Creating paths to nature | UM Detroit


Courtesy of Belle Isle Conservancy

Detroit is known for the cars and the traffic that goes with it. Many neighborhoods are filled with houses close to each other and large business districts. And there are concrete slabs almost everywhere you look.

Micah Blake-Smith loved growing up in a busy urban area. But the Office of Metropolitan Impact (OMI) staff member wanted a calming outdoor space as well – and he found it under a tree. “My school had a big old tree. I would grab a book and read under that tree at recess, ”said Blake-Smith, who works with the UM-Dearborn IMO office through the Americorps VISTA program.

“I think about how lucky I was for my school to have this tree. I think it planted a seed for my interest in agriculture and the environment. Blake-Smith has a degree in agricultural science and designs programs for youth like the “Science in the Kitchen” camp at Bowers School Farm in Bloomfield Hills.

Micah Blake Smith

Realizing the importance of connecting children to nature, the OMI campus team helped create new pathways for young people in Detroit to connect to the environment in a variety of ways, such as field trips to the environmental interpretation center, matchmaking opportunities, virtual Q&A with professionals, nature-centric programming ideas and more.

This collective impact collaboration network of more than 50 regional organizations is called SouthEast Michigan Wild (SEMI Wild). His vision ? For all people, especially marginalized communities, in the Detroit area to have access to nature, to promote ecosystem sustainability, and to learn more about related education and career opportunities.

“In the United States, more than 80% of human beings live in urban centers and that number is expected to increase. There is nothing wrong with living in the city. But it can disconnect us from nature. Our office has worked with many of these organizations for years, but we wanted to formalize the partnership and connect the dots to create a more structured journey for our youth, ”said IMO Director Tracy Hall. “It’s about well-being. It’s about education. It’s about building a career. By bringing them together, it is about shaping the future of our urban communities.

The concept of SEMI Wild began in 2015 when the OMI team worked with a few others to create a local network committed to environmental sustainability and collaboration. But as the word grew, so did this network. It grew from a small partnership of a dozen organizations, then called the Metro Detroit Nature Network, to a large and diverse group of nonprofit, government, and advocacy organizations. IMO no longer provides administrative support for the organization as it now has elected leadership and infrastructure. However, they continue to remain involved by co-chairing the Youth Pathways Committee of SEMI Wild.

Currently, SEMI Wild has over 50 organizations including the Detroit Zoological Society, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Detroit Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, and many more. Blake-Smith has spent the past year compiling SEMI Wild resources, organization contacts, participation opportunities and more.

A key part of the initiative is connecting underserved communities to nature, as there is a serious lack of diversity in ecologically focused groups and in careers in environmental science.

This is a problem that needs to be corrected, said OMI deputy director Molly Manley. Especially when people of color are three times more likely to live in “nature-deprived” American neighborhoods, and brown, black and native populations are more likely to experience air and water pollution than they do. white people and suffer the health effects.

“Blacks and Browns want change in their communities. They are subject to environmental hazards and crises. But it’s hard to see yourself in a field when the people making the decisions aren’t like you, ”Manley said.

Manley has worked with this initiative since its inception. She saw the power of young people to find matchmaking opportunities, speak with conservation and environmental professionals, and begin to see themselves working in careers where they can improve the environment and bond that their children have. friends and family have with nature.

“When you first think of conservation, nature and the careers associated with it, some people think of a ranger living in the middle of nowhere. Of course, you can be a forest ranger. But you can also develop and maintain city parks, conduct air and water quality research, conduct conservation and health promotion efforts, and more. The goal here is to show that there are careers here. And these positions have an impact on the communities in which we live.

To help underrepresented youth and young adults to better connect with nature, SEMI Wild has organized connections that help young people learn to conduct research like monitoring sediment in the Detroit River, to see the importance of GIS systems and mapping tools, and to see themselves in careers where they can make decisions about how to better connect people who live in urban areas.

For example, to encourage interest in citizen science – public participation in scientific research – Claudia Walters, EIC director at UM-Dearborn and lecturer in social sciences, as well as UM students -Dearborn Audrey Taylor and Courtney Wagner, used an IMO Seed grant to create five geographic information. System Tutorials (GIS) that allow young people to better understand mapping tools and potential applications. GIS is widely used in many areas of the environment and the creation of places.

In addition to showing UM-Dearborn’s connections to GIS training, interested young people can learn about other campus programs such as Biological Sciences, Urban and Area Studies, and Environmental Sciences. To make these programs accessible, the OMI team also shares information on scholarships and financial aid like the Go Blue Guarantee.

Blake-Smith, whose one year of service on the Americorps campus is nearing its end, has seen the impact of SEMI Wild in the Detroit area.

Over the past year, Blake-Smith has focused on strengthening the network’s youth work. Along with his colleagues at IMO, he spent time coaching interns at the Belle Isle Nature Center, connecting youth-serving organizations such as Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation with the right opportunities for their populations, and seeing the energy, enthusiasm and curiosity that only the outdoors – or a favorite tree – can bring.

If you are an organization interested in joining the SEMI Wild collective or want more information, which is free, send an email [email protected]. Media interested in contacting the Office of Metropolitan Impact about this initiative and others in the Southeast Michigan area can send an email [email protected].

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