This week marks my first week as President of Mass Audubon. I had planned to introduce myself to all of you by sharing my excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. And I am extremely excited to meet with so many of you who are committed to our important mission. But given the extraordinary times we are in, I feel it is important to use this opportunity to take a stand for what is just and equitable for people of color here in Massachusetts and beyond.
Like many of you, I am appalled by the injustices and acts of violence against racially marginalized groups. The gruesome events that have unfolded in the past weeks and months have rattled me. In particular, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the protests that have followed illustrate the historic, systemic racism and environmental injustice that exists in our country towards people of color, specifically Black people.
Fighting for what is right is core to Mass Audubon’s mission. The organization was founded by two women fighting for the protection of birds, and has since expanded that fight over the last 124 years to comprise all things surrounding conservation, education, and advocacy for the protection of not only wildlife, but also people.
One fight that I know we need to amplify is the fight for racial and environmental justice. For far too long, Brown and Black people have found everyday activities like jogging or birding unsafe and have disproportionately suffered from significantly lower air quality as a result of toxins, pollutants, and greenhouse gases.
I recognize that we have more work to do to right these wrongs. I will dedicate my first few months to gaining a better understanding on how I and Mass Audubon can not only contribute but serve as a model for the Commonwealth.
I will listen to our staff members, especially those of color, on how we can support them and move forward as an organization; I will work with partners and grassroots organizations to ensure everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and open space; I will continue our focus on the climate crisis, which causes people of color to bear the burden of some of climate change’s worst impacts; I will work to ensure we create access to our sanctuaries and trails that is safe and welcoming to everyone; and I promise to make diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of what we do from this day forward.
I hope you will join me in standing in solidarity with those fighting racism and injustice, and share your thoughts on how we can make Mass Audubon a stronger community that uses our voice for people and wildlife.
David J. O’Neill