by Jessica Richards

Black History Month is an opportunity for us all to designate time to reflect on the struggles and strides the Black community has made throughout history, as well as give thanks to those who have helped us along the way. Earlier in February, we were lucky enough to interview one of Colorado’s very own Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commissioners, and National Policy & Education Director of Outdoor Afro, Taishya Adams.

Taishya’s feelings about striving to do and be better while helping others do the same started at a young age and continued to grow as she did.

“It was during my first summer at Alex Haley’s Farm in Knoxville, TN where I first heard of the term, servant leader. Two words that seem opposed is actually the sweet spot. Learning from people who center service above all else helped me to ground my own leadership style. My servant leadership journey began with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School and continues to ground me in my work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife as well as Outdoor Afro. A servant-leader ‘shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.’ I continue to be inspired by the process of learning, unlearning, and relearning every day in every way. As our understanding grows so too does our ability to respond.”

As a Black activist in Colorado who has maintained such a strong mentality from a young age, we were anxious to hear her thoughts on being a Black environmental professional in the Mile High City.

“We are on an intergenerational journey towards collective liberation and stewardship. Though significant gains have been made since 1876 – the founding of Colorado, Black Coloradoans continue to be disproportionately represented when the most important decisions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is concerned. Representation, quality outcomes/experiences, meaningful participation, and access continue to be as relevant today as it was during the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Governor Polis’ appointment to CPW transformed my life. Governor Polis continues to make significant gains in ensuring all Coloradoans have a voice on the boards and commissions that he appoints. Prior to the appointment, I worked primarily in public education. However, once I realized the significant underrepresentation of Black Americans in environmental policy, natural resource management, and conservation, I knew a change was needed. Serving as the first Black woman on the commission for CPW has allowed me to deepen my understanding on issues impacting people and the planet and use my vote to affirm our shared values. The role also encouraged me to expand my involvement with Outdoor Afro where I serve as the inaugural National Policy and Education Director. This position is designed to strengthen representation, quality, participation, and agency.  In this role, I am able to work at the federal, state, and local levels aligning environment, education, health, and workforce policies, practices, and approaches that lead to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all beings.  I never would have imagined this life for myself in my 20s and 30s.”

She also proposed a noteworthy idea that can give us all opportunities to make real change, at any time, no matter how different we may be as individuals.

“I encourage you to think about the power and privileges you have whether it’s a skill, talent, or expertise.  Then think about the barriers to achieving the highest quality of life for as many beings as possible.  Crosswalk those two lists.  This is where you find a starting point. We all have power of some form.  It is critical that we braid our superpower with others.  Together, all things are possible.  It’s all interconnected.”

After receiving such honest, inspiring advice from Taishya, we remembered another major reason why we wanted to feature her this month: Mile High Youth Corps’ mission, and who we have been fighting for since the beginning – our youth. From there we had to ask: What advice do you have for our current and future MHYC Corpsmembers? What words can you share with those who hope to find a career promoting equity and change in local health or environmental issues?

Ms. Adams responded with answers nothing short of stimulating. “Learn, unlearn, and relearn every day. Start in the mirror. What do you know about yourself? Your family? Your neighborhood, community, county, state, nation, Earth, (or) Universe? Where did you learn it from? What perspectives were present or missing? In addition to self-exploration, expand that curiosity to other beings – humans, wildlife, and the planet.  I’m reading Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals. We have so much to learn from other species too!  It’s all interrelated. The more you can understand how the pieces fit together, the better the road map to this moment which informs the future.”

Interviewing Taishya Adams has given our organization a fresh perspective on the realities we face today. Though some aren’t the way we’d wish them to be, there are still people like Taishya, in and outside of Colorado, who are working hard for equity, protecting our communities, and most importantly, the people who live in them. Change is never outside of our reach and we are, and will always be, in this together. And remember, “There is no one in the universe like you. You have a unique perspective, expertise, experience, and skills that this moment needs. And pace yourself. We are on an intergenerational journey.”