Teresa Baker: A Park Champion for Diversity

May 1, 2015, Department, by Catrina Belt

Teresa Baker has made a mission of expanding diversity in national parks and beyond.The great outdoors has always played an important role in Teresa Baker’s life. She grew up in Richmond, California, surrounded by national historic parks and endless opportunities to be active outside. “Visiting my local parks was an everyday activity for me. It gave me an outlet to be the wild child that I was,” she says. “As I grew older, my respect for the outdoors started to come into play. Understanding the important role we all play in protecting these open spaces started to become a reality for me. These spaces were not just places to play, but places that needed my protection.”

In March 2013, Baker took it upon herself to address a major issue plaguing parks and recreation— a lack of racial diversity. People of color are noticeably absent at national parks and other outdoor recreation areas. Nonetheless, these missing segments of the population play a huge role in ensuring the future of our protected landscapes. “Every day I read about attacks on our open spaces — companies wanting to drill and restructure open spaces; watching the news and seeing bulldozers taking away land that belongs to wildlife, changing their habitat forever. These attacks should raise concerns for us all. Having faces that are not currently engaged in preventing these acts would be for the greater good, which is why being more inclusive is important,” Baker says. “Diversity in our outdoor spaces is important because people of color are lacking from the conversation on conservation. What better way to involve people of color in these very important conversations than to engage them in the spaces we need their help in protecting?” 

During her lifetime of going to parks, Baker observed the absence of diversity firsthand. “The African American National Parks Event actually grew out of frustration — frustration from visiting national parks and not seeing faces of color, specifically African-American faces. I would visit parks on a regular basis and rarely if ever see faces that looked like mine.” After countless conversations with family, friends and colleagues about what could be done, Baker decided to launch a campaign to encourage African-Americans to visit our national parks. And so, Baker created a Facebook page for the African American National Parks Event and began her mission.

Since the launch of her campaign, Baker has worked year-round as a champion for diversity in outdoor spaces. Much of her time is spent reaching out to various mainstream outdoor organizations in an effort to spread awareness and create partnerships. She works closely with agencies like Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro and Hike4Life to spread their collective mission of bringing a more diverse audience to outdoor spaces. Baker is currently working on a project in partnership with Range of Light and the National Park Service (NPS). The Muir Campfire Discussion on Diversity and Relevancy will be a conversation addressing the legacy of John Muir and the relevancy of diversity in our parks and environmental agencies. There are already more than 18 different outdoor organizations and government agencies committed to the gathering, which will take place May 14-17, 2015. “This [event] will be the first of its kind, where we will convene around a campfire and not an indoor space for this solution-driven conversation,” says Baker.

Baker’s hope for the future is that more parks will participate and engage in the conversation about diversity. And although her event is targeting African-Americans, she hopes to encourage all people to get involved in the outdoors. She says, “If I can leave you with anything, it is this quote from Sista Monica — ‘Get outdoors and embrace HER energy. Go to the wilderness and love on nature.’ That goes for each and every one of us.”

Catrina Belt is an Editorial Intern for Parks & Recreation magazine.