HBCU NWF EcoLeaders Advance Their Environmental Leadership Development

During the weekend of April 10-April 12, 2015, nine Historically Black College and University (HBCU) students and one HBCU alumnus came together in Atlanta for our first National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders HBCU Student Environmental Leadership Development Training. This effort, an extension of NWF’s Campus Ecology EcoLeaders program, was supported by the long standing and continuously fruitful partnership between NWF and the Energy Action Coalition, a coalition of 30 youth driven organizations working towards a clean energy future.

Participants get ready to head to the airport on the last day. What a great weekend! Photo by Eriqah Williams
The main goal of this training was to build the HBCU presence in the environmental and conservation movement by lending mentorship and advisement to students. Students were poised to learn about environmentalism in social justice, develop leadership and project planning skills, and establish a relationship with NWF that would hopefully lead to valuable opportunities for them in the future.

The students arrived in Atlanta on Friday and experienced an intimate dinner with prominent leaders in the city including NWF’s own resident community champion, Na’Taki Osborne Jelks. They introduced themselves and talked about what they hoped to gain from this weekend. Saturday was filled with field and cultural experiences as well as leadership training sessions. In the morning the students were taken on a “Toxic Tour” around Altanta; a trip exposing the environmental injustices and threats to resiliency in underserved communities like the ones that most of these young leaders come from.

Toxic tour tweet
A twitter post from Audrey Smylie, Lincoln University Student and one of the training participants. Search tag #HBCUSELT2015 on Twitter or Instagram for more pictures and quotes from the students regarding the training.
Then the youth were able to experience The Center for Civil and Human Rights, a new museum and cultural experience in Atlanta joining the 1960s Civil Rights movement with today’s global human rights movement. Here the youth were inspired to take environmental justice as a social justice and apply the leadership styles and tactics of past human rights leaders to their current quest to evoke change.

The third field experience was to visit an organization that is doing their part to introduce appreciation for conservation and environment to the inner city community. West Atlanta Watershed Alliance hosted the Urban Forestry Festival doing just that at the Outdoor Activity Center nature preserve. The remainder of the weekend was filled with training sessions on subjects from creative leadership to building effective campus groups to new sustainability funding opportunities. Some of these sessions were led by influential sustainability professionals including another NWF education colleague, Crystal Grant Jennings.

“I enjoyed how the speakers were able to find a unique balance of being formal and informal with us. The outside activities like the toxic tour, trip to the civil and human rights center and the outdoor environmental fair were very inspirational and motivating.” – HBCU student

The youth leaders will be taking the skills and insights they learned in the training and applying it to projects and events they plan to implement on campus and in their community during this summer. They are also applying for certification from the NWF EcoLeaders community, a career credential certification that will lead to more training, professional development webinars, and interface with potential employers in this field of environment and sustainability. The hope is that the success of this weekend will lead to further opportunities with diverse populations and larger face to face training under EcoLeaders in the future.

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