We are at a moment in time that will be seared in the minds of multiple generations. Henceforth, we will mark time as pre- and post-COVID, but also—and consequentially—it is a moment in time for social justice.
It doesn’t matter whether you are post-war, boomer, X, Y, or Z, time and progress will be marked from the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd.
What writer Michael Gerson has called the “scandalous injustice” in each of those 526 seconds has affected all but the hardest of hearts, forcing an examination of systemic racism in our lives and in our society. And while we may disagree on solutions, our nation is clearly uniting around the need for transformative change.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums community has never shied from transformative change. The Grant Park Zoo that I knew as a child growing up in Atlanta, has transformed into today’s Zoo Atlanta. Same place. Completely changed. Transformed. It didn’t happen overnight. It was a deliberate and dedicated process, powered by visionary leadership and the deep commitment of staff. And the change wasn’t confined to Atlanta. The entire AZA community joined, each one innovating, accelerating the pace and expanding the universe of possibilities, creating today’s dynamic AZA-accredited community.
Now, we have another opportunity to lead: a logical expansion of our prior efforts to transform how our communities, our nation, and our world view diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. As we recover from this pandemic, the 200 million-plus visitors to AZA-accredited facilities—and the much wider online audiences—can be a source of power to sustain transformative change: change that will help us meet our conservation and education missions.
Last week, the AZA Board of Directors took an important step in leading this transformation, approving the addition of a “5th Promise” to our current strategic plan:
We will advance diversity, equity, access, and inclusion practices in the profession and integrate these as values into our organizational cultures.
We are starting a new chapter in a long and difficult journey that will make us better and stronger; just like Grant Park Zoo’s transformation into today’s Zoo Atlanta. We will build on the insights from our past DEAI efforts. We will look to our Board and Diversity Committee for continued leadership and direction. We will engage and empower our Committee structure to help design action plans to move us forward in every corner of our profession. We will seek out new voices and audiences. We will make and measure progress.
It will be a journey, but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., admonished—If we can’t fly, we’ll run; if we can’t run, we’ll walk; if we can’t walk, we’ll crawl; but we’ll keep moving, onward.
DAN ASHE IS THE PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE ASSOCIATION OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS.
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