In recognition of the need for environmental organizations like ours to do a better job of representing diverse voices, we are beginning a new series highlighting the contributions of African Americans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans to conservation and environmental sciences. We are thrilled to kick things off by introducing our newest board member Christopher Conner, who will serve as our Volunteer Director.
Chris is the coordinator of the Jacksonville Zoo’s W.I.L.D. (Wildlife Immersion and Leadership Development) Program, which focuses on youth engagement, literacy, environmental education, cultural representation, and inclusion. Since its 2016 inauguration, the mostly Black and Latinx teens involved have created award-winning outreach programs, amassed nearly $1 million in college scholarships, and achieved global recognition for their work. The W.I.L.D. program and its staff have received several awards, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2017 Significant Achievement in Diversity Award, the North American Association for Environmental Education Under 30 Global Awards (twice), the Jax Teen Champion Award, and the 2019 12 Who Care Community Service Award.
Chris has always had an innate passion for wildlife and greenspaces. He ventured into conservation education with the specific intention of reimagining the face of environmental education and championing cultural representation and social equity. He is most passionate about environmental literacy and equity, as our journey to sustainability will require many different approaches and voices. He believes that everyone should have the opportunity to learn about the environment and build their relationship with nature on their own terms. As Chris says, “Nature is owned by no one, yet represents us all. Therefore, all of our voices should be echoed when championing for it.”
Going forward, Chris plans to continue with his current work as the W.I.L.D. Program Coordinator, and one of his goals for 2020 is to create a nature podcast that connects to a wider audience for nature, and moves environmental literacy forward in a way that is entertaining and informative.
Thank you for your work for the environment, Chris!
--Jody Willis, Vice President and Outreach Director