He called Marc Yaggi, director of the Waterkeeper Alliance in New York, last May. “Am I the only African American riverkeeper?”
The answer was yes. Of at least 200 riverkeepers in the world, Tutman is the only African American.
“We have a lot of work to do” in the area of diversity, Yaggi said in a recent interview. He said he has reached out to Tutman, who was certified by the alliance in 2004, “to try to figure out ways to increase our diversity.”
But Tutman is not unique in his feelings of isolation. Minorities in the nation’s largest environmental organizations said in interviews that they feel the same way.
In fact, they say, the level of diversity, both in leadership and staff, of groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is more like that of the Republican Party they so often criticize for its positions on the environment than that of the multiethnic Democratic Party they have thrown their support behind.
Some of the groups say they are working toward greater diversity. “I think that the concerns are absolutely well founded,” said Adrianna Quintero, a lawyer for the NRDC. “It’s taken too long for environmental groups to work closely enough with minority communities.”
Kim Coble, vice president of environmental protection and restoration for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the organization strives for inclusion, even though the percentage of minorities on its full-time staff is only 4.5 percent in a region where they represent nearly half the population.
“The environmental movement has a bit of a reputation as being a wealthy white community, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation works hard to counteract that,” Coble said.
The reputation is deserved, said Norris McDonald, president of the African American Environmentalist Association.
“This goes back a long way,” McDonald said. “It’s why I founded the [association] in 1985. . . . White groups weren’t hiring black professionals, and when they did, it was a hostile atmosphere. There were a handful of black professionals in the environmental groups then, and there are a handful now.”
Around the time that Tutman, now 54, was certified as a riverkeeper, the African American Environmentalist Association issued a report card for 26 environmental groups based on their diversity for 2003-2004. Eighteen declined to respond to the request for the makeup of their staffs, and most of the others received poor scores.
The association hasn’t issued a report card since because it was an exercise in frustration, McDonald said. “We moved on.”
They formed scores of smaller groups in low-income communities under the “environmental justice” banner and say they address issues that big groups do not: toxins leaking from power plants, urban food deserts where grocery stores don’t exist, efforts to pave over urban green spaces where children play.