In small rural communities, it's easy to identify who the changemakers are.
Darius Johnson, a communications director at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), is only 27 but is already known throughout the mid-Shore for his charisma, drive and passion for the region's future. He is a native of Kent County, Maryland, and through his work, the ESLC is striving to revitalize the area and unleash its potential.
The Eastern Shore of Maryland, defined by rural farmlands, abundant wetlands and historic towns, is an invaluable part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The regional economy, closely connected to the land and water, relies heavily on agriculture, seafood and tourism. Unfortunately, economic growth on the Eastern Shore has been slow and residents from small towns often face limited job opportunities.
As an up-and-coming environmental advocate, Johnson is ripe for the challenge. Growing up in the area, he both values the beauty of the region and understands the economic problems of living in a rural town—his vision for the Eastern Shore is one in which land conservation and economic growth not only coexist but are mutually beneficial.
"I am a firm believer that green jobs could be one of the most lucrative things we could do on the Eastern Shore," said Johnson. "For everything that we preserve, let's figure out how we can innovate on that land, create new jobs, or support technologies that can help enhance the land that we are working with."
During his childhood, Johnson participated in various environmental education programs through organizations such as Turners Creek Sassafrass Environmental Education Center, the Sultana Education Foundation and Echo Hill Camp. After graduating from Kent County High School, Johnson accepted Washington College's Vincent Hynson Memorial Scholarship. Receiving the scholarship was an honor for Johnson because Vincent Hynson, an African American man from Chestertown, Maryland, displayed similar values and aspirations through his commitment to community enrichment.
Now with the ESLC, he is at the forefront of the region's revitalization. Applying his previous experience in the construction industry, he is a part of projects that include the restoration of the old Phillips Packing Company smokestacks in Cambridge, Maryland, and the Chestertown River Trail, which will expand public access to the waterfront in Chestertown, Maryland. Johnson is also on the board of the Kent County Chamber of Commerce, which gives him further insight into the economic value of these types of projects.
For Johnson, working in the conservation sector was not his initial goal, but he realized through his experiences that protecting the natural environment can help communities thrive socially and economically.
"I honestly wouldn't have entered into the environmental space if I didn't have a passion for community," said Johnson. "I just really like being in the community and helping the community to build itself to become stronger, resilient and more connected."
Johnson is an emerging leader within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. His ambition to foster a green and prosperous future for the Eastern Shore echoes a more significant push for a smarter, more ethical balance between nature and development.
It's a big challenge, but one made easier with people like Darius leading the way.
To learn more about Johnson and his colleagues' work at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, visit https://www.eslc.org/.