On a dreary, rainy winter night, people came to have their hearts and minds warmed. Sunday, January 22, NVCT brought back its read-a-thon for the first time in several years, this time to acknowledge the many conservationists of color who have dedicated their lives to protecting nature. Busboys and Poets in Arlington, Virginia, served as the perfect venue, with each wall adding artistic value with colors promoting a calm, comforting tone. Books on display reminded each person in attendance that they were there to give voice to the written word, and that they did. Community members and NVCT supporters read beautiful poems and short stories along with the organization's board members and staff.
Special guests Melody Mobley and Alonso Abugattas did more than read, sharing their unique experiences and relationship with nature.
Melody Mobley, retired USDA Forest Service Forester and EcoAction Arlington Board Member, is a true champion of safeguarding natural open space. She expressed concern that not enough people of color work in the field.
"I was the first Black woman forester 45 years ago, almost 46. Today there are six Black female foresters in the Forest Service... the whole agency!"
Mobley remains an advocate for getting more diversity into the field. She serves as Chair of the Arlington Public School Science Advisory Committee and teaches children the importance of math, science, and experiencing nature.
"Yes, we have to fight hard to make sure our young people are introduced to natural resource conservation and nature."
Capital Naturalist and Natural Resources Manager for Arlington County Parks Alonso Abugattas read two passages and shared a little about his life. "I got into being a naturalist thanks to my background in hunting, fishing, shooting. That's how I got into it... And I still do a lot of hunting and spend a lot of time outdoors."
Abugattas read from humorous Arlingtonian author Bill Heavey an article entitled, "Boys Should Be Boys: Too Many Kids Are Becoming Indoorsmen." The hilarious piece challenged the "new" way of life where many kids and parents alike seem to have lost their connection to nature.
Abugattas read, "It seemed epithet for the lost way of seeing things, a lost way of living," encapsulating the short story of a child and his father's unfamiliarity and perhaps fear of exploring natural open space.
Arlington County Board Member Matt de Ferranti also read a beautiful poem titled "Nature and Art" by Paul Laurence Dunbar about "Queen Nature" falling on "evil days" until she met a man who proclaimed his love to her.
"She heard and looked on him with love-lit eyes, Gave him her hand, low murmuring, "I am thine," And at the morrow's dawning, they were wed," de Ferranti read.
Many other readers contributed their voices. Nancy Vehrs, President of Virginia Native Plant Society, read J. Drew Lanham's "Joy Is The Justice We Give Ourselves." The powerful poem expressed a deep appreciation for nature and a more profound desire for racial justice and equal access to the American Dream. Her voice and tone rang powerfully through the room, with her reading noticeably well-received.
It was a fantastic event with attendees lingering into the evening to discuss the passages they read and exchange information with hopes of reconnecting and reminding each other why they came to the Conservationists of Color Read-a-Thon. All in attendance were glad they did.