Finding Diversity


Jenna Benzing shows her skull collection to a festival-goer at the African American Festival in Harrisonburg, June 2016.

Each year in our Chapter’s Annual Report for the VMN program we are asked to describe our efforts in complying with the program’s guidelines to strive for diversity in our membership. The request looks like this:

Civil Rights Compliance Information
To comply with state and federal guidelines, we are required to document the following information on an annual basis and to work towards achieving balanced membership in our program. Balanced membership is met when the racial and gender composition of the club or organization is exactly proportional to that of the population of the membership area. Even if a club or organization does not have balanced membership for a majority of those underrepresented group categories present in the membership area, the program can be deemed to be in compliance if the club or organization leaders, in collaboration with the appropriate Extension professional, can demonstrate that “all reasonable efforts” have been made to achieve balanced membership within the group.

This is followed by a list of ethnic groups in which we are to divide our membership. Not surprisingly, our chapter is 100% white with about a 1:3 male/ female ratio. “Using local data, we would strive for 4 African American and 5 Hispanic members, and 15 more male members, to balance our membership,” according to the 2016 report our chapter submitted.

Rooted in the Earth

Outreach Committee Chair Janet James and HMN Kate Guenther recently met to discuss ways to help address this issue. For insight into the black American outdoor experience, Kate found a good resource and attended the last HMN board meeting to offer a report on it described by her here:

The HMN Board heard a book report presentation of the book “Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage” by Dianne D. Glave. The book discusses the rich, complicated and sometimes ambivalent relationship black Americans have with nature, based on the culture’s historical experiences during the period of the middle passage, slavery, and northern migration. The book also suggests different perspectives black people may have as compared to whites in their attitudes about the meanings and goals of relationship with the natural world, comparing the goals of conservation versus preservation.

The presentation was developed in the context of preparing for Outreach’s attendance at the upcoming African American Festival in Harrisonburg in June. HMN– interested in developing diversity in its membership– can only benefit from a deeper understanding of the interests, barriers, and ideas for participation that these communities will bring.   – Kate Guenther, Cohort I

Kate discovered and shared this organization’s information with board members:

Outdoor Afro: Where Black People and Nature Meet


Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet! Outdoor Afro is a national non-profit organization with leadership networks around the country.

This organization has several active chapters in northern Virginia and seeks partnerships with other groups in addition to making speakers available.

Besides the 24th Annual Harrisonburg-Rockingham African American Culture Festival on Saturday, June 17, our chapter could have an outreach opportunity at the 7th Annual Hispanic Festival in Harrisonburg on Sunday, August 6, 2017. Then on Saturday, September 30, Harrisonburg celebrates its 20th Annual International Festival with one more chance to reach out to diverse cultures.

– Adrie Voors, Cohort II, May 2017