SHIFTjh (Shaping How we Invest for Tomorrow) is a program based out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming that explores the intersection of conservation, outdoor recreation and inclusion to build a fierce coalition, representative of America, to protect our public lands.
My name is Janet Valenzuela, and I’m a USFS Field Ranger in the Angeles National Forest. I’m here to tell you about my experience in the Emerging Leaders Program, and why it needs your support to recoup a loss of $25,000 in federal funding.I grew up in Huntington Park, CA, in Southeast LA (SELA). SELA has its own complexities: it’s a predominately low-income working class Latino community with some of the highest pollution burdens in Los Angeles County. Don’t be mistaken—it also has the power to advocate for and defend itself. Knowledge in my community is found on the experiences and stories of community members, which have time and time again proven to be a powerful force in dismantling institutionalized racism.
I was chosen for the inaugural Emerging Leaders Program in Jackson, WY, which trains a diverse group of outdoor recreationists to help revitalize conservation by making it relevant to all Americans. I was selected based on my knowledge on the communities of SELA—in particular—environmental justice, and who holds the capacity to articulate our struggle through a Chicana feminist perspective.
The Emerging Leaders Program gave me the chance to tell my story. I had the chance to speak on stage at the SHIFT Festival in front of a bunch of mostly Jackson-type, white middle class leaders, and stood up for my community. I told the people about my experiences growing up in a heavily industrialized environment. Where at a very young age I came to the realization that corporations and developments prioritize their profits over people, our health, our lives, and our future. In a room where conservation and preservation for many meant protecting the landscapes they hike, bike, and thrive in, in my home I can’t even breathe clean air.
I know that after my presence at this conference, the folks in attendance looked at their organizing a lot different. They all recognized that bringing more of the next generation into their conversations has been a transformative experience.
I’m forever grateful to all of my fellow Emerging Leaders who were beside me on that stage for allowing me to share my story in effort to challenge the outdoor (conservation) industrial complex. The outdoors for me did not look like the Wilderness everyone is committed to protect—my outdoors is my hood. It was through my community at the Emerging Leaders Program that we held space for each other to come together to talk about where we are at in our radical pathways. I witnessed inspiring peers discussing protest, workshops, and public meetings across the country. It’s bad ass work.
>I may just be a young girl, but I’m “the young girl from L.A. that gave it to y’all,” still out here fighting. What I got out of this experience is that we’re not alone, if we make room for more.
This is why it’s important that we continue to support young activists like me and my peers in the Emerging Leaders Program—for the future of our planet, nation, and communities that come from underrepresented landscapes. Federal budget cuts this February may have left the program $25,000 in need, but we’re hopeful we can regain that which was lost with your support.
On behalf of our cohort, we’re so grateful. Thank you.