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PlaceMaker: Teresa Baker Talks Diversity and Inclusion in National Parks

Wednesday, Jul 19, 2017 Category Park Management

Teresa Baker is from Richmond, CA, where she grew up outside, exploring nature. She now works in real estate development, but spends most of her spare time feeding her passion for the great outdoors. As she hiked, camped, and explored our national parks all across the country, Teresa realized she wanted to find a way to tell the stories from communities of color to help people develop a sense of pride and attachment to outdoor spaces.

In June 2013, Teresa started the African American Nature and Park Experience campaign, challenging people across the country to get out into national parks and share their stories. This has become an annual event, and in June 2017, she organized the first Women's Outdoor Summit for Empowerment, held here in the Presidio. We talked to Teresa about diversity and inclusion in national parks, starting a movement, and the success of the recent Women's Summit.

How did you start the African American Nature and Park Experience and who's involved?

After years of visiting national parks and seeing little to no people of color, I decided I needed to act. I reached out to the National Parks Service ​to get their take and realized the park service couldn't fix the problem alone. I began creating fun events to engage communities of color to visit our public lands in the hopes of spurring greater conservation efforts.

The first year, I did a call-out through social media asking people to find their closest national park site and visit. I didn't really have any expectations. But we had 500 people participate. It's now an annual event held the first weekend of June each year. Throughout the year, I write blog posts where I talk about diversity and inclusion and tell the stories of people getting out into our parks. I've also done campaigns, such as "Camp Like a Girl" (#camplag) or "Hike Like a Girl" (#hikelag), encouraging people to tag us in social media posts and tell their stories. This year over 2,000 people around the world participated. And African American Nature and Park Experience is run by just one person – me! But I depend on public participation to make it work.

How did the Women's Outdoor Summit for Empowerment come about?

Over the last few years, I've had conversations with women who work at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone who had concerns about sexual harassment. In 2016, Yosemite's Chief of Fire and Aviation Management Kelly Martin went before congress to testify about the issue, and I said to myself, just because I don't know what to do, doesn't mean I should do nothing. This is when I began planning the Women's Summit.

In late 2016, I met with Jean Fraser, the Presidio Trust's CEO, to discuss the work I was doing around diversity and inclusion. I mentioned the Women's Summit and asked if the Trust would be interested in working with me to make this event happen. Jean offered to host this event in the Presidio. It was held on Wednesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 15, 2017 at the Presidio's Rob Hill Campground.

We've heard enthusiastic reports about the Summit – for instance, from Outside Magazine, and participants via social media. Who was there and what took place during the event?

There were 150 attendees (though there were 1,000 submissions and the event sold out in three weeks!) – including advocacy groups like the California Conservation Corp and outdoor companies like Patagonia and Kleen Kanteen. I didn't really know what to expect initially. We planned it so the first day was indoors with a conference environment. We had panels and there was the idea that topics for discussion would center around sexual harassment concerns – I didn't necessarily think it would focus so much on diversity and inclusion. But we had asked participants to submit questions for discussion via email before the Summit started and through these questions, the Summit became more about diversity and inclusion.

The second day was held outdoors. We spent the night at Rob Hill Campground in the Presidio and there was yoga, hiking, a film, and interaction with the National Park Service and Presidio Trust staff. There was also a campfire discussion about women embracing what they can bring to the outdoors. So many women who'd never met before formed bonds around the outdoors. It was also an introduction to the Presidio for a lot of people – we slept with the ocean on one side of us, and forest on the other.

There were so many amazing moments at the Summit and, first and foremost, it was wonderful just having everyone show up excited and ready to move forward in action. The guest speakers were amazing. And having Dr. Jane Goodall send a personal message of encouragement was mind-blowing. But the attendees made it what it was – they participated in an authentic way, which made everyone feel at ease.​

What are your connections to the Presidio and do you plan to do this event again?

I live in the Bay Area and I didn't really know about the Presidio until 2014. My introduction came through an event honoring the Buffalo Soldiers. The National Park Service,  Sierra Club, Bay Area Wilderness Training, and Outdoor Afro came together to retrace the Buffalo Soldiers' journey from the Presidio all the way to Yosemite.

Now I come to the Presidio all the time and often stop into the Presidio Officers' Club, or Rob Hill Campground. Though as often as I come, camping at Rob Hill during the Summit was surreal, and hearing the personal stories of so many attendees made it clear to me the Summit was needed by so many people on so many levels. Several attendees have reached out since the summit asking that we do it again next year. With help from partners, there's a good chance we will.​