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Author to speak on African Americans’ relationship with the outdoors

Carolyn Finney, author of “Black Faces White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors,” and scholar-in-residence at the Franklin Environmental Center at Middlebury College, will give a lecture about her nationally recognized work to increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to inform and determine policy and action on environmental issues.

Finney is giving the Class of 1945 Lecture, part of the Cornell Botanic Gardens Lecture Series. Her talk will explore this moment of racial reckoning and the creative responses to environmental and social challenges that are emerging.

It is offered in partnership with Ithaca Children’s Garden, The Learning Farm, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Finger Lakes Land Trust, and takes place virtually on Thursday, February 25, 2021, at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public on Zoom; pre-registration required.

Finney’s talk “2020 Vision, A Black Walden Pond & Other Musings” will draw on her work, past and present, to reveal how nature and the environment are racialized in America. While the experiences of racialized outdoor spaces was  well established for Black Americans prior to 2020, it was in that year that all Americans saw these truths through the experience of Christian Cooper, the death of George Floyd, and resulting movements to acknowledge and address systemic racism.

In her talk, Finney will explore how we meet this moment in American history as it relates to green space, race, and the power to shape the places in which we live in our own image. Her understanding is based on field research in which she interviewed Black people from around the country on their creative responses to environmental and social challenges they face. Finney will share what emerged – a clearer picture of the power of resistance and resilience to create and implement solutions.

Work to address the barriers faced by students and community members of color in being in outdoor spaces continues the next day, when Finney will lead workshops with Cornell student organizations and community non-profits. Student coordinators in Cornell Botanic Gardens’ Learning by Leading program are facilitating the campus session with groups such as Alana, Black Students United, Outdoor Odyssey, and other multi-cultural groups. In addition, Finney will facilitate a community conversation with 10 local activist groups, with the goal of identifying action steps to addressing the barriers faced by students and citizens of color in fully engaging with the natural world and the policies that govern it.

“At this moment when human and plant life are at risk, we need a broad diversity of voices to conserve the diversity of life on which we all depend,” said Christopher Dunn, director of Cornell Botanic Gardens. “Professor Finney is helping us consider how to re-shape outdoor spaces to reflect diverse experiences, especially those of Black people.”

Several local, regional, and statewide partners join Cornell Botanic Gardens to bring Finney’s talk to the public: Ithaca Children's Garden, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-New York Field Office, Finger Lakes Land Trust, and The Learning Farm, which works to combat the effects of systemic urbanization on the early life development of children.

“The seminal work by Carolyn Finney connects intimately with our work,” said Christa Nunez, executive director of The Learning Farm. “At the present moment, we are experiencing an environmental, community health, and human rights crisis that is inequitably impactful on African diaspora communities. Minimal access to green spaces produces adverse effects on individual and community health and wellness, from food and housing insecurity to cumulative exposures to hazardous chemicals and environmental stressors. Conversely, expanded access to natural environments can support heightened developmental health outcomes.”

Additional support for the lecture provided by: Finger Lakes Land Access, Reconciliation and Reparations Working Group, Discover Cayuga Lake, Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, Youth Farm Project, Southside Community Center, Black Hands Universal, No Mas Lagrimas, Traditional Center for Indigenous Knowledge & Healing, Gayogo̱hó:nǫʼ People of the Finger Lakes, Tendrel Farm Collective, ARDM Enterprises, Ultimate Reentry Opportunity Initiative, and Cornell Outdoor Education.

Sonja Skelly is director of education and communication for Cornell Botanic Gardens.

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