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HEALING OUR SEPARATENESS WITH NATURE: Changing the Way We Live and Thrive

About the Author

Margaret Lamar is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Children & Nature Network (C&NN). She works with cities across the U.S. to connect children to nature, with a special focus on health and wellness in urban communities, using improved designs, community strategies, and local leadership. Through her work with C&NN, she supports cross-sector planning for increased equity of access to urban green space, and to improve educational performance, mental and physical health, and healthy lifestyles for children and families, through the power of the natural world. She directs the C&NN initiatives Cities Connecting Children to Nature, Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities, and Natural Families.

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Today, January 17, 2017 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) is collaborating with over 130 organizations for a National Day of Racial Healing. In the next few weeks, WKKF and its Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) collaborating organizations and partners representing a collective network of nearly 300 million Americans will carry out a variety of events to mark the occasion.

With the flames fanned in our country’s racial discourse, we have a new opportunity to come together to commit to the big work of transforming the narrative and the conditions that perpetuate division, discrimination, and hatred. By investing our energy in intentionally placing love at the center of our common human experience, we can boldly hope to change the way we live and thrive together in communities. 

At a recent convening hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, Dr. Gail Christopher offered this: “What do we mean by transformation? . . .We know that we mean that there will be a new narrative in this country. That narrative will reflect how we came to be who we are today—and not only the negative, and the pain, and the absurdity of having lived under the yoke of a belief in hierarchy of human value, but the tremendous persistence and genius and beauty and power that is so alive in all of our communities.”

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Community plants Sun Ray Library pollinator garden

In cities across the U.S., we see that persistence and power in communities that are working together every day to bring nature’s beauty to children. In Oakland, the East Bay Regional Park District leads “multi-cultural walks” where people from the Chinese, Korean, African-American, and Latino communities experience the parks together through cultural exchange and dialogue. In Saint Paul, the “Nature-Smart” Sun Ray Library uses its story times in four languages (Somali, Hmong, Spanish, English) as springboards for family experiences in nature in the adjacent park. In Chicago, Space to Grow transforms schoolyards into beautiful and functional spaces to play, learn, garden and be outside creating new ways for children, families and elders to be outdoors—and for the African-American and Latino communities to share soccer fields and basketball courts in new ways. In the Fresh Tracks program, youth from urban Los Angeles (Compton) connected with youth from Alaska’s Arctic Circle to exchange cultures in both places, transforming their understanding of nature and themselves.

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Photo credit: Space to Grow Chicago

Research shows that children of color have markedly inequitable access to parks, gardens, green schoolyards, trails and waterways—based in historic and current policies which foster racial discrimination.

We also learn more every day about children of color who do not feel welcome or safe in public parks and do not feel that those parks belong to them. If all children are going to thrive, we must address equitable access to nature alongside the social conditions that promote or prevent children experiencing nature. The research shows that experience in nature provides us an essential sense of well-being. Nature reduces our stress, it gives us a chance to be active, cooperative, creative, and connected to family. Most importantly, it gives us a sense of belonging. When we don’t have a sense of belonging, we become vulnerable to fear, and children who do live in fear and a lack of connectedness cannot fully thrive. 

Natural green spaces are only part of a very complex set of solutions to our divisions, but perhaps they can provide some of the conditions for our coming together–to know one another, to see each other, to tell our stories, and to learn to live and thrive together.

Here are ten questions for us to consider:

  1. How can time in nature—in neighborhoods and wild places—play a central role in helping to create the changes we seek to make in healing racial divides? 
  2. How can public parks and green spaces be used to foster cross-cultural dialogue and storytelling?
  3. How can we engage communities in actions to beautify and steward neighborhood parks and green spaces, and thereby increase children’s sense of belonging?
  4. How can we use nature or outdoor programming to encourage cross-cultural exchange and  community-based youth leadership?
  5. In what ways can communities and law enforcement use their neighborhood parks to foster mutual trust?
  6. How can we raise awareness about why children of color do not feel safe in parks and green spaces, and build up youth voices for grassroots change? 
  7. How can grassroots efforts work alongside policy-makers for environmental justice in our communities, particularly related to the levels of toxins in the air, water and land? 
  8. When public school grounds are paved over, barren of biodiversity, and closed to the public, how can communities work with schools and other decision-makers to encourage public schoolyard access and greening?
  9. How can the smallest community gardens and the largest botanical gardens foster connections among cultural traditions, food, and multi-generational wisdom?
  10. How can we empower existing leadership inside communities to create new ways for mothers, fathers, youth and elders to lead children in outdoor experiences?

In these times of ongoing divisive language and action, let’s renew the promise we have to love one another through new and courageous methods that tap nature’s power to heal and restore us, as individuals, families, neighbors, communities, cities, and as a nation. 


Get Involved with C&NN

The Children & Nature Network is committed to promoting equitable access, engaging diverse families, and fostering youth leadership in outdoor time in nature through its initiatives such as Cities Connecting Children to Nature, Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities, Natural Leaders and Natural Families.

Additional Resources

The following resources represent those initiatives and the voices of the leadership in the grassroots movement to connect all children to nature.

Cities Connecting Children to Nature – C&NN and the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families
NLC and Children & Nature Network Choose Seven Cities for Planning Cohort
Children In Nature Initiative Begins in Madison
Video: Madison Connecting Children and Families to Nature
A Breath of Fresh Air: City of Grand Rapids Aims to Reconnect Children with Nature

C&NN Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities
Building a National Movement for Green Schoolyards in Every Community report and infographics

C&NN Natural Leaders
MAKING FRESH TRACKS: Natural Leaders from the Arctic Circle and Urban Los Angeles Partner Up
Fresh Tracks video capturing participants’ voices from the August experience
Forging Fresh Tracks

WHY I WEAR JORDANS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A Natural Leader Builds Bridges Between Worlds

C&NN Natural Families
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 International Conference
Dr. Gail Christopher speaking on children, nature, and equity
at the 2016 C&NN Children & Nature Conference

Link to C&NN’s Research Library

Essays from the New Nature Movement about Nature, Equity and Peace among People
THE NATURE OF EQUITY: An Interview with Dr. Gail Christopher
RESTORING PEACE: Six Ways Nature in Our Lives Can Reduce the Violence in Our World
WHAT A LEADER LOOKS LIKE
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
HOW CITY KIDS WILL SAVE THE PLANET
NEW INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION TO THE FORGOTTEN HUMAN RIGHT
ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress
SAVING THE FIELD OF DREAMS: Natural Cultural Capacity in Our Parks
A TREE GROWS IN SOUTH CENTRAL
HOW PROSPECT PARK SHAPED A MAN
BROTHER YUSUF’S GIFT: One Man Who Made a Difference

OCCUPY NATURE

BALM IN GILEAD: Racism as an Environmental Issue, Nature as a Healing Force
A HEAVY HEART IN THE GRAND CANYON

News
Breaking Down Racial Hierarchy, by Gail Christopher in The Saint Louis American
Black hikers break the ‘green ceiling’ and clear a path for nature enthusiasts
Coalition Pushes for Diversity at National Parks
Outdoor Afro Busting Stereotypes that Blacks Don’t Hike or Camp

Organizations:
Outdoor Afro
Latino Outdoors
Concerns of Police Survivors Kids Camp
Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK)
Wilderness Inquiry

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