A Celebration of Freedom, Gratitude

June nineteenth marks the day official enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing slavery reached Texas in 1865, two years after the formal signing of the Proclamation. This day holds special meaning for Black Americans—whether for celebration, remembrance, reflection, or sharing—and is an occasion for all people to reflect on the work that still needs to be done to secure justice and equality.

This uniquely American holiday is a fitting moment to stop and acknowledge the rich contributions that Black conservationists have made to the work and mission of the National Wildlife Federation. From our emerging environmental justice work to long-standing programs like our Urban Partnerships Program and Earth Tomorrow (which is celebrating 20 years of programming this Summer in Atlanta), our Black colleagues have been quintessential in shaping the work of the National Wildlife Federation. 

This Juneteenth, we want to share our gratitude for our Black colleagues and acknowledge that we are immensely fortunate to have leading Black and African-descendant environmentalists, advocates, and conservationists working to help people and wildlife thrive across the country. Here are a few of their stories and contributions:

Chanté Coleman 

Vice President, Equity and Justice

woman in yoga pose on beach

Chanté, a San Diego native living in Annapolis, feels deeply connected to the outdoors and especially our waters. She explores this connection through kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, swimming and other outdoor activities. She believes conservation work must center people and community care, which has inspired and enlivened her innovative, inclusive and collaborative approach to helping the National Wildlife Federation become an anti-racist and equitable organization.

She also is a national leader, bringing together the movement to share stories and lessons learned in this work. At the National Wildlife Federation, Chanté helped establish employee resource groups to build community and support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ staff. She also led the development of the National Wildlife Federation’s first Equity and Justice Strategic Plan, which is guiding the organization toward actively assessing its work through a lens of challenging systemic racism. She is currently in training for her 200-hour yoga teacher certification, enjoys acrylic painting, and playing board games with her partner, Nathan. 

Vanessa Williams

Manager of Innovation Partnerships

Vanessa, who hails from Detroit and now lives in the Denver area, is an essential part of the National Wildlife Federation’s innovation and marketing team where she manages and supports the organization’s partnerships with businesses and other organizations. Her passion for wildlife conservation and environmental action has its roots in the Earth Tomorrow program, which she joined 19 years ago in Detroit.

“The connections, lessons, and skills I learned during that time have impacted my educational and professional career to this day,” Vanessa said. “I traveled, made lifelong friends all over the country, and took advantage of some amazing opportunities. I developed a passion for service, stewardship, and working with youth.”

Vanessa also was one of the first 50 presenters trained for Al Gore’s The Climate Project (now The Climate Reality Project).

Crystal Jennings 

Senior Manager, Youth Leadership Programs 

woman pointing to "vote" t-shirt

As Senior Manager of Youth Leadership Programs for the National Wildlife Federation, Crystal has over 11 years of experience educating youth from communities of color on environmental issues and inspiring them to take action to ensure environmental justice for all. Crystal has led Earth Tomorrow, an environmental education and leadership development program for multicultural youth, which is celebrating 20 years of youth-centered and community-based service in Metro Atlanta this Summer. 

“Most of my outdoor experiences happened while engaging youth in the Earth Tomorrow program. While getting introduced to the program, I was also experiencing many activities for the first time myself and I LOVED it!” she said. “It opened my mind up to trying new things like camping, hiking, archery, tubing and kayaking. I didn’t always feel comfortable trying these things on my own, so having a program like Earth Tomorrow made all the difference for me.”

“Now, as a parent, I enjoy sharing my love for nature with my family. Kids are already innately fascinated with nature. It’s parents that shape their curiosity or fears. My students, my kids and my community motivate me to keep supporting and promoting Earth Tomorrow. I know the Earth Tomorrow program and programs modeled after EarthTomorrow can have an enormous impact on all participants. It certainly had one on me!”

Through Earth Tomorrow, Crystal found her passion working with youth and inspiring them to be agents of change in their local communities. Crystal also has experience implementing NWF’s Eco-Schools USA, an international K-12 school-wide greening program and EcoLeaders, a leadership and career development program for college students and young professionals. Crystal has a BS in Environmental Science from Spelman College in Atlanta and enjoys spending time exploring nature with her husband and three kids. 

Kaila Drayton

Associate Vice President, Operations for Programs and Equity

Kaila has been the leading voice at the National Wildlife Federation for dismantling systems and processes that perpetuate inequities that often affect Black-led and Black-serving programs. She spearheaded a new process aimed at ensuring internal budgeting and investments prioritize transparency and accountability and result in more equitable funding. Kaila also is working to ensure that Black staff and their colleagues of color at the National Wildlife Federation enjoy equal access to opportunities, compensation, and recognition.

Kaila is the co-lead of the National Wildlife Federation’s Black Employee Resource Group along with Keith Ward, the organization’s Director of Technology Solutions and Information Technology.

Samantha Miller

Community Wildlife Content Coordinator 

woman sitting at scenic vista

Samantha works with the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat program and Mayors’ Monarch Pledge which partners with cities, towns, and communities to help them become healthier and more wildlife friendly.

In addition to her work with the Federation, Samantha’s passion for building an inclusive environmental community has led to the creation of a platform called Black Girl Environmentalists, a community for Black women, girls, and non-binary environmentalists.

The group centers the voices of environmentalists who have been underrepresented in mainstream conservation, even as Samantha points out, “despite bearing the brunt of most environmental abuses and disenfranchisement, we oftentimes aren’t thought of as environmentalists even though our experiences tell another story.”

Samantha, an immigrant from Jamaica, centers her own work around the core belief that Black people deserve to live in healthy, vibrant communities and that the story of environmental progress must center Black people’s own stories. She is an aspiring urban planner.

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