper “sense of purpose” to our work in developing the next generation of leaders in our communities. However, we realize that to achieve this, our Corpsmembers as well as for our Corps must also be a part of this work.
Capri St. Vil
Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion