Chasing the Dream: A Black Woman’s Effort to Inspire Herself and Others through Environmental Stewardship

Brianna Rain Credle on a boat

by Brianna Rain Credle, three-time SCA alumna

As a young girl from New Jersey, I knew my life was lacking something wild. Which is why when I started looking at colleges, I felt there was only one choice: Paul Smith’s College of the Adirondacks. I knew that getting a degree in wildlife management would allow me to follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest naturalists and conservationists of our time including Jane Goodall, Steve Irwin, David Attenborough, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold. What I did not expect, however, was my post-degree discovery of the vast world of conservation corps programs.

I honestly didn’t even know corps were something people my age did, but finding SCA changed my life. At the New York State Outdoor Educators Association’s annual conference in Silver Bay, NY, I listened to SCA members share their stories. From there, I went to the SCA website and looked through a laundry list of potential internships. One in particular caught my eye: the chance to join the Desert Restoration Corps’ Grass Valley/Kiavah crew in Southern California and restore sensitive habitat in the Mojave Desert.

I’d been looking for a position that would allow me to gain hands-on experience with wildlife. However, I am a person who is always open to new and exciting experiences. I thought to myself “Man, it would be cool to be a dirty Californian for 10 months…I’m going to make the DRC happen!”

Brianna Rain Credle with friends

My first day in Ridgecrest, CA was surprisingly rainy, and I had to take a moment from the chaos of cross-country travel and meeting new people to cry out a whirlwind of overwhelming feelings. In that moment, I felt like the rain, a bit sad but very much refreshing. I got over it and jumped right in.

SCA was the challenge I needed in my life, from learning how to use tools I’d never seen before, to meeting my very knowledgeable project leaders Stephanie Deckman and Patrick Gallo, to the intricacies of the manual traction splint, and even performing the complicated “muffin dance.”

Working with my crew in the beautiful Mojave was everything I could have ever imagined and more. I got to see and live in a part of the world most others only glimpse in documentaries. While our hitches were always crazy, our time off was just as extraordinary. I can’t even begin to describe how small I felt in the vast and mountainous deserts of Southern California. I am forever grateful to have experienced it.

I later worked as an SCA leader crewmember in the southern Sierra mountains and as an environmental education intern at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. At Don Edwards, I witnessed the refuge’s first Black History Month presentation given by one of my fellow SCA interns. Seeing her determination, pride, and passion for a field of work where there aren’t many African Americans or people of color in general, was truly awe inspiring.

That moment made me realize my potential as a role model. It reminded me that I am the first African American to get a degree in Wildlife Management at Paul Smith’s College. That I am the first African American to be a director for NY State Department of Environmental Conservation state camps. That I have come so far and done so much since graduating college.

Working with SCA has instilled in me the confidence to conquer any challenge I may face. As a strong willed African American woman, I’ve had many doors closed in my face. I’ve missed opportunities because of someone else’s misconceptions of me, assumptions that because I’m small I won’t be able to carry my fair share, or the opinion that because I’m a Black woman from the suburbs of New Jersey I wouldn’t do well on someone else’s demanding project.

I’ve endured other difficult yet influential moments of emotional, mental or physical distress. Like when it snowed on my crew when we were working on punishing terrain and I couldn’t move my fingers, or when disagreeing with a crew mate and trying to overcome someone’s misogynistic tendencies. I tried to handle all these experiences with class and grace though I know at times I floundered and failed. But failure doesn’t mean defeat, it just offers the chance for self-reflection, learning from one’s mistakes, and knowing that owning that mistake can be powerful.

My SCA memories and learnings are some of my most cherished moments. I feel more rounded as an individual, and have made many great friends who are just as cool as I am, if not more so, and I will hold them close and dear for the rest of my life. My experiences have also revealed to me that showing our future environmental stewards that anyone can do what I have done – and more – has become a driving factor in my life. Seeing the green fire of an ecological conscience flare in someone’s eyes is just as powerful as spying for the first time a luminous Milky Way high above the desert floor.

Despite overcoming many obstacles, the flawed notions of what others think I should be are still among the greatest challenges in my life. But as long as I can prove to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to, and that I can chase my aspirations and be happy, that’s all that really matters to me. I feel the best way to achieve my own goals is by helping others accomplish theirs. That may sound a bit counterintuitive and maybe even a little selfish, but if I can be useful to someone who does not have the same opportunities as I do and still learn in the process, then why not? I know what I can do and I know I can do more, which is why I know that I am ready to take my next step.

I’ll soon be heading to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to join the Peace Corps and a Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) program. I will help to create and maintain Tilapia ponds so that families will have another source of income as well as an additional source of food. I will be there for 27 months, maybe longer if I decide to extend my time.

I don’t know what’s waiting for me there but I am ready for jump right in and face it head on.