About the Author

Jackie Ostfeld is the Mission Outdoors Policy and Operations Manager for the Sierra Club and the co-founder and Chair of OAK (Outdoors Alliance for Kids). She has spent years in the field as a naturalist and educator, teaching thousands of children about the environment. Jackie earned her Master’s Degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University and has studied and lived in Central America.

jackie & son
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Carrying an extra twenty-one pounds of baby on your back as you climb out of the Grand Canyon during a hot day in July isn’t easy.

At least, so I’ve heard. My partner did most of the heavy lifting.

As we emerged from the canyon, the weight began to lift off of our tired legs. Unfortunately, that weight made a beeline for our hearts, which sank upon learning the ugly details of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling’s untimely deaths. It would be another day or so before the news would reach us of the tragic shooting by a lone gunman of several police officers in Dallas, who were on duty during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

Our family trip to the Grand Canyon was bittersweet. As a new mom, of an adopted black son, the story of Philando Castile’s death hit me the hardest. He was shot and killed by a police officer in front of his girlfriend and her four year old daughter after being pulled over for “driving with a wide nose.” By now, you should have all heard this story and, unfortunately, countless others.

It wasn’t very long ago that I was pulled over for speeding. We were on our way back from Shenandoah National Park where we had been celebrating Father’s Day.

My son was sick and tired of being in the car and he was making his restlessness known. So I, a white woman with a notorious lead foot, picked up the pace. I was pulled over for reckless driving in the state of Virginia. The officer asked why I was speeding. I told him my son was crying and I just wanted to get home; I told him that I was sorry. He gave me a speeding ticket and let me know he wasn’t going to give me a reckless driving charge.

I’ve been pulled over for speeding more times than I care to admit. Never have I feared for my safety. Never have I wondered whether or not I should reach into my glove box for my insurance card, which I have always done without thinking twice. Never have I been asked to step out of my vehicle. Never did my parents give me “the talk” (at least not the driving while black talk).

What if I hadn’t been white? Will my son’s experience be different as he matures from a sweet innocent baby into a beautiful black man in America?

When I started drafting this blog, my plan was to write about the Centennial of the National Park Service. Over the last 100 years, we’ve protected over 400 national parks, monuments and historic sites.

shenandoah dylan
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Since my son was born just over a year ago, we’ve made it our mission to get out and see our country’s magnificent public lands.

Last June, when my son was just two weeks old, we went to the Everglades; he slept through his first alligator sighting. In September, when his adoption was finalized, we went to Shenandoah for the first of what would be several trips to the park as a new family.

We’ve gone on short hikes in Prince William Forest Park and Rock Creek National Park near our home in Washington, DC. And earlier this month, we went to the Grand Canyon to celebrate my partner’s birthday – he was born on the 4th of July.

I could write about the awesome geological formations of the canyon, or the two California condors soaring overhead as we entered the park, or the warm smell of pinyon pine needles baking in the hot sun, or how my sweet little boy is quickly becoming a fish – splashing and swimming every chance he gets. I could write about the threats to our beloved Grand Canyon from nearby uranium mining and the importance of expanding its protection for future generations.

But my heart is heavy with sadness and worry. It’s a mom’s job to worry, right? I am sad because our black and brown brothers and sisters have been let down by our system.

I am sad because far too many white folks are standing on the sidelines, sitting out this fight, or worse yet dismissing the Black Lives Matter movement (the civil rights movement of our time) with statements like “All Lives Matter” which undermine the important call to start valuing black lives as much as we already value white lives.

I am worried because the love of my life is a little black boy who will have to face the harsh realities of systemic racism as he ages. I worry whether I will be able to teach him empathy and resilience; to prepare him to not just survive but to thrive in this world.

He’ll face adversity for sure. I wonder if he will continue to feel welcome in the parks and public lands we’ve been introducing him to over this first year of his life – the places where I have been privileged to find solace, healing and even hope.

Just last month on the heels of the horrific shooting targeting the LGBTQ community in Orlando, President Obama took his family to Yosemite National Park.

While there, he gave a speech honoring the Centennial of the National Park Service, and highlighting the White House’s Every Kid in a Park initiative to ensureall kids have opportunities to enjoy our public lands, waters and shores. After taking photos and shaking hands, President Obama and his family went for a hike. Just them. No cameras, no press, no special guests.

I can’t help but think after a really hard week, time in nature might have helped the President to reconnect with his family, and in the shadows of the ponderosa pines and granite cliffs, the President might have found a little solace, a little healing and even, a little hope.


Additional Resources

C&NN Resources
Dr. Gail Christopher speaking on children, nature and equity
at the 2016 C&NN Children & Nature Conference
C&NN/NLC partnership, Cities Connecting Children to Nature
C&NN’s Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit in Spanish
C&NN’s Natural Leaders Tool Kit in Spanish
C&NN’s Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit in Simple Chinese
C&NN’s Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit in Traditional Chinese
C&NN’s Research Library

Essays from the New Nature Movement
THE NATURE OF EQUITY: An Interview with Dr. Gail Christopher
WHY I WEAR JORDANS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A Natural Leader Builds Bridges Between Worlds
RESTORING PEACE: Six Ways Nature in Our Lives Can Reduce the Violence in Our World
PEACE LIKE A RIVER: There’s a Time for Hyper-vigilance and a Time to Pay a Different Kind of Attention
THE WILD: An African American Environmentalist Faces Her Fear
ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE: 12 Questions about Equity and Capacity
THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NATURE: New Generation Works for Human Right to Connect with Natural World
ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress
SAVING THE FIELD OF DREAMS: Natural Cultural Capacity in Our Parks
BROTHER YUSUF’S GIFT: One Man Who Made a Difference

This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post.
Photo Credits: Jackie Ostfeld 

Commentaries here and elsewhere on the C&NN website are offered
to inform readers and to stimulate new thinking and debate. C&NN does not officially
endorse every statement, report or product mentioned in every commentary.


1 Comment

  1. Thank you! Jackie and C&NN for publishing such an important, heartfelt piece. The more we can all stand up for justice, and let our voices be heard, and realize that the cause of injustice is OUR cause- all of us- the sooner we can root out injustice.


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