By Munashe Kwangwari
October 14, 2021
CLERMONT, Ky. —
Bernheim Forest is launching a new initiative with the goal of building diversity and inclusion among young children.
The Youth Development In Nature program will work with non-white youths to give them the opportunity to develop deep connections with nature, while also, exposing them to career opportunities in nature-based professions.
She’s a recent University of Louisville graduate who grew up in inner-city Chicago. Johnson said growing up wasn’t always easy on those tough streets, but it’s where she found her passion.
“As a kid growing up, I just loved flowers,” Johnson said. “I loved gardening, and trees, and water. Things like that.”
It’s a passion that stayed with her, as she went on to attend multiple environmental education programs all over the world. She wanted to continue doing that work after she graduated but then had another idea.
“I feel vulnerable and attached, or connected to young adults who look like me or young adults who’ve overcome the same barriers,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to help other people see, someone who looks like me can also do this as well.”
She was working for Bernheim Forest at the time and presented her plan to her bosses. Within days, the organization named her to the ambassador role.
Her goal will be to reach out to underserved kids in the Louisville area and introduce them to horticulture, nature education and other green jobs they never knew existed. She said those nature-based industries are filled with potential job opportunities, but up until now, they’ve mostly lacked diversity.
“She’s going to be going out in the community, she’s going to engage with students at schools, she’s going to go to career fairs,” said Kristin Faurest, Bernheim’s education director. “She’s going to build an interest in green career paths for youths of color in Louisville. There’s this whole idea that if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. We are looking to engage young people all across Louisville, from all different backgrounds and diverse communities, and let them know that there are these amazing careers.
Johnson will stay in the role for the next year. The plan is to switch out the ambassador each year with a different person who can reach out to other marginalized communities. However, during her time, Johnson said she wants to do much more than teaching. She wants to be a role model.
“When I was a kid I don’t recall someone like me in a position like this,” Johnson said. “As a young person, if I had seen that, it would have empowered me more to get into more green jobs. I just want to be a face, and let them know, this is completely possible if you want to do that.”