by Kale Williams
As a child growing up in rural Oregon, Vanessa Grant Coats loved the outdoors. Exploring the wild areas of the state with her family — camping, hiking and fishing — are some of her favorite memories and led to dreams of becoming a marine biologist.
But as a Black kid romping around a mostly white state, she rarely saw people who looked like her enjoying the same outdoor activities.
“I didn’t always feel like I belonged,” Grant Coats told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “I never saw anyone who looked like me as a marine biologist. I never saw them kayaking or camping.”
Grant Coats never became a marine biologist, but a couple decades after her childhood experiences in the outdoors, she is working to fight stereotypes about Black people and nature as the program coordinator for The Blueprint Foundation, a Portland-based environmental nonprofit that provides mentoring, educational opportunities and peer counseling for Black youth.
The Blueprint Foundation is one of several environmental nonprofits in Oregon led by people of color who have charted a path different from other organizations. From preserving Indigenous oral histories to providing job training to transforming community members into their own advocates, these minority-led organizations are using their culture, both past and present, to create opportunities for marginalized communities.
“I’ve been a mentor for close to five years, so I’m seeing students who started with us as (high school) freshmen, and now they’re going into college looking to study environmental science,” Grant Coats said. “To see the spark in their eye, to see them so interested and engaged, I get emotional just talking about it.”
Blueprint is also one of about 70 environmental organizations from across the state partnering with Earth Day Oregon to help raise money around the holiday Friday.
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