We're reporting from Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual conference

Follow us as we liveblog from the Congressional Black Caucus' Annual Legislative Conference.

Get more background on why we're there below.

Day Two at the Congressional Black Caucus

What's your favorite place to visit outdoors?
By Lauren Zingarelli

September 17, 3:30 pm
One of the things we're asking attendees to partake in when they stop by our booth is to literally pinpoint his or her favorite place to visit outdoors on a large map of the United States with a pushpin. Most people were excited to display their affection for the outdoors by sticking a pin over their hometown or favorite national park, but it wasn't until today that someone asked why we cared.

My intitial reaction -- of course we care! We're The Wilderness Society and we want to know that others are as eager about protecting our favorite places as much as we are.

Then I took a step back and looked at the array of pins covering the map. I couldn't help but notice that most of the pins were located along the East coast, and in particular, major cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

I turned to the person who had just placed a pin over our very own Washington, D.C. and asked, "Why do you care?"

His gut reaction -- I love Rock Creek Park. He went on to describe how much he loved being able to escape to the trails of Rock Creek throughout his years growing up in the hustle and bustle of everyday city life. He didn't need to go far to understand the value of protecting and preserving our wild places.

Our conversation reminded me that nobody really has to go that far to enjoy America's great outdoors. For most it simply means taking a step in our backyard.

As soon as he left our booth, I glanced over at the map and noticed that my favorite outdoors place didn't have a pin on it -- Cape Cod National Seashore, only two hours from my hometown.

Day One at the Congressional Black Caucus

Old and new conversations with Rep. Lewis
By Christopher Lancette

September 16, 6:05 pm
I spotted a familiar and beloved figure heading toward the door of the convention center. Frank Peterman and I raced ahead to catch him so I could shake his hand for old time’s sake. I have a special place in my heart for my hometown (Atlanta) congressman, Rep. John Lewis, for a lot of reasons.

He’s best known for his leadership during the Civil Rights movement, bravely walking across a Selma bridge and into a beating that he knew was coming. The courage he and other activists summoned that day is still astonishing even four decades later. I have often wondered how I would have acted in those historic times. I’d like to believe I would have found the same kind of mettle Lewis did. Would my convictions have overcome my fear? Whew. I don’t know.

I do know that Lewis has dedicated his life to his convictions. He and all the Civil Rights leaders helped a country across a bridge leading to more tolerant times.

Lewis has stood up for a great many things in his life. That includes conservation. Rep. Lewis was the first person we turned to when I worked for the Georgia office of the Trust for Public Land in the early 2000s. On a scalding, muggy Atlanta afternoon, he joined us by a creek bank to make the case that all candidates then running for Atlanta mayor should adopt a pro-parks platform.

End result? Every candidate did endorse the plan and winner Shirley Franklin enacted many of our ideals.

I reminded the congressman of that day and thanked him for what he did for the conservation community then – while Frank talked to him about what’s happening now. Like every other member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Lewis has a sterling record on the kinds of issues that The Wilderness Society cares about.

I couldn’t help but wonder if hardball politics might be beating Lewis down in a way that no club could.

“Do you still like your job?” I asked, knowing he would answer sincerely.

“I do,” he said. “I get up every day believing I’ll get to make a difference on something.”

Everyone at The Wilderness Society is glad he does.

Hot Air -- TWS talks conservation with Philadelphia's Al B
By Christopher Lancette

September 16, 5:40 pm
Philadelphia-based radio talk show host Al Butler from 900 AM WURD sat down with Frank Peterman for an extensive interview after the five o’clock news break.

Butler is a dynamic, thoughtful interviewer who is a credit to his profession. He has twice been kind enough to engage Frank in deep thinking about the increasing presence of African-Americans in the conservation movement.

Today they discussed the need for the community to be more aware of the adverse effects of global warming and other problems on minority and low-income communities. Frank also put in some good words about The Wilderness Society’s support for more funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which uses revenues from polluters to protect land and create parks across the country.

Frank fields these interviews with aplomb. He doesn’t strong-arm interviewers with talking points and key messages. Instead, he listens intently to what journalists ask him, answers directly and gently weaves The Wilderness Society’s work in where it’s appropriate. People who carry cameras, microphones and pens for a living appreciate that candor.

“We’ve got to find a way to do this more than once a year,” Butler told Frank on air at the end of their chat.

We couldn’t agree more.

Good Times at the CBC
By Christopher Lancette

September 16, 5:00 pm
Just met the actress who played “Thelma” on the TV show “Good Times.” I grew up watching that show. I was an only child who very much wished that Thelma (Bern Nadette) would come hang out with me. I lived not far from downtown Atlanta at the time and felt a connection to the cement-dominated neighborhood she lived in.

The only difference was that my neighborhood had a beautiful city park on the block.

