By Deb Lahey, President & CEO, Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
With melting snow and the first promising signs of Spring, I’m eager to be outdoors watching for those signs, including feeling warmer moist air, and listening closely for more bird songs. In these reflections, I’m reminded how fortunate I am to have access to nature through urban parks, trees, gardens, rivers, and our beloved Lake Michigan.
Multiple studies prove there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time in nature. But in reality, too many people don’t have equal access to these benefits. This is especially true for people living in predominantly African American neighborhoods in cities throughout this Chicagoland region. In many underserved communities there are significant barriers – transportation, safety, proximity, awareness – to enjoying parks, trees, school gardens, forest preserves and community green spaces.
I strongly believe every person – especially every child – should be able to experience the gifts and benefits of nature. Addressing this issue is particularly profound as we reflect during Black History Month on how we must collaborate to create more nature equality.
We need more visible environmental champions to challenge the status quo and fight barriers to a healthy environment. Environmental justice advocates like Dr. Robert Bullard, known by many as the “father of the environmental justice movement,” have increased the understanding of environmental racism and have led an important movement to end injustice that hurts many minority communities.
And I’m thankful for historic leaders like botanist George Washington Carver, who discovered healing and agricultural properties of plants and revolutionized farming practices. He faced immeasurable obstacles because of his race, but his intellect and determination helped pave the way for future African American scientists.
Nature offers many benefits to minority youth, which is why the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum places the highest priority on taking nature and science education programs to underserved communities, and on creating greater awareness and opportunities to experience urban nature. Everyone deserves to enjoy the benefits of nature and of being outdoors.
Nature access and education can create more racially, socially and economically equitable communities. During this reflective time of year, let’s renew our commitment to environmental justice for all.