The Texas Master Naturalist Program is happy to announce a new mini-webinar series, “Be The Change”, dedicated to exploring diversity, equity & inclusion opportunities in our natural resource and conservation community. Just as the natural world thrives with biodiversity, our Texas Master Naturalist Program is dedicated to engaging all audiences in conservation, education and stewardship.
One of the goals with this mini series event is to start and continue to conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion amongst the Master Naturalist membership. Another goal of this series is to build a strategic guide or ‘playbook’ for TMN Chapters to use for years to come as they build diversity, equity and inclusion programming into their chapters’ activities. Speakers will share discussion questions and action items for each chapters & members to consider and execute as the series builds towards a capstone workshop – tentatively to be held Spring of 2022. This chapter-developed diversity strategy guide or ‘playbook’ will be a living document, focusing on the goals and action items chapters intend to take for increasing and/or retaining diverse members, along with reaching diverse audiences with their outreach programs. Hopefully this is a document that local chapters can build from for years to come.
Kicking off in March with our TMNTuesday event, this mini-series will run April through September on the third Tuesday of the month (tentatively based on speaker availability). Each of the series will be one hour held at the 12-noon hour CST to allow TMNs to join over the lunch hour if still engaged in the workforce and each will also be recorded for viewing later. These sessions can also count for at least Advanced Training 1-Hour.
- March 9th – #TMNTuesday presentation with Birdability
- April 20th
- May 18th
- June 15th
- July 20th
- August 17th
- September 21st
Making Friends and Influencing People for Conservation with Kelly Simon, Sam Kieschnick, and Tony Henehan
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in general, and the Wildlife Diversity Program’s Urban Wildlife Technical Guidance Team specifically, has long recognized the need to increase our interactions with and response to traditionally underserved audiences. We recognize that implementing change at the Department-wide level can only be accomplished where the rubber hits the road: at the levels of individual employees and their teams. We also are finding that the transition from talking about change to accomplishing change can be challenging.
Our team decided to transfer our interest in the theoretical ideas of change to applied approaches in enacting change. We planned out specific actions with calendar targets to create actual, measurable progress toward the goals of increasing our understanding of and building connections with all audiences, especially with those we’ve previously underserved. Called the Urban Listening Tour, our team has done some impressive work gathering information and finding underserved places, but we are finding some unanticipated challenges in other areas. In this presentation, we’re going to talk about the specific actions we decided to take, what we hoped the outcomes would be, and what some of the real-world roadblocks have been. To inform this talk, the authors collected information on the progress on these goals, then conducted anonymous interviews with each member of the team to understand some of the roadblocks we’ve encountered. In this presentation, we encourage ourselves to feel some discomfort in facing these personal roadblocks head-on and hope our experiences can other groups as we all start to break down the walls between our good thoughts and some powerful actions.
Take on individual apprehension
Consider forming small groups to answer these questions:
- Why are we taking steps to increase diversity of the people active in natural resource appreciation and conservation?
- What does “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” mean in the context of natural resource appreciation and conservation?
- What makes me uncomfortable about this specific activity/activities designed to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion?
- Ask each other the question: What do you need to know to overcome this apprehension? Write down the answers. As a group, reflect on any of your own experiences that might help provide that information.
- Make a plan within your small group to take on a small “onramp” activity. As a group, take on the activity and once you complete it, come back and reflect on what you did, fears that you overcame, new things you learned, and what you’d like to do next.
Who are you missing?
Consider sitting in the parking lot near the trailhead, near a playground, near the picnic area, and/or near the check-in area of a state park and take note of the parties that arrive. Who is there? What are they doing? Be sure to write your observations down so you don’t inadvertently remember people who are similar to you differently from others who are less similar.
These folks appreciate opportunities to experience the outdoors. How are the demographics of this selection of people similar to or different from your TMN chapter demographics?
What other groups are in my area?
Go to https://www.meetup.com/. Scroll down to “Join a group” and click it. Enter your closest town or city, and explore the groups that have already formed and are open to visitors. Do you see any groups that surprise you? You can also search by interest (hiking, bird watching, geocaching, etc). What if your TMN chapter wanted to invite one of these groups to have a partnership activity (multi-group hiking, for example). If you do pursue this opportunity, be sure all participating groups are able to do all the things they normally do. For example, Outdoor Afro frequently includes an oral history moment in each of their activities. Some TMN chapters offer a “Naturalist moment” at their events. Try to arrange the itinerary so that members of all organizations can participate in these moments and activities during your partnership event.
Build your network
Get started with park visits
Go to Google Earth (https://earth.google.com/web/). On the left side of the map, click the icon that looks like a stack of paper, or like a parallelogram with a shadow (“Map Style.”) On the options that appear, click on “Custom” and then click the arrow next to “Landmarks” to expand that menu. Check the box labelled “Natural Features.” Next, go up to the “Places” menu and click the arrow to expand that menu. Check the option for “Parks.” Uncheck everything else. Click on the parallelogram again to close that menu.
