Celebrating Black Leaders at Cuyahoga SWCD

Black History Month is an important time to focus on celebrating and elevating Black history, lived experiences, voices, and ideas. Check out our Facebook page where we have been posting Conservation Spotlights focusing on Black leaders and residents in the environmental field and beyond.

February is not the only month the District will be centering Black, Indigenous, and People of Color voices and initiatives. Black history is American history and diverse viewpoints, expertise, and histories are important all year long. We acknowledge that historic and continued systemic racism have created and maintain vast disparities in our community, including unequal access to environmental benefits. To address ongoing underrepresentation in the environmental field, the District has established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Actions & Commitments for 2023 with tangible goals and metrics to keep our staff and programs accountable.

In this blog, I want to highlight two Black leaders right here on the board at Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District: Demar Sheffey, the Chairman of the Board, and Whitnye Long Jones, the secretary. We appreciate Demar and Whitnye for their service to the District, the valuable perspectives they bring and their important work in the broader community.

Demar L. Sheffey is the Chairman of the Board of supervisors for the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District. He has 15 years in civil engagement and 11 years of youth development and programming experience. He was born in Northeastern Ohio and raised in University circle. Demar earned his Juris Doctor from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Notre Dame College, and graduated from Euclid High School. His purpose is to serve and advocate for the community with a passion in leadership and engagement, while actively participating with youth and his community members in various events.

Demar has hosted over 100 community events that educated the public on current events that affected their daily lives by engaging with community leaders, school officials and local state and government officials. These events focused on the enrichment of lives and offering access to resources for the community and the youth. Out of the numerous events planned, developed and achieved, one of Demar’s most passionate founding programs was A.C.E. A program that educated students on the inner workings of trial where the students were able to demonstrate their skills and learned abilities by conducting a mock trial. Demar is a loving father of one child.

Whitnye Long Jones is the Executive Director of Organic Connects, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Cleveland, Ohio, that engages youth and families in with outdoor recreation, environmental education, and career opportunities in the environmental field across the state and country.

Through a JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, inclusion) lens, the Organic Connects team aims to increase representation within the green industry and in the outdoors. Experience has proven that relationship building with community stakeholders and environmental organizations sets the precedent for successful partnerships and outcomes. Organic Connects strongly believes that understanding our cultural history, addressing social barriers, and remembering our innate connection to the earth, we can reframe the current narrative that portrays a lack of diversity existing within the environmental movement.

Whitnye was the Northeast Ohio Coordinator for Let’s Move! Outside, a national collaboration between Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program, the YMCA of the USA, and the U.S. Department of the Interior; was a contributor to the Ohio Environmental Council’s Cleveland Comprehensive Environmental Policy Platform; was a Cleveland Foundation Out of School Time Cohort participant; works with community members on environmental justice issues; and provides services to businesses that improve engagement practices and develop racial equity and inclusion policies.

Blog author: Tim Becker, Education Program Specialist

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