As the Adirondacks region confronts allegations of racism, two downstate lawmakers are hoping to introduce students of color to the wonders of the park in order to educate them about climate change and resilience.
Brooklyn state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Nassau County Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages have proposed an educational pipeline that would bring students from Brooklyn's CUNY Medgar Evers College to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Myrie said the program has several goals.
“One, to expose [students] to what is a national treasure right here in the state of New York,” Myrie told Capital Tonight. “[Also] the communities that will bear the brunt of climate change first, unfortunately, are Black and brown. So, our kids…they should be on the front lines of how to fight this crisis.”
The program being supported by Myrie and Solages is named the “Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute," after a historic free Black community in the Adirondacks.
New York’s original Timbuctoo was founded in the mid-1800s after wealthy abolitionist landowner Gerrit Smith divided up 140,000 acres of his own land and gave it to 3,000 free Black New Yorkers to work.
Smith’s gift enabled those Black farmers to meet the property requirements to vote.
“Based on that history, the fight for the franchise and the national conversation that we’re having, we thought it was important to connect individuals from New York City, who may not have ventured up to the Adirondacks, not only to appreciate this history of voting, but to learn how they can fight climate change,” Myrie said.
The Adirondacks is steeped in abolitionist history. It is home to the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, the burial site of abolitionist John Brown, best known for his attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia where he was killed.
Brown and his family lived at Timbuctoo.
The idea for the student pipeline grew from the Adirondack Council’s Forever Adirondacks Campaign, directed by Aaron Mair, and its interaction with the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus last fall.
"We are thrilled to have an opportunity to work with leaders of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus to bring new, enthusiastic students to the Adirondacks, where they can fill their lungs with clean air, fill their minds with new ideas and fill their hearts with a love of the Adirondacks that will last forever,” said John Sheehan, communications director of the Adirondack Council. “It's the first step in learning the skills and credentials students need to gain and keep environmental careers. If we are lucky, some of the participants will come back to us after college, and make their homes and pursue their careers right here in the park."
Myrie and Assemblywoman Solages are asking for $2.1 million to be included in the state budget this year. If it is, 20 students from CUNY will be studying at SUNY ESF as early as this summer.