Cahaba River Society believes that all people have a human right to clean, healthy water and to access the uplifting benefits of education and the healing power of nature. We commit to this vision as central to our mission and learning journey.
Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiative in 2020 is exploring how Cahaba River Society can advance water equity and do more to ensure that the diverse demographics of our “peopleshed” are reflected in who we serve, learn from, partner with, and are led by, with milestones for accountability.
In the current moment, it’s clear that we can’t take clean, affordable water for granted, nor the beautiful, life-filled places like the Cahaba River that provide us solace and recreation. It’s abundantly clear that there are people in our communities who, despite being essential to all of us, lack equitable access to the benefits of clean water, education, and nature. As we transform to respond to the pandemic, we will deepen our work for water equity and racial justice as well.
The shocking “birdwatching while Black” incident that happened to Christian Cooper in Central Park is just the visible top of a massive iceberg of chilling experiences blocking people of color from their birthright to nature.
Cahaba River Society has been reaching out to partners and will lead a community conversation to understand cultural barriers to access to nature experienced by people of color in the Birmingham region, especially African-Americans, and develop strategies for reclaiming nature as a safe and welcoming space for all people.
Cahaba River Society has worked to diversify our program participants, volunteers, staff and board. There is much more to do and learn to become a more multi-cultural organization and effective advocate for the Cahaba’s “peopleshed” — all the people who need a healthy Cahaba and drinking water.
As one example, our CLEAN Environmental Education Program currently aims to serve as least 40% youth of color in order to match the demographics of our “peopleshed” service area of Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb, Perry and Dallas County. In some years we achieve this goal, and in some we do not; we continually reach out to serve more youth from urban Birmingham by partnering with schools and nonprofits and need to reach more youth in the Black Belt.
Our creation of a virtual library of river education, nature access information, field trips, and virtual classroom experiences for online learning during the pandemic can widen access to environmental education, to the Cahaba, and to nature spaces close to people’s homes, during the pandemic and beyond. Yet we are aware of and concerned for youth in historically disadvantaged communities who do not have adequate access to the internet to help close the education gap.
We know that we will be accountable for our actions, not just our intentions. When this work is not comfortable or easy, it is a sign of growth that encourages us to press forward. We do not have all the answers, and while we know that we are responsible for our own education and growth, we ask our community for help, participation and guidance in our journey.
“Watershed” – term used to describe the geographic land area that drains to and creates a body of water.
“Peopleshed“ – term that Cahaba River Society has created to describe the watershed and the larger geographic area that includes the people whose lives are affected by the Cahaba River. Although Red Mountain is the western edge of our watershed, the Cahaba River is a major raw water source for the Birmingham Water Works customers throughout Birmingham and its surrounding cities. We consider that our “peopleshed” service area includes some or all of Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb, Perry and Dallas Counties.