Perspectives on Belonging at the Naturally Latinos Conference


Perspectives on Belonging at the Naturally Latinos Conference

Writing was spearheaded by Daniella Rodriguez, with valuable contributions from Megan Fink, Emily Van Laan, and Bruce Young.

In January, members of the NAAEE team attended the 5th annual Naturally Latinos Conference presented by Nature Forward. The theme of this year’s conference was Perteneciendo: Nuestras Raíces, Nuestra Tierra (Belonging: Our Roots, Our Earth) and centered around experiences of Latine leaders who are often “the only” person of their identity in the room.

The hybrid conference sessions featured discussions with environmental professionals, environmental justice advocates, educators, and nature enthusiasts, who have become influential voices in the environmental movement. It also created opportunities for other Latines working in these spaces to lend their voices to the conversation and amplified the importance of belonging to all in attendance. The experience was eye-opening, and our staff learned critical steps and considerations to engage Hispanic and Latino communities.

Participants heard from leaders like keynote speakers Dr. Jessica Hernandez, author of the book Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science, and Vanessa Garcia Polanco, researcher and Government Relations Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. Listening to their personal stories was humbling and inspiring. Stories showcased their work centering indigenous wisdom and diverse voices in the environmental movement and on feeling seen and heard in the field of environmental professionals.

Resources for Outreach, Policies, and Programming

Topics revolving around language justice, workforce development, Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (JEDIA), and community engagement were front and center and revealed many ways to improve communication practices, outreach programs, and professional learning resources for Hispanic and Latino communities. For example, panelists from the “Forget What You Know: Re-learning Community Outreach” session discussed strategies like sending their subscribers bilingual text alerts. Other lessons learned included offering programs solely in Spanish for this target audience, considering specific days and times programs are offered to align with work schedules, and providing vital support like childcare to better engage with families.

A wealth of JEDIA resources and tools that help organizations reflect on and improve their efforts to advance JEDIA initiatives were showcased throughout the sessions. Some examples include the Racial Equity Impact Assessment Toolkit from Race Forward, which allows you to determine how a proposed project or action will impact different racial and ethnic groups and to avoid policies that perpetuate institutional racism. Green 2.0 was founded to address the need for more diversity in positions of power. They hold non-profit organizations and foundations in the environmental sector accountable with their Transparency Report Cards on organizations' efforts to incorporate and maintain JEDIA principles.

Environmental justice resources were also shared. The Keep Cool DC StoryMap is a climate mitigation and resiliency tool the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment created to help its residents better understand and adapt to climate change impacts. One featured solution is enhancing tree equity in our nation’s cities. “The Climate Divide” is a podcast in English and Spanish by Hola Cultura. It serves to educate communities on the causes of Urban Heat Island Effect and how that disproportionately impacts communities of color in Washington, D.C.

Barriers and Opportunities to Engagement

One existing barrier expressed by many of the Latine professionals at the conference discussed the disadvantage of not being compensated for their skills and time, highlighting the need for more organizations to offer paid training and stipends if they want people from BIPOC communities to participate, work, and engage with their programs. As programmers and organizations working to engage BIPOC communities, the importance of consistently showing up, respecting existing knowledge, and investing the time to build relationships and co-create programs was emphasized throughout the conference.

Throughout the experience, joy and optimism were omnipresent. Sessions on art, music, poetry, and photography were featured prominently and enhanced the core theme of belonging. Champions for equity and leaders in environmental education, outreach, and innovation were celebrated. NAAEE staff were honored to participate and learn alongside national thought leaders in this space. We look forward to attending Nature Forward’s Taking Nature Black Conference in 2025 and hope to see you there with us!

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