Now, in the Google Earth pane where you see satellite imagery, navigate to your city. Zoom in to areas of your city that you know are underserved. This takes local knowledge – only citizens very familiar with the city will know where these places are. The more local knowledge, the better, so consider making this a group activity. As you zoom farther and farther in, you should see regional parks all the way down to local neighborhood parks.
- Consider using this reconnaissance to develop a list of parks your chapter will visit for a nature walk, birdwatching event, or other appropriate event. Consider holding a mini bioblitz there.
- Who else could you invite to join you?
- While there, consider wearing TMN tshirts and buttons that say “Ask me what I’m doing.” Be ready with some answers! 😊
- How could the information you gather benefit the people in that community?
- How could you use the information you gather to talk with city officials? Which department/s would be most interested in the information you gather?
15 Orgs promoting Diversity outdoors: https://bearfoottheory.com/diversity-outdoors-organizations/
Diversity Outdoors Organization: https://www.diversifyoutdoors.com/
Several organization connections listed in these links and their article comments: https://www.adventure-journal.com/2020/06/these-orgs-could-use-your-help-to-bring-more-diversity-to-the-outdoors/
Bridging the Gap: Getting New Audiences Outdoors in the Rio Grande Valley
This presentation takes a closer look into how nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley have successfully attracted new audiences to their programs. We take a closer look into how to create positive connections to non-traditional nature center visitors and how we can use what we have learned to reach out to new audiences in the future. Many of these concepts are universal and can be adapted to other groups and interests.
The following questions/exercises could be answered or completed individually, or in a small group.
Who is out there?
What kinds of groups exist in your community that are not a regular part of your group or not visiting your partner site?
Are there factors that prevent these groups from being a part of your group? Does the built environment at your partner site hinder this group’s ability to enjoy the site?
Invitations and New Experiences
What opportunities are there to reach out to new groups and invite them to have their first experience with your group or partner site?
What kind of gateway/entry-level positive experiences can you provide to new groups?
Go the Extra Minute
Take a little more time (one minute) to make sure someone new to your group or your partner site feels welcome and comfortable in that space.
Learn from their questions and take steps to make new groups feel like they belong.
Embrace the Pioneers
Gain understanding from folks from new or under-represented groups. What helped them decide to join your group or visit your partner site?
Build a trusting relationship with pioneers and ask for their input in attracting new audiences to your group or site.
Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community by Donna Walker-Kuhne
US Fish and Wildlife Human Dimensions Resource Portal –
With our Be The Change series in full momentum, this month’s webinar will offer a chance to pause and reflect on the progress of the series so far.
The July 20th Be The Change webinar will focus on how our TMN Chapters have been able to contemplate and incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion ideas and resources shared thus far.
Various master naturalist chapters are working towards these efforts and will share case studies of experiences they’ve had in their progress.
Join us to collaborate and share resources your chapters may still need as your organizations build toward becoming more inclusive and diverse.
The June 15th Speaker for the Be the Change Series will be Judge Ronnie McDonald speaking on managing relationships and learning how to “sit a spell”.
Don’t Count Me Out: Managing Relationships, Diversity and Inclusion
Ronnie McDonald served as Bastrop County Judge from during a time in which the population of the county doubled. He was elected at age 27, becoming one of the youngest to ever serve as a County Judge in the State of Texas and the first African American to be elected county wide in Bastrop County as well as one of two to become the 1st African American elected in Texas out of 254 counties. He oversaw a $31 million county budget and managed emergencies of flood and fire, including the largest fire in Texas history working across party lines to save lives and promote recovery. Prior to being elected, Judge McDonald served in the state comptroller’s office as Assistant Executive Director for Family Pathfinders. After retiring from the judgeship, he was the government relations and education liaison for the firm McCreary, Veselka, Bragg and Allen in Round Rock.
Most recently, McDonald served as Executive Director for Strategic Partnerships and Community Relations at Texas A & M University, working with the directors of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas A&M Forest Service to provide direction on strategic priorities and focus. He served as the primary contact point for other partners by providing updates on a variety of joint interests such as natural disasters, providing AgriLife agency support to rural communities and grant/partnership opportunities. Currently, Ronnie serves as a lead pastor at BOLD Church in Bastrop, Texas, and partner at Ruach Group Communications where he travels the nation training religious community leaders and helping communities map and manage assets for strong economies and strategic growth. Ronnie graduated from Texas A&M in 1993 with a bachelor’s in political science and business. He has been married to his wife, Dr. Ty Mills McDonald, for over 24 years and the couple has three children.
- Being a change agent is about including and expanding your circle
- Because we have limited experience with people we give cast broad stereotypes.
