By PrincessSafiya Byers
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Nearby Nature Milwaukee exists to make environmental action more inclusive and diverse.
Now 5 years old, the group’s mission is to reconnect Black people to nature by offering nature education classes and introducing Milwaukeeans to new outdoor experiences.
“We want to create positive experiences for Black people so that they want to go outside,” co-founder Sierra Taliaferro said.
Taliaferro grew up with a curiosity about nature but said she never saw many people who looked like her share that interest.
The group promotes being outside for obvious health and wellness reasons, but members say it’s bigger than that.
“There are not enough Black people in green careers because Black people don’t have enough knowledge that those careers exist,” said Steven Hunter, the program director of Nearby Nature Milwaukee.
Green jobs are those that preserve or restore the environment. Many have been around for years such as farming. Some are new opportunities such as solar installers or environmental engineers. Others many people don’t even consider such as waste management, hazardous materials clean-up and recycling jobs.
Hunter said many of these jobs exist in Milwaukee and making nature normal to people can help move people into this work.
“How do you know you want to work somewhere if you don’t know the job exists,” Hunter said.
Aside from creating avenues to economic success via green jobs, Nearby Nature works to create healthier and resilient communities through access to nature.
Martina Patterson, the arts and youth educator for Nearby Nature, is working to restore prairies on Milwaukee’s North Side. The plan is to help the natural progression of various ecosystems to beautify the space and help area wildlife.
“It’ll increase the value of everything in the area,” Patterson said. “We want to include residents to help them see and understand the value in their space.”
Patterson said she wants resident involvement because they will be the ones responsible for maintaining the space for years to come.
Nearby Nature wants to show Black Milwaukeeans that nature is for everyone.
And Hunter said that takes a lot of work.
“It means altering the perception that nature is just for white people,” he said. “If we can get Black people to be a part of nature recreationally, we grow in every other aspect.”
He said there is value in connecting to natural spaces.
“We as a society put value in things rather than experiences,” Hunter said. “Being able to experience nature is being around the one thing that is just doing what God said to do.”