Secretary Jewell's Big Announcement Shows Success of South Florida Community Partners

By Audrey Peterman, with an introduction by Laurie Sheldon

I have to give credit to Aimee Leteux, FNPS Naples Chapter Rep, for sending me this article. As soon as I read it I knew that it needed to be shared with the members of FNPS. I believe that it highlights one of the most critical elements involved in keeping an organization relevant - creating partnerships with a diverse group of stakeholders and fostering a sense of organizational stewardship in our communities' young people, as they will take the baton into the future. I applaud Audrey Peterman for the outstanding example she has provided, and thank her for emphatically granting me permission to relay her words...

A beautiful vision of the 21st Century National Park System is unfolding in South Florida. When Department Of Interior Secretary Jewell, a member of President Obama's Cabinet, arrived in Miami on the first day of spring to announce a federal initiative to get millions of young people into their national parks, participants on stage and in the audience looked like the face of Miami. The leadership involved was as much Black, Hispanic and young as it was White.

Supt. Pedro Ramos kicks off the announcement with from left, Congresswoman
Frederica Wilson, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and YMCA CEO Sheryl Woods.
"Miami is blessed with parks and national public lands close by, and a strong network of public and nonprofit leaders committed to getting kids outdoors, active and connected to nature. Through the 50 Cities Initiative, with the financial support of American Express and community connections of the YMCA, we are nurturing a movement to foster the next generation of leaders and outdoor stewards while helping people connect to the public lands in their community - particularly in urban areas like Miami," said Secretary Jewell.

Flanked by Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos, formerly Superintendent at the Big Cypress National Preserve who is Hispanic; US Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who is black and whose district includes parts of the Everglades, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, who is Hispanic and President and CEO of Southern Florida YMCA Sheryl Woods, who is white, the event clearly illustrated our country's changing demographics and the power that resides in diverse communities. Members of the audience were equally diverse by ethnicity, age, city and national parks staff and other community members. The event truly reflected the face of a community united in one common goal.

 This shining spectacle was aided by the efforts of local leaders from the African American, Hispanic and national parks communities that have been working closely together since the 1990s to connect urbanites and the parks. It illustrated the effectiveness of the South Florida Community Partners organization formed in 1997 "to increase community awareness and participation in South Florida's National Parks and Preserves among underrepresented and culturally diverse segments of the population particularly in regard to park accessibility, park use, park programs, park protection, employment and decision making."

Secretary Jewell took time to interact with members of the Everglades Wilderness
Writing Expedition, (left) and young parks stewards from Greening Youth Foundation.

As the Park Service, other federal land management agencies and conservation organizations look for ways to become more "relevant, inclusive and diverse," the South Florida example is a gleaming illustration of what can be accomplished. It shows the myriad ways that the parks get embedded in communities once the diverse grassroots leadership is engaged and a relationship of mutual trust and respect is developed.

We share the genesis of this story in our book, Legacy on the Land published in 2009, but the movement has accelerated since then. We could not have anticipated this big national event happening here when we formed the Community Partners group all those years ago. The group grew out of the national Mosaic in Motion diversity conferences spearheaded by the National Parks Conservation Association in the 1990s. For more than 15 years we worked in lock step with the parks, raising funds and partners to transport thousands of urban families to the parks around Earth Day each year. Many formed lifelong connections, and in places such as Little Haiti and Little Havana a reservoir of love for the national park exists.

The relationship between communities and the parks is one of deep love, trust and collegiality that has spawned untold benefits. For example, our community partner Ranger Alan Scott at Everglades National Park was quick to act on our recommendation for Greening Youth Foundation as a source for diverse young interns. Consequently, many of the newest park employees who had the opportunity to meet Secretary Jewell are interns from the Foundation.

Similarly, a group of young people that we took to Everglades in 2013 to hike 10,000 steps in support of the Denali Expeditioners inspired Ranger Sabrina Diaz to develop the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition program. The Wilderness Expeditioners have developed an unquenchable passion for the parks and were in awe of Secretary Jewell's willingness to spend time thinking about and answering their questions.

I saw Supt. Ramos being interviewed by a Hispanic reporter, in Spanish, for a Spanish-focused TV station.

"I bet it's the first time that ever happened," he observed.

Secretary Jewell is flanked by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed who is deeply involved with the
outdoors along with DEL speakers Evonne Blyters and James King, II, right, front and back rows.

Our many friends among the audience included Congresswoman Wilson, whose "500 Role Models of Excellence" young men loved the Everglades when we took them to the park yea rs ago. Since then the Congresswoman has often expressed the desire that all the young men should have that opportunity, and I am encouraged that this new initiative will help make that happen.

As Frank and I were walking to the parking lot, I turned away to compliment a young lady on her beautiful outfit. She turned out to be a reporter for the Miami Herald, and included me in her story here. As she included, Secretary Jewell and I served together on the board of the NPCA for years, part of our focus being how to engage urbanites with our national parks.

When Secretary Jewell went on to Atlanta the following day to announce the initiative, she was joined by many members of Keeping It Wild, the outdoors-focused organization we helped establish there, along with Greening Youth and leaders who are part of DEL's network of speakers.

This morning we received this ecstatic note from a DEL speaker who went out on our first contract assignment last week:

"The main thing I really want the world to know is that DEL is out there WORKING, getting contracts with agencies. And that our presentations and programing are receiving great reviews. To me this is a family effort, one person's success is everyone's success.  So telling our speakers we hit our first home run will make them all proud and eager to go for more."

So far we've been swamped with people who want to be part of DEL, and have had to create a waiting list while we seek out more speaking and training opportunities. If you or your organization or someone you know is planning an environmental conference or other meeting, please check out our team at

Members of the SF Community Partners Program were an active part of Vintage Day
celebrations in Everglades National Park, March 7. Glenn Gardner photo.
For years we've been advocating that it's easy and productive to develop a relationship between the public lands and grassroots community leaders, and that it's the only way to keep them relevant and viable. I think we've amply illustrated that. Don't you?


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