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African Americans Have Always Been Green

Cleo Doley
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African American continuing contributions to conservation past and future

This month, as the nation honors the historical and present day contributions of African Americans, we will likely hear of pioneers in the field of science, arts, and culture. Absent from much of the traditional narrative is the tremendous contributions made by African Americans to protect our lands and waters, leading to the false assumption that African Americans are not connected to nature or advocates for natural resource conservation. To honor Black History Month, The Nature Conservancy put together some fun facts of historical contributions by African Americans ( who have made major contributions to protecting our planet. We also highlight the work young African Americans are pursuing in order to conserve the natural resources we all rely on for clean air and water.
We all know Harriet Tubman led hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, but she was also a nurse who looked to nature to find cures for major illnesses of her time, such as dysentery.  The National Audubon Society, a major national conservation organization, cites John James Audubon as its namesake and inspiration, but did you know he was multi-racial? Born in 1785 in the region today known as Haiti, he was the son of a French sea captain and his Creole mistress.
As The Nature Conservancy celebrates these historical contributions, we also look to the future through our Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future alumna, Tiffany “Cleo” Doley, who is pursuing an environmental career path and continuing in the conservation footsteps of those who came before. Cleo is currently a junior, majoring in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont.
The video interview with Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson focuses on his work advocating for urban youth, particularly African Americans, to be exposed to nature, conservation and science as well as the National Parks.
And finally, we include six facts about African-American men and women who have made an impact in conservation.
For more information on LEAF please go to

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.  To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have helped protect more than 119 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at


LEAF Black History Month: Cleo Doley

 “Cleo” Doley combines global experiences and her childhood in the big city to inform her pursuit of a career in environmental justice.

Cleo Doley
Cleo Doley

Tiffany “Cleo” Doley is an environmental leader and outdoor enthusiast who prides herself on being a role model to her peers. She attended The High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan. In 2010 Cleo participated in The Nature Conservancy’s LEAF Program, where she led shellfish restoration and invasive species management projects in New Hampshire.

In 2011, Cleo was accepted on full scholarship to participate in a highly competitive outdoor leadership expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Alaska. There she honed her leadership skills amongst her peers and became an expert on Leave No Trace education principles. This past summer, she worked with the Waterkeeper Alliance as an intern to help keep waterways cleaner and safer for communities worldwide. Cleo is currently a Junior, majoring in environmental studies at the University of Vermont.

Were you always interested in nature?


Growing up in New York City, nature was not really a part of my early childhood experience. However, when Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out when I was in middle school, my brother did a “teen commentary” short film with other students in his school about the movie. I remember seeing what they had to say and it seemed really interesting to me. From then on, I remember going to summer camps outside the city, and meeting other kids who were interested in the same thing.

How did the LEAF experience impact you?


The LEAF experience showed me what it could look like to have an environmental career. A lot of people told me I should go into business or the medical field because “the environment is just a hobby.” However, when I went to the LEAF Program, a career in the environment seemed realistic and fun too! It motivated me to major in Environmental Studies at The University of Vermont. LEAF also helped me to see that as a woman of color, my experiences mattered and that I could make significant contributions in a movement that has historically been perceived by many as a domain for the privileged few. It showed me that my identity and my participation are critical to changing things for the better.

What else helped you decide to pursue environmental studies in college?


When I went to the High School for Environmental Studies and participated in programs like LEAF and the Toshiba Summer Youth Conference, I was able to interact with professionals who acted as great mentors to show me the many career paths people have in the environmental field. Through them, I was able to see a real career path and interact with people who share my interests.

You’ve traveled a lot in your life, specifically when you did the Toshiba Youth Conference for a Sustainable Future in Japan. Can you tell us more about that? And how did that experience strengthen your commitment to the environment?


Traveling to Japan made me see that the environmental movement is truly global. People from all over the world want to be a part of it, and going to the conference helped me feel I was part of a global community. I was able to meet professionals and other youth from different countries that put so much faith in me to create a better future. Being at the conference showed me that young people can make a difference, and our strength in the environmental movement can really revolutionize the field. We Millennials are the biggest generation in history, so our collective power is significant.

What are your future career plans?


With my concentration in environmental justice, I hope to go into education. The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” As a woman of color from New York City, this ideology rings true for me both personally and professionally. I can best move the principles of environmental justice forward by educating young people in urban public schools, and empowering them with the tools they need to make the world better socially and environmentally.

Why do you think the environment is important to you and your generation?


We don’t really have anywhere else to go but earth, so fighting for the health of the planet is in many ways the same thing as fighting for our own health. My generation is becoming more intersectional and globally aware. We’re living in a digital world where we can share information immediately with anyone, so we are more globally connected. I think this global world is helping younger generations see things in terms of systems, and that includes the environmental movement. When we see that we’re all connected in this environmental system, we can get a little closer to a sustainable future.

You have attended conferences, like Power Shift 2013, aimed at empowering more people of color in environmental issues. As a woman of color, why do you feel it is important for people of color to be involved in the environmental movement?


Conferences like Power Shift helped me see that people of color not only care about the environment, but we are active agents of change in our communities, and our participation is absolutely critical for the future success of the movement. Historically, the mainstream environmental movement has been a pretty homogenous group – largely perceived as the domain of wealthy white men who fought for the preservation of wilderness areas. I feel that my community has been historically neglected. But today, when I go to conferences such as PowerShift 2013, I see first-hand that this movement is changing to recognize the connections between human rights and environmental rights.

I cannot fight for nature, for example, unless I also fight to eradicate food deserts in poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color. I cannot fight for nature unless I also fight for indigenous peoples to have power over their own lands and have the agency to preserve their lands. Historically, these social injustices were not the concerns of the wilderness conservation movement, but now we are starting to acknowledge that social and environmental issues are intimately connected, and that makes me very hopeful for the future.

As we celebrate Black History Month, what’s a contribution African-Americans have made to the environment that you wish more people were aware of? Or a contribution which is especially meaningful for you?


I wish more people knew that African-Americans have made tremendous contributions to the environmental field by championing the intersection between social justice and the environment. When Black communities first started protesting the unequal distribution of landfills in low income neighborhoods in the 1970s and 1980s, we were able to light a spark that motivated people all over the world to fight for their environmental, social, political, and economic rights. This historical contribution of African-American people continues to motivate me today as I push for change in my generation – for the health of our planet AND the health of our communities.

Article curtsey The Nature Conservancy

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