A Message of Service


SCA Alum Roland Richardson’s remarks at the MLK Day of Service in DC

SCA and American Express gathered over 600 volunteers on Monday at Anacostia Park in Southeast DC, to celebrate the Dr. King holiday through a morning of service. Among those 600 volunteers, was SCA Alum Roland Richardson (pictured above, second from right), who joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis at the podium to speak about the impact that service to nature has had on his own life.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s message of service is one of the central pillars of his legacy. And one that has had a profound impact on my own life. My own story of service started in parks. Parks right here in Washington DC, actually. 

When I was growing up in the Shepherd Park neighborhood of DC, almost every weekend my grandma would take me on an adventure outside. I was an extremely hyper child and my grandma and my parents were always looking for ways for me to burn off energy.

Rock Creek Park, Civil War Forts, the National Mall – every weekend me and my grandma would explore the woods, the rivers, the history that DC parks had to offer. I experienced, for the first time, the calming effects of being alone in the woods and the freedom of open space. All of these amazing places were right in my city. Practically in my backyard. We could get there on the metro and yet in ways they felt worlds away from the city I knew as home.

Those weekends with my grandma led me to become a Boy Scout at the age of 10. And when I was 15 and in need of a job, I found a perfect fit through an organization called SCA. A job where I got to be outside all summer, in parks, with other kids my age who shared my excitement for the outdoors? I signed up immediately. 

That first summer I worked on a crew with 6 other high school students, maintaining trails in Rock Creek Park, and I loved every day of it. I continued on with SCA each summer through high school, working in DC Parks such as George Washington Parkway, Dumbarton Oaks, the C&O canal.

Secretary Jewell and SCA's Roland Richardson work together to clean debris from Washington DC's Anacostia ParkAfter high school I ventured away from DC for the first time to the mountains of western Massachusetts to participate in a 10-month Conservation Corps program with the SCA. I spent 5 months teaching environmental education in local schools and 5 months building trails in parks all over the state. I was one of 24 corps members in the program, and all of us lived under ONE roof in an old barn. With a living situation like that, I had to learn quickly to develop my interpersonal skills. I learned a lot.

One thing that really clicked for me during that time, is that up until that point, conservation had been something I did for fun. This was the first time I seriously began considering conservation as something I could become dedicated to, both personally and professionally, and make a career of. Wow. 

Experiences I had with SCA inspired me to seek out opportunities to explore other natural wonders of the world. Following my passion lead me to the Hoh Rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, to the deserts of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. From standing in the shadows of giant sequoias in Northern California, all the way to glacier-topped volcanoes of the Chilean Patagonia. I have been awestruck by the pristine beauty of places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. Places I believe every American should get to see.

SCA Volunteers cleaning up Anacostia Park in Washington DC January 18 2016 in commemoration of MLK DayIn between all of those grand adventures I graduated from Evergreen State in Washington State with a degree in Ecology. And now I find myself back in Washington, DC, where my journey began, working for the organization that showed me that service to the land, could be a career.

Not every young boy and girl in DC will travel to Yosemite or the Grand Tetons this summer.  And I’m sure not every young boy and girl has the desire to follow in my footsteps, hop on a plane to an unknown place, to live in a barn with 23 people they’ve never met before.

And that is ok, because every young boy and girl of DC does have the opportunity to catch the green line train to Anacostia Park. Or catch the bus to the C&O Canal or Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

And those places, they are our National Parks too.

Local neighborhood parks are just as important as the iconic parks that often define the national parks system. Local neighborhood green spaces matter, especially for children in urban settings. They are places where kids can find the spark that ignites their lifelong appreciation of nature.

SCA's Roland Richardson walking with US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and an NPS employeeI believe that our public lands are a “common ground” that unite all Americans and provide a venue for valuable and impactful community service.

Equal access to our Nation’s public lands…
Equal access to clean air and water….
These are social justice issues too.

Today, we are cementing the foundation that will ensure that the next generation of environmental leaders comes from all different racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. I am sure you would all agree with me … that is something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be very happy to see.

Student Conservation Association