Diversity Award presented to South Carolina DNR outreach program

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Diversity Outreach Program has received the 2020 TWS Diversity Award. The program works to raise awareness about the state’s natural resources among Hispanic and African communities.

“We know that the population is changing,” said Diversity Outreach Manager Alix Pedraza. “Those kids from minorities and underrepresented audiences are disconnected. Their families as a whole haven’t been exposed to all the things that state agencies have to offer.”

Pedraza was hired in 2015 after completing a wildlife technician internship with the department. Wildlife officials saw a growing number of Hispanics fishing and recreating, Pedraza said, but managers had a hard time communicating all of the rules and requirements to the new demographics, particularly to those who didn’t speak English.

Three years later, Keya Jackson was hired to expand the program to the state’s African American population.

“I’ve always had an interest in working with people, connecting people to the natural environment,” said Jackson, who has a master’s degree in marine biology.

The program has a presence at DNR events. Representatives from the program also attend cultural events, lead community members on nature walks and take schoolchildren to bird banding activities.

“The program has achieved impressive results in increasing awareness of and participation in wildlife-related activities among the Hispanic and African American communities of South Carolina,” the awards committee found.

The state DNR says it has seen some tangible results, including an 18% increase in participation by Hispanics and African Americans at hunting clinics, a 34% increase at fishing rodeos and increasing traffic on its Spanish language Facebook page.

It hasn’t always been easy. It can be a challenge for minority communities to participate in ways that state officials might take for granted, Pedraza and Jackson said. People without an internet connection may not be able to register for events online. People without transportation can’t easily get to events. Trust can also be an issue.

“Sometimes, government organizations feel they can just come in and tell a community what they need or what they should have,” Jackson said. “In actuality, you need to ask they community, ‘Hey, what can we do to help you” What do you need in your community?’ You need to actually have an open dialog instead of telling them what they need, and show them that you have their best interest at heart. You’re not just there to increase your numbers. You’re there to help them out.”

Header Image: Keya Jackson, left, and Alix Pedraza, reach out to minority communities in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Diversity Outreach Program.
Credit: Courtesy South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Diversity Outreach Program