Chesapeake Bay Program partner EcoLatinos organizes a food distribution event for predominantly Latino community members in July of 2020. The organization typically leads environment restoration work. (Photo by Carlin Stiehl/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there are a variety of organizations and local leaders advancing environmental issues in communities that have been historically underrepresented in Bay restoration. Whether it be through urban agriculture, environmental education or stormwater management, these groups are not only making the region healthier, but are key partners for the Bay Program’s push to better integrate diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) into its work. As this summer’s C-StREAM Chesapeake Bay Program Equity and Outreach intern, I was tasked with producing an interactive storymap that highlight these organizations and the potential for future collaboration. While conducting my research, I naturally came away with valuable insights into how best to partner with these groups.

Communities want to be engaged

Over the summer, I conducted 10 interviews with representatives of nonprofits, agricultural extension projects and other environmental organizations based in Baltimore, Richmond and many other communities across the watershed. During these conversations, contacts repeatedly emphasized that underserved communities want to be engaged meaningfully, but don’t feel like there are often opportunities to do so. This could be due to a lack of consistent outreach or restoration projects taking place in these communities. Atiya Wells of Backyard Basecamp captured this idea succinctly: “Too often, the vision of ‘saving the Bay’ does not encompass the places where we live and work.”

Access to resources is desired

Organizations expressed an universal desire for government entities like the Chesapeake Bay Program to connect them to resources that will help them further their mission. This could be financial support for programs, access to professional networks or knowledge-sharing through panel participation. Most organizations, including many small operations not formally registered as nonprofits, are proud that they manage to serve their community and make tangible impacts despite limited resources. However, it was clear from these conservations, that with just the right access and support, their work could be magnified. For example, the nonprofit Minorities in Aquaculture, hopes to eventually be able to offer internships for women in their network, but this requires access to grants or other dedicated funding sources.

Organizations are open to future collaboration

My interviews also underscored that once organizations are made aware of the Bay Program‚ they are eager to help expand the partnership’s presence in the watershed at the community level through hosting joint outreach and volunteer activities. Even as conversations revealed frustration with the environmental movement and environmental management agencies’ past failures in reaching diverse audiences, representatives expressed a strong willingness to work with the partnership in the future, whether that comes in the form of joint volunteer events with groups like the Virginia Cooperative Extension or a panel on green careers with organizations like Parks and People.

My summer project reaffirmed that there is extensive potential for mutual support and collaboration between the Chesapeake Bay Program and community-level organizations across the watershed. The Bay Program’s DEIJ and partnership-building efforts are part of a larger wave of momentum around environmental justice that includes national-level action like the Justice40 Initiative, which pledges that 40% of federal climate, energy and infrastructure spending will go to marginalized neighborhoods. As societal awareness of these issues grow, so too will demand for connection with underrepresented groups. Every organization, regardless of size, focus, or geography, must continue listening and learning from all people and communities to ensure a more green, inclusive, and just future.

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