When my father returned to his home state of Virginia after serving in the Korean War, like many young people, he needed a job. Growing up poor and black with a 12th grade education, in what was then a segregated state, meant that personal dreams were overshadowed by the real need to put food on the table for him and his new wife. As he considered his job prospects, he saw a national forester, resplendent in his park uniform, and thought, "It seems like a good government job." But when he asked about the requirements, they told him "they do not hire." Blacks "
Nearly 56 years later, I found myself sitting in a conference room at the Department of the Interior, listening to then-Secretary Ken Salazar talking to me and to others, members of the National Park System Advisory Council, about how to maintain and elevate America's best idea.
My time serving on the board was a master class on how democracy can be, but I'm no longer part of that board. I resigned in protest this week.
Here, I must be trans parente: I am an accidental defender of the National Parks. I do not think I went to a national park until I was 30 years old; my family trips were limited to local parks and visiting cousins in Virginia. And national parks are also, well, complicated, partly because our history is complicated. A conversation about our public lands would be incomplete without considering the loss suffered by the American Indians, the pain of the enslaved Africans, the Japanese internment and the deprivation of the rights of the Mexicans. How do we reconcile our human history on this earth?
But soon I fell in love with our national parks. I grew up to respect their history and the passion of the people who run them. Seeing the places that our ancestors have lived, loved, fought and died so that we can continue has changed me. I know more about who we are as a country, and I feel more deeply about who we can be as a country because of my time serving on this council.
Because I feel this love, I am deeply hurt by the unwillingness of the new interior secretary to interact with us and hear about the work that so many people throughout the country are doing to take care of national parks and each other .
While our board made multiple attempts to contact Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, our last attempt to request a meeting did not receive a response. (Our president, the former governor of Alaska Tony Knowles, wrote a very detailed letter in which we detailed our desire to connect and share with him the work we have done over the past eight years.)
I resigned this week because I can not go unnoticed and I'll do it. not be silenced for lack of attention. I must continue to honor the ideals of commitment, service and responsibility that I learned for the first time from my father and continue to express myself in those with whom I have had the privilege of working in the National Parks Advisory Council and the National Parks Service.
My resignation has only strengthened my intention to honor all the stories, people and places that represent the National Parks because I believe and I love us, the people. I want to honor my father, too, who suffers from Alzheimer's and may not remember all his contributions, dreams and past possibilities. I want to tell him that it's okay if he does not remember. Because I do it.
Carolyn Finney is an assistant professor of geography at the University of Kentucky. She was a member of the Advisory Board of the National Park Service for eight years. She is the author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans with the Outside.