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Teresea Baker- Leaning on bridge in forest (Image 1)

Teresea Baker, Addressing the Issue of Underrepresentation in Environmentalism

 

• • •  Teresa Baker grew up in Richmond, California and is the founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge. We spoke about the background of the Diversity Pledge, her Hike Like a Girl Campaign, her love for the outdoors, and environmental intersectionalism. 

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Can you tell me a little bit more about your background and journey of how you came into environmentalism?

 

Growing up in Richmond, California, I spent a lot of time outdoors going to various regional and state parks. There, I developed my love for the outdoors. It was simply a place to recreate. Nothing more, when I was growing up. And then as I grew into adulthood, I started to understand the importance of protecting these outdoor spaces. In 2016, after a week-long trip to Yosemite – I was in Yosemite for an entire week and didn’t see one other person that looked like me, and that was alarming. I had been to Yosemite several times before, but for whatever reason, I never paid much attention to that until this particular trip.

 

In 2016, after a week-long trip to Yosemite - I was in Yosemite for an entire week and didn't see one other person that looked like me, and that was alarming.

 

So after I got home, I reached out to the Park Service and I said, “Hey, this was my experience while at Yosemite, is this an ongoing problem throughout the National Park Service?” And they openly admitted – Yeah, it’s a problem. Lack of diversity in the Park Service is a problem and we’re working to fix it, help us fix it. And at that time, the National Parks Service was 83% white and we fixed it a little. It’s 81% now. So if that’s a fix, it’s 2% better than it was. And I started working on the issue.

 

I started working on projects to bring underrepresented communities into our National Parks. I can honestly say that over the past two years, I have definitely seen a difference when I go to, not just to Yosemite, but various national parks. I’m starting to see people that look like me, people of colour throughout the National Park Service and that’s progress.

 

So, hats off to the Park Service for listening, for hearing us and making sure they make diversity a priority within the agency.

 

 

Credit: National Audubon Society

 

 

That’s amazing. That first call that you made to the park, that was the first step of activism. That kind of just started the wheels turning…

 

Right! I didn’t know it was activism. It was just me being mad and not seeing another person that looked like me and then people started applying labels, “oh, you’re an activist” or “you’re an environmentalist or a conservationist”. I don’t apply labels to myself. I’m just someone that, when I see a problem, I’m going to find a way to address it. And that’s what I’m doing, is addressing these issues that affect our environment.

 

 

I'm just someone that, when I see a problem, I'm going to find a way to address it. And that's what I'm doing, is addressing these issues that affect our environment.

 

 

That’s awesome. Could you elaborate a bit more on your work with The In Solidarity Outdoor CEO, Diversity Pledge? Could you elaborate on the project a bit more, how it came to be, as you’ve kind of started on that –  its aims, rationale and your progress and where you see it in the future.

 

 In January of 2018, I reached out to a guy named Chris Perkins and I said: “Hey, Chris, I have an idea to do a diversity pledge where I would reach out to brands and ask them to commit to the work within their companies around DEI, which is diversity, equity and inclusion”. And Chris said, “I’m in, let’s get to work.”

 

So we got the pledge together and started slowly behind the scenes, reaching out to brands saying, “Hey, we have this concept. We would love for you to be a part of it.” And it was hard going in the beginning. A lot of brands didn’t return emails, but the one brand that said yes, right away was Marmot. They’re a local brand that’s here in Northern California. I met with the general manager at the time, Joe Flannery – we met in person, we talked over the phone, through emails and Marmot was the first brand to sign on.

 

June of 2018 is when we launched the pledge publicly at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver, Colorado. That’s when we went around to the 7,000 brands that were at that show, making them aware of the pledge – and again, it was not well received and that’s okay. It wasn’t well-received at all – people didn’t really want to hear what we had to say. There were other pressing issues that they needed to tend to like selling their damn gear.

 

It was rough, the first year. It was rough getting people to sign on, but eventually, people did. They started understanding what we were trying to accomplish and brands slowly but surely started signing on. And then, first of all, the pledge was housed on the Diversify Outdoors website. We didn’t want to build another website just for the pledge.

 

So Diversify Outdoors said, ‘‘yeah, you can house it here’’. And so it sat there for almost a year and eight months. So finally, two months ago, I said, ‘’the pledge needs its own place, it needs its own website”.  And that’s why I reached out to the Outbound Collective, Brian, who was a pledge signatory and said, “Brian can you help us build a website for the pledge”.

 

He said yes and he built the site for us. Then we thought, ‘we could add anything we wanted to that website’. So now there’s a community of DEI advocates that’s listed there, there’s a job site – all dedicated to the work of the pledge and underrepresented communities across the country, the DEI agents within those communities.

 

So that’s how the In Solidarity website came into being. There are a lot of projects underway, that sit there to help people across the country and beyond because Canada and two other countries have recently signed on to the pledge. So, it’s worldwide now and over the past month, it’s been beyond crazy. Chris and I never intended the pledge to be what it has become.

