This is the 43rd of 50 Days of Chicago Nature. Read previous posts here.
The truth is that the enjoyment of our natural areas is a privilege available to some more than others.
“Some people are genuinely afraid of being in the woods and in the outdoors,” says Jen Johnson of Audubon Great Lakes.
Jen is Coordinator of Audubon Great Lakes' Wild Indigo Program in Northwest Indiana. Wild Indigo is a community engagement program that seeks to build lasting relationships between urban communities of color and their local natural areas.
“That feeling of ‘I belong here,’ that's what's been driving us, whether someone is black, Latino, from the South Side or Gary,” she says.
Jen works with local organizations to develop custom programming. That includes partnerships with schools and community groups but also--prior to the Covid-19 pandemic--monthly Wild Indigo talks at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education in Indiana Dunes National Park.
“Sometimes, with large science organizations, there's a stigma that we're not here for long-term relationships with the communities we’re in,” Jen says. “We want to also be a help to people and not a burden to people.”
Community collaboration and in-person interaction is at the core of Jen and Wild Indigo's approach. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has made that impossible. Instead, Wild Indigo has provided webinars and Facebook live events, including a recent bilingual nature walk and tips on backyard birding (a video clip featuring Jen is included below).
“We've really ramped up a lot of [digital] engagement,” the South Side resident says, “but there's the challenge of the digital divide and that not everybody is tech savvy or has a phone and good internet access. We do acknowledge that.”
Jen notes, though, that nature can be found everywhere, a sentiment shared by longtime members of Gary's many block clubs and community groups.
“I'm learning so much from them,” she says. “Gary is a town that's in transition from being heavily industrial. The people of Gary belong in nature, and nature belongs around them as well.”
Learn more about Wild Indigo Nature Explorations.