Fred Tutman wanted to make a difference in the world and working in media for over three decades didn’t often feel like he was. He finally found his calling as the Patuxent Riverkeeper - a grassroots movement dedicated to empowering local communities i...
Fred Tutman wanted to make a difference in the world and working in media for over three decades didn’t often feel like he was. He finally found his calling as the Patuxent Riverkeeper - a grassroots movement dedicated to empowering local communities in the watershed with knowledge and tools to protect the Patuxent River in Maryland, USA.
Through his experiences as an activist and passionate voice for the protection of the Patuxent River, Fred shares an overarching theme he has observed in his journey; people of color who are mostly involved in grassroots movements are invisible to white people [who run mainstream environmental groups].
Tutman says that the lack of diversity and inclusion is pervasive in all industries. However, the environmental movement tends to be defensive about diversity, because they are largely run by upper-middle class white individuals; whose messages also play to the same demographic as they are the base of support in terms of funding and volunteers. As a result, black and brown communities become an afterthought in the movement.
Furthermore, with people of color representing just around 5% of environmental board members, only 9% of grant money is distributed to communities of color. This results in an unequal distribution of environmental efforts.
Often times, environmental organizations are encouraged to “diversify” their staff by funders. This mandate proves to be ineffective as most employment opportunities for people of color tend to be dead end, low paying, tokenism positions, such as an “urban outreach coordinator”. As a result, this practice prevents people of color from moving up to positions that allow them to make contributions to environmental decisions.
“The body counting, the head counting, well… ‘X% of the workforce’, that is really not a recipe for inclusion, it really is a recipe for head counting, which is anything but inclusion.”
In this episode, Tutman also shares how mainstream environmental organizations reliance on funding from foundations and companies results in movements fizzling away the moment the money runs out.
Grassroots organizations tend to have more staying power because the local community is involved, decides what is important to them, and allows space for the voices of people of color to be heard, resulting in real change.
As a principle Tutman is very careful about who he accepts donations from in order to keep his cause purely representative of the interests of the community and environment:
“I think we have to be able to articulate that we’re fighting to change the economic system however we can, or at least the economic incentives as much as we’re trying to save the environment, because they are related problems.”
The importance of not accepting funds with inequitable strings attached to it, how an environmentalist can make a financial living, the most effective and inclusive ways to cultivate environmental movements, and so much more is discussed with Fred Tutman, this week on Breaking Green Ceilings.
About Fred Tutman:
Fred Tutman is the Patuxent Riverkeeper, one of a global network of 343 people who advocate for individual rivers. He’s also the nation’s only African-American Riverkeeper. Fred was born and raised along the Patuxent River as were seven generations of his ancestors before him. Prior to founding Patuxent Riverkeeper in 2004, Fred operated a business that provided professional media and mass communication services internationally. Fred also worked as volunteer activist on the Patuxent for over 20 years until the momentum of the volunteer environmental work overcame his 27 years in media and the challenge of Riverkeeping beckoned. Fred is an adjunct instructor at historic St. Mary's College of Maryland, where he teaches an upper level course in Environmental Law and Policy.
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