- A lot of times we come to a community asking for something rather than coming to appreciate what they are doing and listening and learning from them.
- Because we don’t know, we don’t do.
The May 18th speaker for the Be The Change webinar series was Alex Bailey of Black Outside, based in San Antonio, Texas.
From Awareness to Allyship: An intro to Black Outside, Inc and engaging BIPOC communities.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 and increased awareness of racial injustice, outdoor participation within black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities has increased. What does this increase mean for outdoor education? In what ways can one act in allyship to ensure a more inclusive outdoors in Texas? Learn from TEDxSan Antonio speaker and founder of Black Outside, Inc who will share more about the work of Black Outside, Inc and explore what it means to be in allyship with BIPOC communities in nature.
From Alex, review the following resources and reflect on the questions!
- To what extent have you engaged in learning about BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) stories, perspectives, and experiences in the outdoors? (Linked here is an accompanying article to explore by Latria Graham)
- While many BIPOC communities have stories of collective injustice and pain in the outdoors, there are also stories of joy and triumph, in what ways are you exploring stories of joy as you connect with diverse communities? (Below are some sample questions to ask youth or families that center [focus] on positive experiences in nature)
- Where is your favorite place to go outside (or in nature) and why?
- If you could choose one person in your family or in your community to go on a walk with, who would it be and where would you go?
- Close your eyes and imagine being outside: Where are you? What do you feel? What are you doing?
- If you had to choose one plant or animal to represent your family, what would it be and why?
- What does nature mean to you?
- As a community of knowledge holders of the natural world, how are you connecting your intimate knowledge of plants and animals to BIPOC stories and history in the outdoors? (Here is a great story about Harriet Tubman and owls)
April 20th – End of Outreach
The April 20th Be The Change webinar was hosted by David Buggs, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
The End of Outreach: Recognizing Unmet Conservation Audiences
The conservation community has come to realize that broadening the audience of people who care about our Natural Resources is important to the relevance, support for, and sustainability of, our ecosystems. Yet, outreach programs have long been a staple of conservation organizations for recruiting new users and creating interest in the outdoors. In recent years, the landscape of our population has become more diverse and more urban. And while the broad support for conservation has increased, active conservation supporters have decreased and remained dominated by a mostly white and predominately male constituency. How do we create a paradigm shift to increase the support for conservation without forcing assimilation and without losing current supporters at the same time?
- “Be comfortable being in a position where you’re not in control.”
- “It might be a good practice, but is it a best practice for you?”
- “You have to work on the recruitment piece but you also have to work on the retention piece.”
- “You’ve got to start with your “why.” If it’s not personal, you’re not going to do it. It has to be personal so that you not only do it but do it well.”
- “Just put the invitation out there—not saying here’s what we want you to do, but the invitation of “come tell us what you think about it.”
- “Be who you are, but be honest. If there’s something you know, say that you don’t know it.”
- “What we all can be is respectful, recognizing that we come from different backgrounds with different perspectives and that’s okay.”
- “Find that third space that you do agree on. Don’t dwell on the stuff that you disagree on. Let’s stay there and see how we can move on.”
- “Don’t try to solve all discrimination issues—just focus on “how do we develop relationships.”
- “It’s not about numbers, head count, it’s about relationships. How do I develop a relationship with somebody outside my particular group so I can grow and I can learn?”
March 9th – Birdability
Recording of the Event
- “You never know what is going to happen when or until you include someone.”
- “One in 4 Americans have a disability.”
- “When you include everyone, everyone benefits.”
- “It’s not enough to just think you’re being inclusive. You have to be intentionally inclusive.”
- “There is no wrong way to enjoy birds in nature.”
Playbook Conversations & Questions
- Are the programs and events you’re involved with intentionally designed to be accessible and inclusive? Considering what you know now, do you think they are as inclusive as they could be?
- At events you’re part of, look around at the participants. Who isn’t here? What can you do ahead of time for future events to make sure those folks know they are invited and welcome?
- Do all your events include accessibility information in the write-ups?
- For any paid events or equipment, is there a way the financial barriers can be reduced or removed? (Grants or sponsorships might help?)
- Is there a way to adapt or modify your programs so that multiple senses can receive the information you’re sharing? Maybe adding captions to Zoom meetings so people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be included… or adding a tactile component to a native plant walk so someone who is totally blind can feel different plants?
- Are your chapter meetings, new training classes and other events (when they’re held in person) held in locations that comply with the ADA Standards? If not, what can you do to make the location as physically accessible as possible?
- Birdability – Guidance Documents tab is full of resources
- Inclusive Bird Outing Leader – although it’s written about birding, almost all of it applies to anyone leading a naturalist/interpretive hike of any kind.
- Inclusive Organizations page is also applicable to chapters
- Access Considerations and Inclusive Language Use are pretty important!