“We are proposing a bill to fund a Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute that will give NYC students a chance to experience life and make career choices inside the Adirondack Park—in a way that prepares them to cope with a changing climate and work for social equity.”

Justin Levine

New York’s Adirondack Park

In 2021, Hurricane Ida slammed into New York City and much of the northeast. Over three inches of rain fell in just one hour in Central Park, leading the National Weather Service to issue its first-ever Flash Flood Emergency warning for the five boroughs. Subways were submerged, basements were flooded and at least 16 city residents died. With climate change accelerating, such massive storms are likely to become more frequent and more devastating. No one is more at risk from the impacts of our changing climate than under-resourced Black and Brown communities.

Fortunately, New York is also home to the Adirondack Park, a national treasure that will play a central role in our effort to combat climate change. As state lawmakers, it is our duty to guard and preserve this treasure. It is also our duty to ensure that state residents understand its value and benefit from its amazing natural wonders, while also preparing young people for careers in environmental justice.

That is why we are proposing a bill to fund a Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute that will give New York City students a chance to experience life and make career choices inside the Adirondack Park—in a way that prepares them to cope with a changing climate and work for social equity.

The Adirondack Park is physically isolated from much of the state’s population: 200 miles from New York City and farther from Buffalo. Its charms and scenic beauty are unknown to many New York natives who lack an automobile. Urban students who might like an opportunity to live and work in the Adirondacks often lack the means to even visit.

There is a way to remedy that while filling the need for additional trained personnel inside the park. We can do that while celebrating the role of Adirondack communities in the abolitionist and suffragist movements of the mid-1800s.

Many New Yorkers are familiar with the park’s natural beauty and vast forests—protected by New York’s Constitution as “forever wild”—which remove carbon from the air and return pure oxygen. What is less well-known is the Adirondacks’ role in Black history. In Essex County, Timbuctoo was the site of an early black suffrage settlement, one of eight in the Adirondacks that enabled 3,000 Black men to meet the property requirements granting them the right to vote in New York. This history of opportunity should be uplifted, celebrated, and replicated in a modern Timbuctoo climate jobs pipeline.

In this year’s state budget, we can establish the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute in partnership with SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry and CUNY’s Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. This program will connect youth to opportunities at the intersection of climate science and green careers, preparing them for the threats and opportunities we face in the 21st century.

The funding is needed to create a systemic partnership between ESF and Medgar Evers with the goal of designing, developing and hosting an annual, two-week careers institute. The institute would provide instruction in climate science, an exploration of intersectional careers, and the opportunity to earn the training and credentials needed to win and hold those jobs. Not only will this exponentially increase the pool of qualified candidates for vital state functions, it will have the dual benefit of beginning to address the systemic issues of access to the Adirondack Park from an equity and justice perspective.

For generations, New York has operated a devastatingly effective pipeline that directs people of color from New York City to the northernmost reaches of the state: our corrections system. With the impacts of climate change bearing down on our communities, we have an opportunity to redress past wrongs and use Black history to inspire tomorrow’s leaders.

Sen. Zellnor Y. Myrie is a Democrat representing Brooklyn’s 20th State Senate District. Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages is a Democrat representing the 22nd Assembly District in Queens.

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