February is Black History Month and a time to particularly celebrate and elevate the history, culture, and achievements of Black Americans and Canadians.

While we should honor, recognize, and celebrate the history, culture, leadership and achievements of Black Americans and Canadians year-round, February is a month to dedicate more time to our individual and respective learning journeys. It is also a month to particularly acknowledge the inequality that Black Americans and Canadians continue to face and the work still to be done.

A recent U.S. Census Survey found that less than three percent of foresters and conservation scientists identify as African American. So here at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), we want to elevate the many important contributions of historic and current Black Americans working in forestry and natural resources conservation.

We’re supporting Black Americans and Canadians interested in forestry and natural resources through SFI’s commitment to embody diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility across our work and network. Whether through our work in standards and certification; curriculum and professional development for educators; efforts to support youth in green career pathways; or community and conservation—we are working to remove barriers and supporting a future green jobs workforce that is more representative of the racially and ethnically diverse communities in the U.S. and Canada.

We’re also highlighting the Black Americans who have achieved great things in the fields of natural resources conservation in the spotlights below and with our soon-to-be released The Journey of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide. Learn more about the many different pathways Black Americans have taken to a career in sustainability, and their contributions to educating and inspiring people to make better choices for the planet.

The profiles of those below are just the start in a long list of Black role models in the forest and conservation sector. We encourage you to continue to deepen your learning and hope that the trailblazing work of those spotlighted below inspires you to carry on their work to break barriers and create new opportunities for Black forestry and sustainability leaders.

We’re also spotlighting three Black women in the SFI network who are changing the world by championing natural resource conservation and representing for future generations of sustainability leaders of color.

Ebonie Alexander: Preserving Black American Family Lands

Although African Americans had amassed 15 million acres/6 million hectares of land in the U.S. South between 1865 and 1919, today 97% of those lands have been lost, according to the Land Trust Alliance. Ebonie Alexander leads one of the United States’ only conservation land trusts dedicated to using forestry as a key tool to keep land in the hands of Black families. She also serves on the SFI board of directors.

Alexander designed and implemented the Black Family Land Trust’s (a former SFI Community Grantee) African American Land Ethic and Wealth Retention and Asset Protection programs, which have assisted landowners to retain family ownership and control of more than $12.5 million of their land assets and deployed more than $500,000 USDA-EQIP funding to landowners.

“I strongly believe that private land ownership, particularly wooded land, is an essential element in asset protection and intergenerational wealth creation. Our collective work is important to ensure that there will be a next generation of private land, and sustainable woodland ownership. I am grateful for this opportunity to serve, learn and share.” – Ebonie Alexander

Dr. Antomia Farrell: Supporting Opportunities in Forestry for Black Professionals

Dr. Antomia Farrell is the former President of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment (CAFE). In her former role, Farrell was central to MANRRS’ partnership with SFI to support Black youth in considering a green career trajectory.

Together, we are supporting awareness, mentorship, and career opportunities in the forest and conservation sectors to advance a more diverse and resilient green workforce. Listen to Farrell discuss the sector’s opportunities for recruiting and retaining more people of color with then-Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, Society of American Foresters CEO Terry Baker, and others at our 2021 SFI Annual Conference.

“As organizations that foster the relationship building of young people from diverse backgrounds, it is important for MANRRS and SFI to collaborate and continue to expose our present and future leaders to opportunities that help create a pipeline of diverse talent.” – Dr. Antomia Farrell

Dr. Asia Dowtin: Inspiring Black Students with MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Michigan State University (MSU) Assistant Professor Asia Dowtin’s research works to quantify hydrologic and nutrient cycling in urban and community forests, and she also supports the University’s Multicultural Apprenticeship Program (MAP).

For more than 30 years, MAP has worked to recruit undergraduate scholars from racial, ethnic, and gender groups facing barriers to the natural resources sector through an immersive four-week learning experience that pairs students with faculty for a project that provides urban forest-related fieldwork and lab experience. Learn more about the program formerly supported by an SFI Community Grant and hear from MAP participants in the “High School Students Map the Future of Forests” SFI blog.

“MAP was born out of the acknowledgment that within the various disciplines of agriculture and natural resources, there was a pretty shocking under-representation of people from diverse socioeconomic, racial, and cultural groups…Through support from organizations such as SFI, we’ve been in a position to host multiple students and give them a very broad introductory experience into what forestry really is.” – Dr. Asia Dowtin

Want to stay updated on our work to spotlight and support Black American and Canadian journeys in forestry and conservation? Check out SFI’s latest In Brief Newsletter and sign up to receive our emails to be the amongst the first to know when we’ve released the Journey of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide and when we open new mentorship cohorts.

By Jerri Taylor, Director of Diversity in Career Pathways at SFI.

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