“When was the moment you realized how awesome wildlife is?”
That was one of the first questions my boss asked me on my first day at the National Wildlife Federation. Sounds like a simple question, but I remember my heart sinking and my mind shuffling through memories trying to look for that one moment.
I’m sure my face gave it away that I didn’t have an answer because he just continued talking. But I was still stuck on that question. I felt almost fake, like I didn’t belong there advocating for wildlife because I couldn’t point out a single experience that really impacted me on the spot.
It’s not that I was void of all interactions with wildlife, but rather that I didn’t have as many opportunities to experience it. When I think of wildlife, nature and the outdoors the first thoughts that pop up are centered on TV series and movies.
I had initially dismissed this but in a moment of reflection, I circled back and asked myself. “Why were my first thoughts not about experiences I’ve had myself? I concluded that it had to with my upbringing.
I grew up in Miami in a low-income family. My parents’ priorities were to make sure I had clothes, food and an education. Going camping, hunting, hiking or fishing weren’t activities we had the chance to do. Those were things that were inaccessible to us growing up.
While I have wonderful memories in the beach and care deeply about the environment, hearing stories from people who did get the chance to visit national parks, go hunting and so on made it feel as if my experiences didn’t really count.
But my experiences definitely do count. Nature and wildlife are everywhere and it’s possible to have a connection in even the simplest of ways.
The problem is that cities aren’t really seen as spaces where nature and wildlife can thrive. The media makes it seem as though connections can only be made when kayaking through canyons and setting up tents in a campground. So no wonder people like me, living in cities and rarely seeing people who look like them enjoying the outdoors, have a tough time recalling memories of time spent in nature.
I’ve always known the importance of protecting wildlife, so I was naturally inclined to promote NWF’s message with my friends and family. I became consumed with trying to get them involved that I didn’t stop to think about why they should care. Or better yet, what messages would make them care.
This summer I learned that having diverse messengers, like me, is not enough. If we want to effect change, we need to have diverse messengers and diverse messages. Messages are not a “one size fits all” solution.