Carmera Thomas-Wilhite is this month’s Year of the Woman feature! Carmera works at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as the Baltimore Program Manager. I asked Carmera how she became interested in the environmental field and to tell me a little bit more about how she got to where she is today. She told me that a large portion of her love for the Chesapeake Bay stems from her roots to Annapolis. She spent summers with her cousins at her grandparents’ house in Annapolis. Carmera’s grandparents would take her and her cousins fishing and swimming in the Severn, as well as to visit local farms and county fairs. Her grandfather is a retired Anne Arundel County Agricultural Extension Agent and he helped spark Carmera’s interest in the environment and farming.

Carmera’s grandmother, “Grannie,” was a female role model who Carmera looked up to. “My Grannie was a very significant influence in my life. I was very close to her until she passed, and she instilled lessons that I’ve carried with me throughout my life.”  

Carmera’s father also had an influence on her career path. “My father was an early advocate of the Bay, he himself growing up in Annapolis told me stories of a time when the Bay was clear enough to look down and see crabs, and he would reach in and grab them with his hands. I had no idea that it would bring me into a career working in the Bay watershed myself.”

Anticipating a career in public health, Carmera studied Biology in undergrad at North Carolina Wesleyan College. However, she became more interested in ecology as she found herself surrounded by nature. After she graduated she decided to move back to Maryland and applied for the Chesapeake Conservation Corps where she was placed with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Little did I know I would have the experience that would change my career path completely. Everything I participated in during my year at CBF was amazing- from planting trees, to meeting people who were as passionate about the environment as I was, driving tractors, feeding cows, and restoring oyster reefs.”

Another female influence in Carmera’s life was author Carolyn Finney, because of her book “Black Faces, White Spaces” where she connects the legacies of racial injustice in America that have shaped the experience of people of color in accessing natural spaces. “It is something that I experience myself and it pushes me to advocate for equality and inclusion in the environmental sector.”

Carmera plans on celebrating the Year of the Woman by lifting up other women of color in this field and sharing her story to inspire others. “There are definitely barriers to overcome, and aligning yourself with a support system leads to success.”