Diversity in environmentalism was the focus of a Saturday event hosted by the Awbury Arboretum. There, Awbury board member Gina Thomas explained how she developed a passion for environmentalism as a Girl Scout.
“A lot of environmental groups are not diverse so every opportunity I have, I try. African-Americans have always been environmentalists because their primary function during the time of slavery was agriculture,” said Thomas, a Mt. Airy resident who works at the Department of Environmental Protection and has practiced environmental law. “Girl Scouts and African-Americans will always be part of the environment.”
Another aim of the session was to encourage the link between Girl Scouts, of which there were several in the audience, with environmentalism. Thomas chuckled as she recalled her first job interview.
“They asked how I knew about the environment and my answer was because I was a Girl Scout,” she said. “That’s why it was important to bring Girl Scouts in this afternoon.”
Environmentalism in African-American history
Thomas also highlighted historic figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B Dubois and George Washington Carver, who played a vital role in the beginning study of environmentalism.
“Our mission is to preserve and interpret the historic house and landscape in order to connect urban community with nature and history,” said Beth Miner, Awbury’s manager of outreach and community engagement.
Rev. Chester H. Williams, a community activist and volunteer from Germantown, localized the discussion.
“We work on any project and beautification in the neighborhood,” he said. “We ask people to get involved in the neighborhood because people need to know what’s around and how to keep it in a positive way.”
Thomas had nothing but positive comments about the landscape.
“Awbury has fabulous resources and beautiful green space in the heart of Germantown. Awbury Arboretum gives people an opportunity to be in touch with nature. We’re hoping we can bring more people in,” Thomas said.
Amanda DiLoreto is a student at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.