With every year that our Chesapeake community works together to restore clean water to our rivers and streams, we learn more. As Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” As we inch ever closer to the 2025 Chesapeake Bay cleanup deadline, we continue to “know better.”

Currently, there is emerging science that’s informing a new direction for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The Achieving Water Quality Goals in the Chesapeake Bay: A Comprehensive Evaluation of System Response (CESR) Report — released earlier this year by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee — is telling us to start thinking about new ways of doing on-the-ground work. This very detailed report on the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay watershed highlights that we should be focusing more of our restoration efforts upstream in shallow-water habitat. The report also highlights that we need to better connect our living resource goals with our water quality goals — this is where the Chesapeake connects with our human population.

The region is experiencing a demographic shift toward a more racially diverse community of residents who live, work, and play in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With the national trend of the “browning of America,” the Bay is seeing the same shift. This diversity will add a richness and depth to our work —communities of all colors agree that life is better when everyone has equitable and safe access to green and wild places. Access, however, has different levels.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay puts our value of inclusion into an action-oriented approach to how our programs intersect with our human systems. We utilize our strength as a capacity– and network-builder to work to dismantle systemic barriers to people of color entering a conservation career. As an organization that values data-driven decision making and diverse partnerships, we are keenly focused on chipping away at the “green ceiling.”

The “green ceiling” is a term coined by Green 2.0, a national advocacy group for diversity and equity in environmental organizations and agencies. In its eye-opening 2014 report, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGO’s, Foundations & Government Agencies,” Green 2.0 revealed that, at that time, people of color comprised 36% of the US population, and 29% of the science and engineering workforce, but did not exceed 16% of the staff in any of the environmental organizations surveyed. There’s little evidence that those percentages have changed markedly in the last decade — and that drives the Alliance in its work to support environmental and career programming at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and minority serving institutions (MSIs) in the Bay region.

Participants in the inaugural HBCU/MSI Chesapeake Bay Summit represented all six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Maryland and DC, as well as Trinity Washington University, a Minority Serving Institution (MSI) in Washington, DC.

For the last five years, we have supported Maryland’s Bowie State University in its efforts to expand its environmental curriculum, and we have offered paid internships and provided opportunities for young professionals of color to learn about opportunities in the natural resource and environmental management career field. Building on the great ideas generated by the partnership over the years, the first annual HBCU/MSI Chesapeake Bay Summit was held on the eastern shore of Maryland in September of this year.

The summit brought together 50 students and 11 faculty members from HBCUs and MSIs in Maryland and Washington, DC. The students ranged from first-year undergrads to masters candidates, bringing an array of academic backgrounds, including biology, environmental science, business, and creative studies. The gathering had three major goals: to focus on fostering connections, to build capacity of students to pursue environmental careers and address environmental challenges in their communities, and to highlight the incredible amount of environmental initiatives happening on HBCU campuses in the watershed. The list of HBCU and MSI partners included Howard University, Trinity Washington University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and Bowie State University. Over the two-day summit, students and faculty members engaged with incredible speakers and experts, shared their own expertise and experiences in facilitated discussions, and connected with the Bay through guided outdoor experiences.

This inaugural summit was an outcome of the Alliance’s annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum, where our partnership with Bowie State University was born. For the forum’s 18th year, over 495 restoration and protection practitioners came together to inspire and empower local action towards clean water. The forum is a place for sharing successful tools and techniques, fostering partnerships and offering lessons and learnings from on-the-ground work — all while networking and celebrating our successes. It is yet another space where our human populations can come together to build the momentum and knowledge to restore our rivers and streams, and their wildlife populations.

Our “forum buddies” activity kicks off with an energetic icebreaker! Forum buddies provides first-time attendees with a “buddy,” allowing newcomers to have a more welcoming, inclusive experience.

So, what does building a pathway for professionals of color into the environmental field have to do with a report on the future of restoration in the Bay? The connection can be found mostly upstream, where the science is telling us to focus more of our efforts — and where so many millions of us live and experience the vast Chesapeake system firsthand. These are the places where we can all get involved to make a difference — by planting natives in your backyard, picking up trash, monitoring your local stream, or helping plant streamside tree buffers. Our human and environmental systems are inextricably linked, and, as Maya Angelou might put it, now we know better!