Black History Month provides us with an opportunity to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans. It is also a time to reflect on the work we must do to address the historic, substantial challenges facing people of color in our country today. This is especially true in our national parks, which should help visitors not only understand our nation’s history, but also how the past continues to influence the present. Today, there are numerous units of the National Park System that highlight the contributions, heritage and legacy of African Americans and interpret their voices.
Shaw Memorial at Boston African-American National Historic Site
But to remain relevant to our diverse nation, all of our stories should be reflected in our national parks. The National Park Service (NPS) must work more diligently to identify new natural, cultural, or historical sites to be added to the park system that highlight our country’s diverse people, places, and stories. And existing units in the park system should continue their efforts to tell more complete stories through their interpretive programs.
As well, the NPS must build upon previous efforts to increase the diversity of park visitors and their access to parks through a plan to make parks better known to the entirety of the American public. To ensure that all communities know about and have access to the national parks, the NPS needs to better understand the barriers that currently exist and to find ways to address those barriers.
In addition, the NPS must reimagine strategies to engage the youth of underserved and underrepresented minority communities to build a new generation of leaders and constituents. Therefore, NPS budgets must include funding for transportation programs that bring individuals from underrepresented communities to the national park sites close to their homes, and find and support additional means to encourage awareness and access.
These efforts to diversify park sites and park visitors must also be complemented by additional progress in diversifying the NPS workforce. A key facet of this effort should address the systemic racism that has hindered both the hiring and the retention of minority employees. NPS employees should reflect the diversity of the country and, in turn, help all Americans feel welcome and at home in our parks.
As a Coalition, we will work with grassroots organizations, support black and brown voices across communities, in national parks, and within our membership. We will work to include more members of color into our own membership and leadership. We will continue to push for environmental justice and fight climate change, which not only impacts our national parks but also disproportionately impacts communities of color. And we will actively pursue opportunities to amplify the conversation surrounding race in this country and work with the NPS to take the necessary actions to diversify our National Park System.