Black Lives Matter.

In the wake of amplified protests and awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, and because our organization believes that Black Lives Matter, our staff has increased our continued dialogue and commitment to this issue in an effort to be better and contribute toward a healthier, more sustainable community for all. The recent experience of fellow birder, Christian Cooper, and the deaths of Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd highlight how Black Americans are still facing racial injustice.

Berks Nature has been thinking a lot about diversity, equity, inclusion and environmental justice (DEIJ). How can we better serve and attract those populations of Berks County who have not generally engaged with the environment? We know that the conservation community has traditionally not been effective at involving certain cultures and ethnicities in conservation conversations, especially communities of color who face a disproportionate risk of harm from environmental hazards. We recognize, understand, and value the inherent worth of the differences of people and their cultures within our society, and understand the need to include a diverse audience in the conservation discussion in order to ensure future success, the achievement of our mission and the health of our communities.

We’re trying but we know we need to do more.

Some of the things we think we have gotten right:

• Berks Nature has for over a decade provided city community gardens to help deal with food access and inequality;
• We introduce urban youth to the outdoors, and bring thousands of Greater Reading youth to The Nature Place and Angelica Park each year;
• Berks Nature’s Neversink Mountain Preserve offers 8 miles of trails to city and county residents and an introduction to nature and woodlands;
• Our land ownership is greatest in the City of Reading where we have purchased dozens of open lots and left them as open green space to provide carbon storage and oxygen production;
• Our Gravity Trail connects city parks to Antietam Lake, a large recreational area owned by the County;
• We lease and manage the City owned Angelica Creek Park as natural area in the City of Reading with stream upgrade to CWF (Cold Water Fishery) and native trout reproduction within a city;
• Our work with Reading Area Water Authority improves drinking water quality for city residents.

We know that while we have accomplished much; we also know our staff and board members do not reflect the faces of our urban community. We are committed to changing that. Last fall, our board of directors and staff worked on a DEIJ statement. This commitment guides our plan to include a more diverse cross section of our community in the work that we do. Part of that statement and those thoughts are shared here.

Our goal is to be more intentional and inclusive in the involvement, engagement, and empowerment of all groups of people within our community. For now, our first step will be to focus on increasing our racial and ethnic diversity.

As an organization dedicated to the environment, Berks Nature endeavors to not see any species become extinct. So too, we desire not to neglect or exclude any audience from our work. Just like it takes a diversity of species to make our natural environment thrive, Berks Nature recognizes that having a culture of inclusion where all individuals feel respected, and are treated fairly will bring us greater success with our mission and greater benefits to our society as a whole.

Our commitment needs to be followed by action. We are listening and striving to find our own ways to be involved. What should Berks Nature be doing that we aren’t doing now, or what do we need to do better? We have some ideas, but need input from others. If you have views, suggestions, or ideas that will help us make meaningful change on this, please contact us and let us know your thoughts. We hope you will join us in support of these goals, and help us become a better organization and a better community. Thank you!

Kimberly Murphy