TLC is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our work. We believe that our goal of sharing land conservation benefits with every single person in the Triangle cannot be reached without actively working to end systemic racism, which for centuries has led to ongoing inequities in access to and enjoyment of the outdoors. TLC is dedicated to becoming a more productive and authentic land trust by not just celebrating diversity, but working to become an anti-racist organization. We must continue to have open and active discussions about race, equity, and inclusion in our organization and in the land trust community. We must also use our unique position and resources that we have as a land trust to ensure the benefits of land conservation are shared with everyone in our community by continuing to partner with and support organizations led by Black people and people of color, to work with businesses owned by people of color, and to connect with communities of color.
This history of land conservation, the very core of our work, has historically perpetuated systemic racism
Every acre of land in this country has a long, often unrecognized or forgotten, history of people who lived and worked there. Since the beginning of this country, native people, and then enslaved Africans, lived on and took care of the lands TLC conserves today. When white colonists arrived in America, they stole ancestral lands from native people and brought with them enslaved Africans who were forced to labor on that land. After the Civil War, former slaves and their descendants acquired land. In 1910, rural African American farm families held between 16 and 19 million acres of farmland. Today, that number has dropped to just over 2.5 million acres. Some of that is due to urbanization, but much of it was taken from African Americans through threats of violence, lynching, and racist laws. It’s also a sad fact that much of the history of access to open space protection is inextricably linked with racism: indigenous people were removed from their land in the name of conservation to create most of our national parks. With stolen land and labor, white people built wealth exclusively for other white people. There is a direct line between that generational wealth and economic disparities today.
What we’ve done and what we continue to work on
TLC has been working to become an anti-racist organization for several years now. We’ve taken important steps, but there is more work to be done to ensure all people have access to outdoor spaces. One of our current and ongoing projects is to figure out ways to increase and support Black land ownership.
At our nature preserves, we’ve worked to tell part of the properties’ histories. When TLC opened Horton Grove Nature Preserve in 2012, we named the trails in honor of the descendants of enslaved Black people who were forced to live and work on the land for generations. We are also working to document and share the histories of Black and Indigenous communities at Bailey and Sarah Williamson Preserve.
As an organization, we’ve prioritized working with minority-owned vendors and continuously search for new vendors owned by Black people and people of color. When recruiting board members, we use a “diversity matrix” that includes geography (to be representative of the six counties in our region), gender, age, and race. We have also improved our hiring procedures by expanding the places we post job announcements, “blinding” resumes to remove information that might indicate race (which results in implicit bias), and ensuring our interview committees are diverse. Since 2016, TLC has paid for all staff to attend a two-day training with the Racial Equity Institute. TLC also provides numerous training programs, workshops, webinars, and staff retreats to examine how racism impacts each of us and our work. Among the groups we’ve hired to help us in our journey are Alexa Broderick from The Equity Paradigm, who facilitated two staff retreats, and the NC Center for Nonprofits series, Walking the Talk, in which most staff have participated.
After years of exploring issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion as an organization and individually, TLC staff has worked with numerous partners to develop a program addressing three problems in the Triangle:
- Rapid loss of farmland
- Land retention barriers and lack of land ownership by African American, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian people
- Unattainable land prices or leases that don’t provide equity for those seeking farms to grow food
With one solution: using conservation tools to increase land ownership, retention, economic opportunities for people of color at prices unaffected by development potential. The Good Ground Initiative (GGI) uses “Buy-Conserve-Sell” as an approach to land protection and promoting equity in agriculture.
Resources that have helped our staff
Information on systemic racism and how to be anti-racist:
Websites:– Dismantling Racism Works
– Nonprofit Quarterly’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Series
– Talking About Race – Being Antiracist from the National Museum of African American History & Culture
Articles/projects:– The New York Times’ 1619 Project
– What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege by Lori Lakin Hutcherson in OnBeing
– Beyond Diversity: Roadmap to Building an Inclusive Organization by Maya A. Beasley
– Intersectional Environmentalism: Why Environmental Justice Is Essential For A Sustainable Future by Leah Thomas
– I’m a Black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
– Five Ways to Make the Outdoors More Inclusive
– What Is Anti-Racism? by Kendra Cherry
– Leveraging Conservation Finance to Advance Equity and Justice, Part One: New Goals by Sawyer Cresap, Conservation Finance Network.
Books:– How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
– Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Podcasts:– Seeing White, Scene on Radio, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
– Losing Ground, Reveal News
– Charlottesville and White People, It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders
– Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist
Information on systemic racism in conservation and land ownership:
- Environmentalism’s Racist History in The New Yorker, written by former Durham resident Jedediah Purdy
- Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery. The Reels Brothers Spent Eight Years in Jail for Refusing to Leave It. by Lizzie Presser, ProPublica
- Leveling the Fields: Creating Farming Opportunities for Black People, Indigenous People, and Other People of Color, Policy Brief, Union of Concerned Scientists and Heal Food Alliance
- Forty Acres and a Mule in the 21st Century by William Darity Jr., Duke University
- The Great Land Robbery by Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic
- Land Loss Timeline from OpenSource