How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I first learned about the Academy when I started volunteering with Sierra Club’s Nearby Nature campaign and their community organizer Roberto Morales told me about the program. It sounded interesting, but what really convinced me to apply was Academy graduate Liliana Griego. She told me about her project and encouraged me to apply. Knowing the focus was environmental justice and we would be empowered to design and carry out a community project was an exciting opportunity.
What was your project?
I call it The Chaparral Project. I recruited 15 local artists, focusing mostly on students from Pasadena City College, to join me on 2 guided hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains. We taught folks about the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, ecology, local history, and native plants. I asked the artists to create visual artwork that reflected on their outings with us, on their connection to the land, and their relationship with the monument. I organized a month-long public exhibit to showcase their work in the Patagonia store in Old Town Pasadena and organized the exhibit’s opening night event.
What’s the best thing you learned?
There are so many intersections with environmental conservation, whether you’re passionate about public health, racial and economic justice, youth empowerment, or spirituality, to name a few. There are so many reasons why our open and green spaces need to be protected. Lots of people connect with this work and it just takes someone, or usually a group of someones, to get the ball rolling.
What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
I was honestly surprised how many artists were interested in joining my project. Maybe I was being too cynical or underestimated my outreach efforts, but I didn’t expect so many people to apply. Sadly, I couldn’t accept every applicant and more people reached out to me to join later on, but the response showed me there are a lot of people who are excited about these opportunities and want to get involved.
Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.
The first image that pops in my mind is something grand and dramatic, like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, but I think the “great outdoors” can be and is anywhere we find nature. Whenever and wherever we witness nature taking its course, when we can let our curiosity about the natural world take root and grow, and where we can admire small things, like how a bird makes its nest in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, there’s something really exciting about that for me.
What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
Ahh that’s really difficult to answer because I really love slow, solo hikes, where I can absorb the scenery and be observant, when I can take the time to not worry about my destination and instead take note of the plants, sounds, and interactions around me and journal and draw while on the trail. But I also really enjoy taking people hiking for their first time or exploring a new location with someone and sharing information about native plants and animals. I don’t think I could enjoy the San Gabriels fully without doing both of those things.
What has post-academy life been like?
It has been really busy with preparing for my Academy project, but I have also been feeling really empowered by the support from Nature for All and the friendships I built in the Academy. This whole experience has helped me find my community and more rootedness rooted in myself and in where I grew up in San Gabriel Valley. I’ve been able to build relationships within Nature for All and outside of it, connecting with other people and organizations that are also passionate about protecting our public lands.