by Reba Green-Holley, SFLRP Youth Program Coordinator
There has been a severe decline in black landownership since 1910 due to racism and racist practices implemented by various agriculture agencies and businesses. As a result, the history and scale of African-American land loss has devastated rural counties with predominantly black populations becoming pockets of enduring poverty. Youth disconnecting from the land, politics and disruption of the three main pillars – Social, Economic and Environmental, especially in Southern states – have caused continuing challenges today.
As a granddaughter of a tobacco farmer, I had a connection to the land from an early age. However, after his death none of his children farmed but the land was still in the family as heirs’ property. I was the grandchild who was connected to the land and continuously stressed to my mom the need to get the land straight before her siblings died. Even though I lived in other places growing up, there was always a connection to my grandparents’ land and a feeling of peace and connectedness I had every time I went there to visit them and even afterwards when I would visit the land. My husband and I own our home and land, but I still don’t have the same feeling for it as I do for my grandparents’ land.
The SFLRP youth program goal is to connect youth to and raise awareness and knowledge of land ownership, sustainable forestry concepts, conservation, agriculture, forestry and natural resource issues. Their connection with the world they live in and careers is a win-win situation.
The Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Program teaches individuals about the importance of the land in their family and land ownership. On July 26, as part of its youth program, SFLRP will host its annual Youth STEAM Summit in Rocky Mount, N.C., to increase familiarity with science, technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics, as well as awareness of career options in these fields. Registration for this free event opens in early June. The SFLRP youth program goal is to connect youth to and raise awareness and knowledge of land ownership, sustainable forestry concepts, conservation, agriculture, forestry and natural resource issues. Their connection with the world they live in and careers is a win-win situation.
Many people don’t realize that green jobs pay approximately 13 percent more than other jobs, and tend to require less formal education, which opens doors into the middle class. Environmental and conservation career fields create local, high-wage jobs. That represents tremendous opportunity for historically disadvantaged communities. Many youths leave northeastern North Carolina due to the lack of career opportunities. Northeast NC’s main asset is natural resources, ag, forestry and nature. The program opens their eyes to the opportunities just outside their back door. They see trees every day and take them for granted, but by being in the program they learn to really look at the trees and have a greater appreciation.
African-American youth and other socially disadvantaged youth lack the opportunities to be involved in environmental and STEM activities, which results in them not pursuing these fields as career options and the connection that agriculture, environmental and STEM are interconnected. As a former 4-H Agent, designing programs that taught subject matter and life skills to youth was one of my responsibilities. I got great joy in seeing the youth increasing their knowledge and skills and gaining the confidence that they could achieve their goals and dreams if they put their mind to it and had someone to help guide them to the resources and opportunities.
Where else can they learn about topics like geographic information systems, robotics, drones, water quality, and meet and network with ag and environment professionals that they never would have had the opportunity to meet? Learning about what these professionals had to do get to the professional level they have attained lets them know they can do the same. In addition, they network with college students that are in STEM and ag majors and learn about the college experience and how to prepare themselves for getting into college and being successful.
Leadership development is another component that is built into the program through the Youth Ambassador opportunity. High school youth are able to provide their input into the design of the program and help market and implement the program. One of the Ambassadors who attended the Youth Summit and visited the NC A&T State University booth came away in awe of the opportunities that the university provides. It got her thinking of career options she had never envisioned. As the SFLRP Youth Coordinator, I get to continue that opportunity to work with the youth by helping to provide and plan these opportunities that expose youth to options that they may never had thought of had it not been for the SFLRP Youth Program.
I got great joy in seeing the youth increasing their knowledge and skills and gaining the confidence that they could achieve their goals and dreams if they put their mind to it and had someone to help guide them to the resources and opportunities.
The SFLRP Youth STEAM Summit is a daylong signature high school youth event. Parents and youth group leaders attend also. Many times, youth are steered into majors that their parents want them to pursue. The Summit also has made an impact on the adults who attend by broadening their vision of the opportunities that exist for the youth, which has led to a broadening of their mindset as it relates to careers to encourage their youth to pursue. I would like more youth to participate and not miss out on this wonderful opportunity. Urban areas have a lot of opportunities for youth. To have this type of programming for youth in rural northeast North Carolina is remarkable. And it is free! Even though the program targets socially disadvantaged youth, any youth is welcome to attend. The program allows me to continue to be able to answer the question, “What have you done today to make a difference in a child’s life?”
Call 252.539.4614 for additional information or visit recforestry.org..