I told Nadette, now the author of a few books, that I hope actresses realize how much of an effect they can have on people they never meet. I should have told her that some of the Evans’ family values rubbed off on me – like working hard at my job and trying to do what I can for my neighborhood.

That spirit fills the halls at the Congressional Black Caucus’s Annual Legislative Conference. Edgar Brookins feels it. He’s a D.C. legend who “stepped out on faith” and started The Afro American newspaper to serve the District’s African-American community. He and his colleagues are off to a strong start. If it’s important to the community, he and reporters including “AunniY” (@AunniY) are covering it. Our own Frank Peterman began a discussion with them, talking a bit about how global warming will adversely affect African-American and low-income communities. Frank might sit down with the editorial team to speak at more depth later.

For The Wilderness Society, those would be good times indeed.

September 16, 1:30pm by Chris Lancette
This afternoon Frank Peterman strolled into the D.C convention center for the first full day of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference. It took all of about two minutes for attendees to latch on to him.

The first woman clutched his arm and told him how much the book he and his wife Audrey wrote meant to her. Their book, "Legacy on the Land", tells the story of their journey across America's public lands -- a trip on which they discovered as much about their cultural connections to public lands as they did all the beautiful sights that came with the sojourn.

Another woman came by The Wilderness Society's information booth a few minutes later. She took a look at a U.S. map we have on display and took us up on our offer for her to place a pin on her favorite outdoor destination. She put it by Lake Michigan in Illinois. Then she told us she's getting ready to fulfill her life-long dream of traveling the country. She said her goal is to visit as many national parks as she can in the next few years on the road.

Folks checking out a map of US lands at The Wilderness Society's booth at 2010 Congressional Black Caucus conference. Photo by Neil Shader.We also met a lot of exceptionally talented people looking for jobs in a variety of fields -- public policy, communications and more. The good news? The Wilderness Society is hiring. We handed them a globe-themed stress ball with our Web site printed on it. All of our jobs are listed on our site. Some candidates handed us resumes. I'm handing one straight to our vice president of public policy as soon as I get back to the office.

A gentleman with several grown children stopped by. He told us his son spent three years in college but didn't finish because he didn't know what he wanted to do. The man asked us if the nonprofit sector and the outdoors represented career opportunities. Absolutely. We spent 20 minutes talking to him about careers in conservation and encouraged him to have his son call us. We'll be happy to brainstorm with him.

Meanwhile, in the hallways, people are still buzzing about Michelle Obama's appearance yesterday. I wanted to meet her myself but I was not able to make it through security in time. I could have asked her about her organic garden. Green tips for my own garden from the First Lady ... that would have been fantastic.
 

Looking Ahead to this Year's Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference

By Christopher Lancette

I still remember the look on a youngster’s face at last year’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference here in D.C. The kid couldn’t have been more than 10 years old when he slowly approached our beautiful, panoramic trade show wall. He saw an owl swooping in from above, people hiking in the woods and water dropping over a fall. His eyes growing wide as he surveyed the wild scenes, he asked us where those places were.

Then he told us he had never seen anything like it and that he hoped to go to those spots himself some day.

That’s the kind of magic that happens constantly throughout the event and it’s the chance to make such special connections that sends The Wilderness Society back every year.

We’ll be there again September 16-18, where we’ll continue to operate an information booth and ask people to share their stories with us about why wild places matter. We’re zeroing in this year on the connections between environmental justice, global warming and public health. We’ll ask conference attendees about their views on these subjects and even ask some to speak to us on camera. We’ll also hand out some information and some fun little gifts. (First come, first serve on the globe-themed stress balls with wilderness.org printed on them!)

The information booth won’t be the only place where we’ll be listening intently.

There are a lot of environmental sessions at this year’s event. One that should be particularly interesting is entitled “Green: The New Black,” which will focus on how for the African-American community can capitalize on opportunities stemming from its strong environmental consciousness. (Quick quiz: Did you know that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus rate at the top of the charts for voting green every year?)

Another will examine ways to get the community more involved in the new energy economy. One that our climate team will be glued to delves into the role climate and energy are playing in shaping U.S. policy.

While we’ll have endless opportunities to listen, we’ll also be doing some talking. That’s where our own Frank Peterman comes in. The Atlanta-based leader, activist and author will have the chance to share The Wilderness Society’s views with political and civic leaders from across the country. If history holds true to form, he’ll also sit down with a lot of reporters during the event. I’ll be pestering him to Tweet about the experience (follow him @TWSfrank) and join us for live blogging here on this spot.

Be sure to follow our climate guru JP Leous - @TWSjp on Twitter - and @Wilderness, too.

The crowds arrive Thursday morning. I can’t wait and I hope you come along for the ride with us on this live blog and on Twitter. It’s magic time.

Photos:
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Folks checking out a map of US lands at The Wilderness Society's booth at 2010 Congressional Black Caucus conference. Photo by Neil Shader.
- A look at the main wall of The Wilderness Society event booth.

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