7 Young Conservation Leaders Receive College Scholarship from NWF’s Earth Tomorrow Program

Why I’m comparing National Wildlife Federation to Yoda for these young JEDIs

There are a lot of companies talking about JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion). Although many of them have good intentions the reality is there’s more talk than substance in most cases. Some are even just plain deceptive with no real intention of making substantive changes in this regard and there are even some elected officials doing their best to repeal and reverse the hard-fought for JEDI advancements. Not so at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

NWF is one of the oldest and largest non-profit organizations in the environmental conservation and education sector since its founding in 1936. NWF has represented 53 state and territorial affiliates and over six million members and supporters. Our mascot, Ranger Rick, turned 55 years old this year! 

All in all, we can be seen as the “Yoda” of our sector having been around longer than most. I grew up as a part of the Star Wars generation in the 70’s and 80’s and Yoda was the sage who taught the young Jedi Luke Sky Walker. Today with the rebirth of Star Wars, I’m sure, I don’t have to go too deep into the history to explain Yoda. 

Evolving NWF’s Mission

I like the Yoda character when describing NWF and its impact during this critical juncture. Although for decades we’ve focused on wildlife and the environment, we’ve also evolved in our mission—Uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world.

“In a critical time of accelerating climate and biodiversity crises, we envision improved ecological balance and safe, equitable access to clean water, air, and land to ensure that all wildlife, people, and ecosystems thrive.”

JEDI is a capstone of this mission at NWF:

“The National Wildlife Federation is at the beginning of a long but essential journey to become an organization that champions belonging, where we bring people together to do big things for communities and wildlife. Our vision is to put people first, center equity and justice in everything we do, and combat systems of oppression and other injustices that impede our ability to achieve our mission. By living up to our core values and committing to this vision, the National Wildlife Federation can become an organization that fully welcomes, retains, and celebrates staff, volunteers, and supporters from all backgrounds.”

Chanté Coleman, Senior Vice President of Equity and Justice

So hopefully you can see as I do the NWF-Yoda and JEDI connection. But the thing I’m most excited about is the young JEDI masters! 

Supporting Future Leaders

I manage the Georgia Office of Education and Engagement for the South Central Regional Center (SCRC) at NWF. One of my responsibilities is to oversee our Earth Tomorrow program. 

The Earth Tomorrow program is designed to help BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Georgia teenagers become aware of environmental issues confronting their communities, provide them with skills in needs assessment and project planning, and hone their leadership abilities to undertake student-led community action projects. 

Our mission is to develop lifelong habits of environmental stewardship and community service. The program cultivates this new generation of lifetime stewards through a year-long cycle of leadership training, issues exploration, civic engagement, career development, community outreach and education, and student-led community action projects for teens. 

Once these high school students graduate almost all of them go on to college. We are able to continue the work of developing them as emerging leaders by providing them with peer mentor positions for which they receive a stipend during their time of volunteer service working directly with the Earth Tomorrow Summer Institute. We have also hired some of them as interns who work with our offices in Texas and Georgia. 

Young JEDI Masters

These young adults are our “Young JEDI Masters.” They represent the Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion in the environmental education and conservation sector that we envision at NWF.

This year as co-chair of NWF’s Black Employee Resource Group (ERG), I was able to connect the efforts of both the SCRC and the Black ERG. The Black ERG is an internal employee resource group that sponsors programs to support Black employees.

The Black ERG wanted to provide college scholarships to emerging leaders in our field to encourage and support the collective JEDI efforts of NWF. The SCRC through the Earth Tomorrow program in Houston and Atlanta has provided a pipeline for supporting students who represent the JEDI efforts of the NWF by training youth and young adults. 

Through Earth Tomorrow, the Black ERG was able to identify seven college students who are the recipients of the $ 1,000 college scholarship. 

These students are our Young JEDI Masters. 

Each of them has spent time with Yoda/NWF and received training and support. But at a time when college tuition and fees are at astronomical levels, this scholarship is the type of support the students can appreciate best. The scholarship represents the substance at a time when the talk is cheap and college tuition is high. It’s our way of saying “May the force be with you and we have your back!” 

As seen in the cover photo above from left to right, the students are: 

  • Robert Fields, Savanah College of Art and Design, Art Major
  • Bryan Soria, Texas A&M, Political Science Major
  • Crystal Manzanarez, Berea College, Environmental Science Major
  • Lauryn Grant, Georgia Tech, Engineering Major
  • Nerjes Azzam, Middlebury College, Environmental Policy Major
  • Torrey Flournoy, Kennesaw State University, Biology Major
  • Candice Haddock, Tennessee State University, Environmental Science Major

Congratulations to these recipients!

Brendon Barclay manages the National Wildlife Federation‘s Georgia Office of Education and Engagement for the South Central Regional Center (SCRC).

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Published: September 21, 2023