 

Some people will try and use it to say, “Hey, we care about DEI. Look, we signed the pledge.” We are making it clear that if that is what you’re doing, you will be kicked off. You can’t just sit there and point to it and say, “I’ve done my work. I signed the pledge and now I can move on.” No, if you’re not doing the work and we’re not seeing you do the work, then we automatically remove you. We don’t make a big spectacle about it. We just remove you and it’s a done deal.

 

The first two years of the pledge we had just under a hundred, I would say maybe we had 90 brands that had signed. Within a month, we have 200 applications for brands to sign on over 60,000 requests for information–we can’t add people quickly enough.

 

So what Chris and I have concluded is that that’s enough. We don’t want every brand in the world to sign a pledge. So we are going to stop at 250 to work with those brands to make sure they have a clear path forward. So if we have a limited amount of people, they’ll commit to doing the work versus having a thousand people and half of them not committing to do the work. So we want to make sure these brands have the means to do this work and cutting it off at 250 we’ll ensure that we can give the needed attention to these brands. In addition to our 30 member steering committee.

 

We have companies, be it non-for-profits, NGOs, that are non-government organisations reaching out for information. When people reach out, we want them to understand that doing this work does not require you signing the pledge. You can do the work without signing a pledge commit to doing the work that matters.

 

We just signed the Conservation Alliance, Leave No Trace and a couple of other environmental organisations have signed on recently because they understand the connection there. Working with these conservation organisations will be helpful in that we can continue to get the message out that this is not just about DEI. This is about the protection of our watersheds, the protection of our forest. All of these entities that are under attack right now need greater protection. That’s why we feel partnering up with these conservation organisations can help get that message out on the importance of including a larger audience so that we can have more people fighting for the protection of these placements.

 

 

Credit: She Explores

 

 

 I looked at how you started the “Hike Like a Girl” project and I’d love to hear more about it. It seems in line with our #WeBeWhatWeSea project that we recently soft-launched.

 

l spend a lot of time outdoors and I post about my adventures over social media and I was having a lot of women reach out to me saying, “I applaud you being out there on the trails by yourself, but aren’t you ever afraid to be there by yourself? And can you suggest a trail for us?” What I’ve always told women who reached out is that I am no hike expert. I do it because I love these outdoor spaces and I would post the responses to some of these questions and I was getting so many women reaching out.

 

 

What I’ve always told women who reached out is that I am no hike expert. I do it because I love these outdoor spaces.

 

 

I thought, how about I pull together a “Hike Like a Girl” campaign to encourage women across the country to get out on a hiking trail on a prescribed weekend out of the year so that women who choose to hike by themselves won’t feel they are by themselves because everyone – women across the country – are joining them. That’s how that came into being, it was addressing some of the concerns that women had, who reached out and wanted advice on how to hike safely or where to hike and what to do.

 

Then the American Hiking Society caught wind of it and asked if they could partner with me on it. So last year, was the last year I did it. I didn’t want it to be an ongoing thing. So I thought two, three years at the most we would do it, and women were inspired. Girls, women and even men joined in, hiking with their daughters and their wives.

 

So it was a fun campaign to do, but like The Pledge, I don’t want to do any campaign forever. There’s a time limit for the pledge as well. In five years, I don’t want The Pledge to be around. “Hike Like a Girl”, it’s run its course. I’m always coming up with campaigns that I want to run for maybe two or three years and then shut it down in hopes of people just doing these things on their own.

 

 

What things in your opinion would need to happen in practice so that you would say that we are taking the right steps to achieve a more diverse and inclusive outdoor industry?

 

I think we’re on that path. I think brands are finally waking up and not allowing fear to paralyze them into doing nothing. I think people are finally getting it and it’s not just me, it’s not just the pledge. There are so many of us across the country doing this work, that it’s finally catching on and people understand they don’t have to do it alone.

 

They can reach out to some of us for help. People and organisations like Latino Outdoors, Brown Girls Climb, The Outbound Collective. All of these organisations and individuals are adding to the push now for DEI and the outdoors and brands are finally listening and I appreciate that.

 

 

There are so many of us across the country doing this work, that it's finally catching on and people understand they don't have to do it alone.

 

 

What are your hopes for how the current momentum around Black Lives Matter will influence and create a more diverse and inclusive outdoor industry? 

 

I don’t want people to use this moment as an excuse to do more. Black lives have always mattered. It’s not just now that they matter, which is just now that people are using that as the reason they are acting. Some of my concern around that is that once people stop pointing to Black Lives Matter, then the workaround this starts to fade away. So it can’t be just a Black Lives Matter moment. It has to be a moment for the environment so that it continues to grow. It continues to move forward.

 

Black lives have always mattered.

 

And when I hear people talk about Black Lives Matter, the first thing I do, if I see a company post about it, is I go and look at their leadership and I look at their boards and if I don’t see black people represented, then clearly black lives don’t matter to you, you’re just jumping on the bandwagon. I’m starting to call that to the attention of people. Don’t say something that you don’t believe. Live what you post, because if you don’t, you’re sending a horrible message to people that you only care in that moment. As soon as that moment passes, so will your interest.

