The Wild Life was born out of a desire to help alleviate something that, at the time, we were calling the nature accessibility gap. Initially, it was clear that this gap existed along economic and other demographic lines, exposing a stark pattern of under-representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals and communities in science and nature as a result of barriers of access to natural areas, and inequitable access to resources which would make those options a real possibility.
To back up briefly, the true factors leading to this clear and present gap that has allowed for a clearly homogenous (White) group’s ability to lay claim to these fields is something we’ve thought about and tried to understand for years. If there’s anything we know from science, homogeneity is rarely a good thing for sustainability and progress. At first, the causes seemed to be largely economic and geographic at their root.
As an educator, I spend a great deal of time reflecting on and investigating my role as a white male, my privilege, my complicity, my roles, my downfalls, and areas where I still need to learn and grow. I’ve committed to working actively against racism, but of course, I still have so much to learn and find that I am doing so every day.
It’s hard to admit, but only in the last year or so have we begun to rectify our understanding of that gap with our understanding of the greatest public and human rights threat of our time—racism—and realize that the same key components that perpetuate systemic/institutionalized racism—those being white supremacy, systems of money and power, and widespread aversive racism/refusal to acknowledge a problem, or even color, on behalf of white people—are the very same components that lead to a gap in access and participation in science and the outdoors.
Now, the stats here are something I could go on at length about, but I’m stating all of this as a matter of fact, not debate or as something that needs convincing.
Recent events, such as the Central Park incident where a woman called the police on a black birder named Christian Cooper because he politely asked her to abide by leash laws, as well as recent initiatives like #BlackBirdersWeek organized by @BlackAFinStem, have made it clear that we have failed to address the real issue at root to issues of accessibility and inclusion—racism.
First, let us just point out that we are not the biggest fans of using the term “inclusion” in this context, because it implies an “allowance”. It feels icky because the converse is to suggest that those who aren’t included don’t already belong when the truth is that a sinister system is at play. However, it is also true that being hired, being accepted, and being included are typically all decided upon by white folks in leadership or managerial positions, and therefore we must acknowledge that the very notion of inclusion is to acknowledge that science and nature are exclusive based on lines of race which have only served to further economic divides and the idea of exclusion on “socioeconomic” lines.
We have come to the realization that, while this gap may be a matter of inclusion and accessibility, the real threat to science and the outdoors is a pattern of exclusion based on race and class. That needs to change.
More frequently than most would care to realize, and by most I mean white people who have long laid claim to these areas, these patterns of exclusion manifest themselves in direct and even violent ways. The recent trending #BlackInTheIvory exposed an ugly truth about our fields of focus. We should point out though that our use of the word “expose” is not a word directed at BIPOC—they’ve known about these issues for years—but at white folks who have been complicit in, benefited from, or have ignored these events until it became impossible for them to be ignored any longer.
These exclusions exist as a result of systemic and institutionalized racism and oppression, therefore, the fight to end exclusion in the outdoors and in science is more than just a matter of addressing economics and interest—it is a fight against racism itself.
That is why The Wild Life is committing itself to learn and to strive to become an anti-racist entity, actively working to break down barriers of exclusion wherever they manifest themselves.
An article from resourcesmag.org called Diversity in the Great Outdoors: Is Everyone Welcome in America’s Parks and Public Lands? lists out 5 main barriers of exclusion:
1. Affordability and access
2. Early Childhood Experiences
3. Cultural Factors
4. Discrimination and White Racial Frames
5. Historical Trauma and Concerns of Public Safety
This is the start, the real start, of what our mission should have been from the beginning.
Before the end of the summer, we will have initiated all of the necessary filing paperwork establishing ourselves as a Nonprofit Organization!
YOU can help us to reach that goal even faster, and to begin the work on some of our first major initiatives. Our current goal is that $300 per month (just over double our current patronage) through our patrons at Patreon.com/TheWildLife is what we need to get this thing off of the ground.
We have already taken some significant steps, but we need this additional support if we are going to see this come to fruition. We will strive to highlight and boost the content of science communicators, scientists, and nature enthusiasts of diverse backgrounds and to feature more BIPOC voices on our show.
Here’s the thing: while under-representation is an issue, BIPOC ARE in nature and in science and their work deserves recognition. We will strive to increase the involvement of BIPOC individuals in our programs and community events, and the aim of virtually every initiative that we have settled upon is to fight against exclusivity barriers in terms of economics, increasing visibility, and increasing access to resources that are traditionally difficult to access or afford.
Current patrons will be converted to member supporters of a nonprofit when that time comes and will be able to, at that point, write off their monthly contributions as donations in their taxes. We are also looking for current member involvement, such as leading local community events.
Below is a list of our budding initiatives. The Binocular, Scholarship, and Field Trip Funds all have their own Tiers which are defaulted to $1 per month but that amount is customizable.
Field Trip Fund
State and National Parks advertise themselves as places owned by all, accessible to all, and welcoming to all. While the latter can be true, the first two often aren’t. Take St Cloud, MN, the small city in Central MN where we are based for example. The closest state park is 37 minutes away. Outside of the school setting, if you don’t have transportation, you don’t have access. Even in schools, if your building or district lacks the funding for such a field trip, you miss out on an opportunity experienced by more well-to-do schools or schools closer in proximity to some of these places. That’s why we are starting the Field Trip Fund. Funds can be rewarded in two ways: 1) if you’re an individual who cannot pay the field trip fee, apply to have your fee covered by us, and 2) if you’re an educator, apply for funding to cover the cost of transportation for your field trip! This fund is available for K through College.
Binoculars for Young Birders/ Naturalist Kits
This is an evolving initiative even as I type this. You can support the program by signing up for this initiatives specific Patreon level as a monthly contributor, or make a one-time donation, which will allow us to purchase new gear for individuals, schools, and to create additional kit supplies such as composition notebooks, and locally customizable naturalist booklets!
Free Educational Resources
We are working on developing mini-series podcasts in the areas of Zoology, Mammalogy, Ornithology, Ichthyology, Entomology, Herpetology, and General Ecology, as well as visual guides and materials for K-College FOR FREE!
A massive barrier, one that I myself faced in my 1st undergrad, is the upsetting reality that if you want to move forward In science, your almost guaranteed to need to take on an unpaid internship or have to do some type of training that you have to pay for out of pocket. If you can’t go incomeless for 3 months, or can’t afford these resume-boosting training, good luck. Well, we’re hoping to help. This fund, which you can support on Patreon, is meant to provide stipends of varying, need-based amounts so that YOU can rake those opportunities and not have to fear about how you’re going to put food on your plate.
Free Community Events, Get-Togethers, and Classes
The Wild Life will soon begin hosting more frequent hikes, naturalist programs, birding get together’s, park cleanups, and trainings in our local community, and mostly in places within city limits so that transportation is not as much of a factor. These will be free events, however, donations are accepted and appreciated. part of the purpose is also to build visibility, to increase access by underrepresented groups, and to show that nature is truly everywhere!
In addition to these initiatives, we will be striving to work in collaboration with local and state agencies, as well as local universities to see how we can help to diversify various programs and how we can help to lessen or obliterate barriers of exclusivity that have historically kept BIPOC out of those areas, and continue to do so into the future.