Our Commitment to Racial Justice: Where Does Land Conservation Fit?

“O, let America be America again –
The land that never has been yet –
And yet must be – the land where
every man is free…”
– Langston Hughes “Let America Be America Again”

June 4, 2020

Yesterday was the 6th day of Black Lives Matter protests in Portland. There is a feeling of unrest across the country as cities and towns are feeling this frustration, anger, pain, and pent up energy. The killing of George Floyd was the break in a dam that was already almost overpowered from years and years of repeated violations on the basic human rights of Black and Brown Americans.

Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging – healthy outside time. Christian Cooper was birdwatching when the cops were called on him.

We know that these are not isolated incidents – and we know racial disparities are with us here in Maine. In fact, in Maine, coronavirus infections are affecting Black people at nearly four times the rate one would expect.

At the Rally in Portland last night, speaker after speaker told stories of feeling unsafe in Maine because they are Black. These were 14 year old girls, young men, and older people whose families have lived here for generations. They said only when #BlackLivesMatter will all lives matter.

We too are outraged, horrified, and fed up. We commit both to living it, and to saying it loudly and unapologetically: Black Lives Matter. 

Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative stands in solidarity with the protesters who are putting their health and safely on the lines during a pandemic to call for justice and accountability. We have joined with many of our partner organizations in the conservation and environmental community to publicly acknowledge our complicity and to commit to action. As organizations working in Maine that recognize the environmental and conservation movements’ complicity in the systemic racism that exists today, we are working to remedy that legacy and envision a better future with access to clean air, land, and water for all.

And it has to go farther than statements – we need to listen more, reflect more, support one another more, and do more so that together our actions can create the change that is so desperately needed. As conservation organizations, we know that we are held back from reaching our full potential by the things that we do not know, and because Maine Conservation is primarily peopled by white, middle class people, our access to different perspectives and life experiences is limited no matter how much we may seek them out. For lasting change, we must work hard to uncover blindspots, biases, and truly understand the language of acceptance and openness.

The Collaborative is committed to building on its history of working in partnership with other organizations by embracing justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity in all areas of our mission. We have worked with our staff and board to develop our Statement of Equity that guides us and holds us accountable. We have developed and shared a curriculum on the connection between conservation, colonization, and justice. We have transformed our hiring practices to ensure our documents and efforts are equitable and inclusive. And we are developing a new program called Relearning Place that seeks to build an anti-racist conservation initiative centered in justice.

We will continue to support, facilitate, and seek funding for ongoing learning opportunities for all member organizations to further their understanding of who is in their communities, what their barriers to engagement are, and how to listen for joint solutions. We hope to build on these experiences, lessons, and connections for greater and broader impact and change for all.

And we will support opportunities to shift resources, build capacity, and amplify our partner organizations working on the front lines fighting to end racial injustice. Here are a few among many if you would like to join me in making a donation at this time.

Maine’s Environmental Changemakers
ACLU of Maine
Cultivating Community
Maine Trans Net
Outdoor Afro
Equal Justice Initiative
Official George Floyd Memorial Fund

Please reach out for more information on how we might support your organization at this time, or with questions related to this letter, or to add more resources, ideas, and connections. We are learning together – and I am so grateful for that.



Jessica Burton
Executive Director

A short list for more learning and understanding:

Seeing White Podcast
The Land That Never Has Been Yet Podcast
Black Faces in White Spaces by Carolyn Finney
9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher by J. Drew Lanham
Racial Equity Tools