Forterra’s South Sound Gathering Brings Together BIPOC Leaders to Discuss the Future of Conservation in Our Region

by Jack Russillo

In the battle to confront the effects of climate change, Emily Pinckney, a Black marine biologist working for the Point Defiance Zoo, has compared the process for BIPOC communities to crabs in a barrel. 

First of all, crabs shouldn’t be in a barrel, she says. We should not be trapping ourselves in a scenario that forces us to claw at one another in a competitive struggle for survival and that ends with us getting boiled. There’s no reason for us to need to compete.

“Equality is not a pie, and there’s not just one slice for People of Color,” said Pinckney, a community-appointed member of the state’s Environmental Justice Task Force. “We need to make sure that we actually educate everyone and not necessarily empower people — because we do have power — but recognizing that power that we have and reminding us that we have it … Some people get it and some people just haven’t had the time to understand the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion and why they’re valuable to this [environmentalism] movement.”

Along with two other BIPOC leaders from around the South Puget Sound region, Pinckney will speak on Tuesday at Forterra’s South Sound Gathering, a free virtual series of discussions about community and conservation work in the South Puget Sound region. While Pinckney’s background as an underrepresented scientist and advocate for environmental justice and equity will bring a scientific and political view of the environment to the group of panel members, Amber Hayward and Tamar Jackson will have different perspectives on how to approach interdisciplinary conservation in the South South region.

“There’s racism in environmentalism … Climate change is real,” said Pinckney. “It’s a conversation we need to have, but there are different ways of solving it and I think for a really long time we’ve had one perspective of how to fight climate change … There are other ways of looking at how to do that.”

Hayward is a Black member of the Puyallup Tribe and is the Program Director for the tribe’s language program, where she works to teach and spread understanding of txʷəlšucid (Twulshootseed), the Puyallup dialect of the Lushootseed language that falls under the Salishan language family. Jackson was born and raised in Tacoma and is the Director of Community Engagement for WorkForce Central, where he helps local leaders address challenges that come with changing demographics and different points of view.

“I’m all for these types of conversations and trying to help the current time and place that we’re in, with all the racial injustices,” said Hayward. “These are not new to me. These conversations aren’t, but I feel like we’re getting more of an opportunity to share them in places maybe we weren’t able to before … I’m really grateful and thankful for it and I’m taking advantage of that right now.”

The panel members and Forterra all have different backgrounds, but conservation is a broad issue that warrants a holistic approach.

“The thing that was running behind every single person’s effort is a love of this place in the sense that this is not an individual’s work,” said Michelle Connor, President and CEO of Forterra. “This is work that happens in relationship. It happens in relationship to each other; it happens in relationship to the place that we’re in. To me, that was one of the most compelling things that came through [in planning meetings] … Even though one perspective is about jobs and another is about language or environmental health, they’re all deeply connected.”

The gathering will have three parts — two in the morning and one later in the afternoon — that are open to anybody who registers before the event begins. Participants can sign up at the bottom of the event page for any number of the discussions.

The day will begin at 8:30 a.m. with a “Coffee and Conversation” session on land conservation and stewardship around the South Sound. Topics will range from Forterra’s own projects around the area, like the one in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, to other issues that affect a broader audience of stakeholders around South Puget Sound. 

After the opening talks, an interdisciplinary panel of three of the South Sound’s emerging leaders will come together to speak on how they envision the future of the community, land, and voices of the region. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., they will share their perspectives for how our region can balance critical needs like community resources and healthy ecosystems, what they’ve been working on, and how conservation work can be centered on the needs of the community. 

The final session starts at 4:30 p.m. and is a happy hour discussion about Forterra and its partners’ efforts to build community-driven co-op homes and business spaces in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. There, Forterra has been working with Fab-5 — a Hilltop-based non-profit — to guide community engagement for the project. The effort seeks to provide attainable and sustainable housing while helping to mitigate gentrification in the neighborhood, which has a history of redlining. 

The Hilltop project — and the day of discussion — is meant to model how community partnerships and different perspectives are necessary for combatting the larger issues of our region.

“I really hope folks feel like they can lean on each other and contact one another and say, ‘Well what can we do? What can we actually do?’” said Pinckney. “And then I hope people can walk away with action steps of like, this is how I can be better to my environmental community. This is how I can be a better human being. And this is how I can fight climate change. That’s going to look different for everyone.”

Jack Russillo has been reporting in Western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image: A ferry from Vashon Island pulling into port in southern Puget Sound. (Photo: Jack Russillo)