Belinda’s environmental journey began when she was growing up in New York. As the first-born child of immigrant parents from south east China, Belinda found herself caught between two worlds. As a young child, she faced discrimination fr...
Belinda’s environmental journey began when she was growing up in New York. As the first-born child of immigrant parents from south east China, Belinda found herself caught between two worlds. As a young child, she faced discrimination from white peers who saw her as “other” and faced the pressure of her parents’ desire to pursue a “respectable” and economically beneficial career path.
To find solace from the pressure and the discrimination, Belinda would seek out the peacefulness of the wooded parks in her neighborhood to “cut down on the voices” in her head so she could hear her own thoughts. She became familiar with the trees and understory plants and “their beauty just helped to quiet the noise”. Those woodlands became sacred and safe spaces for her. From then on, she made a promise to the woodlands to use her life to pay it forward and improve the relationship between humans and nature.
Building Environmental Education Programs
As an adult, Belinda decided to pursue a career in environmental education. Currently, she is the coordinator for the Urban Food Systems (UFS) Program at Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR). She oversees 23+ acres of SPR public space dedicated to growing food. Race & social justice are at the center of her work as she has dedicated herself to equitable access for learning in outdoor spaces in service to a vast diversity of people in a variety of urban settings.
Through her work experiences she has witnessed a lack of representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in her environmental education programs and in the organizations she's worked in. She writes, “The disproportionality is disturbing in light of the diversity of peoples borne from the wilds of this earth. The trees call to me to act.”
As a result, Belinda uses her position to cultivate diversity by using intergenerational logic models and racial justice tools, and by serving on the The Race & Social Justice Change Team with the city of Seattle. This helps but she stresses that “we have a long way to go!
Empowering Environmentalists of Color
Often being the only person of color in her workplace, Belinda felt isolated and yearned for a community that could see and accept her for who she is. Her white workplace peers often tokenized and dismissed discriminatory acts towards her. Wanting to understand the prejudice of dominantly white environmental organizational culture, she started to educate herself on issues of environmental history and environmental justice and attend workshops on the same.
Belinda attended a Center for Diversity and Environment (CDE) workshop facilitated by Marcelo Bonta and Queta Gonzales where she had an opportunity to connect with other like-minded people and from different cultural backgrounds. She was also uplifted when she saw leaders of color facilitating the workshop.
It was only until she attended that CDE workshop that she felt like she found a place she belonged - “I was in community with people who could see me! See me as a professional!” It was a watershed moment that inspired Belinda and a few colleagues to co-found the Seattle chapter for the Environmental Professionals of Color - affiliated with the CDE. The Seattle Chapter has been successful and growing; Starting with three co-organizers in 2012 to nine co-organizers and over 400 members in 2020!
Other Themes Explored
Belinda is inspiring and a true pleasure to listen to as she explains the intricacies of her work, the realities of institutional racism, tokenism, and so much more, on this week's episode of Breaking Green Ceilings.
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