 

 

In your article in Audubon you talk about how as a child you spent most of your summer days outside in nature. Based on your experience, can you tell us a bit more about how spending time outdoors in nature is related to people engaging in conservation, environmentalism and climate action?

 

When you spend time outdoors, you grow an appreciation for these spaces and hopefully, you want to find a way to protect them. We can climb, we can hike, we can ski. We can do all these things, but only if these places are protected, not overdeveloped.

 

I would want to see no development at all, but that’s not realistic. Especially from a person who works in land development. I work in land development. I work for a real estate agency that works on matters of developing land. I would love to see open spaces remain open spaces, but I know that’s not a reality when it comes to business. People see a block of land and nothing’s there, they want to build something there.

 

When you spend time outdoors, you grow an appreciation for these spaces and hopefully, you want to find a way to protect them. We can climb, we can hike, we can ski. We can do all these things, but only if these places are protected, not overdeveloped.

 

I want to stop that. I don’t want them to look at something and be like, “Oh, we can build a hundred homes right there.” I hate that mindset.

 

 

Especially in America, because there is so much beautiful untouched land.

 

Exactly. But what’s happening is that developers are finding people willing to sell. They’re willing to sell that land. Then the developers can put whatever they want there. And if I had it within my means to buy up all these open spaces that people are auctioning off, I would. So if you know someone out there that wants to give me like a trillion dollars to buy all this land, please send them my way.

 

 

I’ll be there with you helping.

 

Once you grow up, you develop a relationship with the land and in that relationship, you just want to protect it.

 

 

And as you mentioned earlier about taking people from underrepresented communities into nature, especially if that’s one of their first times they would have had that opportunity, that would have clicked as soon as they would have been walking around in those woods…

 

I think the misconception about all of this is that people of colour are not in these spaces. I think that does more harm to the work than anything because people feel “Oh, we have to reward underrepresented communities with a trip to the outdoors.” And that’s not the case. We are in these spaces.

 

When you look at the history of this world, Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans. We have always had a relationship with the land. Always. It’s just that over generations, like Native Americans, they were forcibly removed from the land and others over time have just lost that connection.

 

So it’s a matter of reconnecting people to the land, not connecting because we’ve always had a connection. So we need to do away with this perception that we’re not there. We do amazing things in the outdoors, but you never see us on the cover of magazines, you never hear people talk about the amazing things we do in the outdoors. And that is the problem. We need to change that so that the perception of who we are changes.

 

When you look at the history of this world, Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans. We have always had a relationship with the land. Always. It's just that over generations, like Native Americans, they were forcibly removed from the land and others over time have just lost that connection.

 

 

Credit: SNews

 

 

How do you think promoting a more inclusive and diverse outdoor industry could play a role in forming a more intersectional environmental movement?

 

We’re there. The intersectionality is there. We’re doing everything in the outdoors. You just don’t hear about us. And that’s why it’s vital that we get these conversations out there that we’re doing amazing things too.

 

 

 So, if you knew the next campaign or project you work on would be a 100% success, what would it be?

 

It would 100% be an amazing, fail-proof campaign with Patagonia. I love Patagonia as a company in their fight for the environment. So I would love to do something with them that’s fail-proof. That we would just kick-ass across the board, in support of environmental protection and inclusion. I don’t know what that would look like, but it would definitely be a partnership with Patagonia somehow.

 

 

 I’m sure you’ve seen their film series as well…

 

Right, I work with Patagonia currently. I had several conversations with them and continue to do so. I would love for there to be a project of some sort because I think their owner is just a true kickass and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him and that’s sort of my approach to life too. So I don’t want to be on his bad side ever, because I fear him getting on his private jet, coming out here and kicking my ass. I would love to find a way to work with Yvonne and the folks at Patagonia.

 

 

How can small, independent brands like SLO help and actively support your cause?

 

By mentioning the work we’re doing whenever the opportunity presents itself and the opportunity presents itself whenever you have a conversation with anyone. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, Teresa you have major brands on the pledge. I’m a one-person show. How could I make a difference?’. I’m one person. I’m an individual and I have multimillion-dollar companies working with me. So I never go along with that “I’m only one person I can’t make a difference” – That is not true. If you’re one person and you have a mindset to accomplish something and you’re hell-bent on doing it, you can do it. So no matter how small you are, you can definitely play a huge role in what we’re trying to accomplish.

 

 

If you're one person and you have a mindset to accomplish something and you're hell-bent on doing it, you can do it. So no matter how small you are, you can definitely play a huge role in what we're trying to accomplish.

 

 

 Cool. That’s a really awesome piece of advice. And I think that will resonate with so many people, individuals, not just organisations and I totally agree with you. It’s really refreshing to hear that. It is amazing what you can do from your bedroom…

 

 I’m sitting right here along the California coast on a conversation with you and this is how I hold most of my meetings and whatnot  – outside as a reminder of what I’m fighting for. When people are like “well, I don’t have an office”… you can do this anywhere. That’s the amazingness of, of cell phones and computers.

 

 

Completely agree. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s been awesome hearing all about it.

Janaya Wilkins