White House Champions of Change: Celebrando

April 21, 2014

On March 18, 2014, Resource Media partners Azul and Latino Outdoors were present at the White House “Champions of Change” Leaders in Conservation event, honoring those that are engaging “the next generation of environmental conservationist”. Marce Gutiérrez, founder-director of Azul and Program Director at Resource Media, and José González, founder-director of Latino Outdoors, were nominated and invited to attend the event. This was originally posted at Latino Outdoors, and is part one of two reflecting on the event: Celebration and Next Steps Forward—Celebrando y Pa’ Delante. Photo by José González.

A couple of thoughts go through one’s head upon receiving an invitation to a “Celebration of Champions” hosted by the White House. Images of pomp and ceremony are first to mind, and while those are lovely and memorable, they do not always serve as the most informative of events—here is the show, but what do you get out of it? On this occasion, however, it was quite refreshing to see a program that centered on a panel of productive discussions with and amongst the honorees, being able to go beyond prepared thank you speeches. What also came to mind is that “this is a White House event!”—it was an opportunity to enjoy and celebrate the experience and acknowledgement.

We were celebrando because in addition to being nominated, it was a great opportunity to attend the event and represent Latino/a leadership in conservation—we are here, aqui estamos. It was important to be there and not just listen to the panel of honorees, but also take the opportunity to ask questions and see how their work engaged with the diversity of youth and communities in the US—especially as we are talking “engaging the next generation of conservation leaders”. The final honorees represented a wide range of programs and geography, particularly engaging youth in a variety of conservation programs and approaches. The honorees worked with school children in Arizona, conservation corps members in the Southwest, teens in Vermont, families in Colorado, students in National Parks, y más.

When José González asked the panel “what are the challenges and opportunities in working with diverse communities—and how is that represented in the work you do?” everyone that responded understood and made the connection to the need of diversifying the leadership in conservation along with programming and outreach to diverse communities—necesitamos estar en el liderazgo, no nomas ser recipientes de los programas. This is an important acknowledgement as the demographics of the U.S. continue to shift and Latino communities are represented in every state.

Stacie Gilmore, Executive Director of Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), directly addressed the question by mentioning privilege and equity—and overall asking us to look at the frameworks that facilitate or make it difficult to not just diversify the field, but the leadership structure along with the communities we serve. It is a bridging opportunity for biodiversity and cultural diversity.

Such feedback, thoughts, and ideas set themselves up as the start of great conversations—morsels of important discussion—and left us wondering how more productive this dialogue could have been on this rare opportunity. We were celebrating, we were inspired, we were connecting, and we were ready for the next steps—qué más, how do we go forward?

Marce Gutiérrez & Jose Gonzalez