Sitting down to have a chat with Megan Nguyen (she/they) is always a pleasure, especially when we talk about matters near and dear to our hearts. One such topic is our shared calling to create inclusive spaces for People of Color in the outdoors. As POST’s new Community Events Manager, Megan has big ambitions to help us broaden our sense of community in our region. They aspire to ensure that we are doing everything we can to create a safer and more welcoming regional open space and park system.
In the Bay Area, many people of all backgrounds have strong ties to their local parks and natural preserves. Even so, research shows that, in the United States, growing up in a low-income neighborhood or in a majority community of color puts you at a severe disadvantage to having access to nature. There are multiple studies that report on these realities. In fact, 70% of low-income communities across the country live in nature-deprived areas. What’s more, communities of color are three times more likely than white communities to live in an area that is nature deprived.
Many groups are advocating for equitable access to nature. These include Latino Outdoors, Saved by Nature, Justice Outside, Outdoor Afro, 510 Hikers, and many others, as well as initiatives like Outdoor Access for All.
At POST, we are coming out of a year-long strategic planning process. We have renewed our commitment to creating more equitable access to the incredible lands we have the honor of protecting and stewarding in our region. And I am thrilled to have Megan on our team as a thought partner and community builder. They’re helping us to make the outdoors more inclusive, one event at a time.
I’m a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese American, and the first person in my family to graduate college. I’m also a woman, older sister, and queer. I have experience as a science communicator, community builder, and climate organizer.
My journey started in high school. I lived in a Buddhist monastery boarding school for four years. Our curriculum consisted of typical subject classes plus extra curriculars such as morning meditation, Buddhist studies and ceremony, and organic farming. What I really took from my education was mindfulness and compassion. That’s where my passion for environmental stewardship was fostered.
I studied environmental policy at UC Davis and also minored in education. I started teaching first graders environmental science and was a summer camp counselor. There, I found the intersection of science and policy and realized that I wanted to be the translating bridge between the two disciplines.
In my education work, I learned that you can make a message really fun and engaging for both kids and adults. When you hear scientific reporting in the news or in an article, it’s often full of jargon and complicated. But if you break it down with an analogy and simple terms you can have a greater impact. And that’s where I sharpened my science communication skills and created a curriculum called Scientists for Public Engagement and Knowledge (SPEAK)
Later I found passion and purpose in climate justice organizing with the Sunrise Movement, a movement of young people dedicated to fighting the climate crisis. Through organizing I learned how to lead with my voice. I began to tell stories to reach the hearts and minds of the communities of the places, homes, and futures we wanted to protect.
In my current role as POST’s Community Events Manager, my goal is to bring my passion into action. I try to channel the camp counselor energy as much as I can by centering joy, community, and fun when I plan community events. My hope is for participants to foster a deeper connection to open spaces through education and engagement.
Megan (far right) leads a crowd alongside co-organizers with the Sunrise Movement.
Diversity in the outdoors matters to me because it makes me feel like I belong.
When I first started going camping during college field trips, I remember feeling like I didn’t belong because I didn’t have an epic adventure story to tell around the campfire. I also didn’t have the right kind of gear like the special backpack, the one with the hose you can drink water from. I felt like I couldn’t contribute a story and no one made an effort to make me feel included, so I faded into the background. After too many experiences of feeling left out, I made it a goal of mine to collect my own stories to tell.
I found the inspiration to become a white water rafting guide and fly fishing angler and was able to tell my own epic river stories. Since then, I have used my experiences to organize various Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) only overnight camping trips for people with little to no camping experience and make it enjoyable and memorable. It’s an opportunity I wish I had when I was just starting out. Now I can create that space and sense of belonging for others.
Megan (far left) navigates a raft through the rapids.
I’m excited about two things on the near horizon for POST! First is the Representation Matters Film Festival which will be held at Martial Cottle Park in South San Jose on Friday, September 23 at 7 p.m.. This film festival will showcase diverse voices in the outdoors. The film selections focus on themes related to recreation, activism, community, indigenous culture, finding belonging, and more. I selected the films from the Wild and Scenic Film Festival library.
Hope to see you there!
The second project I’m excited about is launching affinity groups and identity-based hikes. I experienced the transformative power these spaces create after participating in a Women of Color Campout in Yosemite. For many participants, the trip marked two firsts: their first time camping, and their first time in a space made only for women of color. In this setting, they felt liberated to be a fuller version of themselves and ask vulnerable questions without judgment and fear.
At POST, I plan to reach new audiences by convening groups such as women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, new hikers, young professionals, or Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. I’m hoping to create a sense of belonging among members of these groups. I want to help people from similar backgrounds feel at ease when exploring new open spaces. In the process, they’ll build community with other participants.
It’s also important to note that POST’s mission has not changed. We will keep planning events that create spaces for our broader POST community to connect with one another in nature. Our hope is that these affinity groups will provide an additional stream of opportunities for people to connect over similar identities. Look for these new community hikes in Spring of 2023.
Megan’s first trip to Yosemite with the UC Davis Ecogeomorphology class in 2011!
I’m energized to build community and create a stronger sense of belonging. I know we all have felt the collective languishing, isolation, and disconnect the pandemic has caused us. During this time, I have realized that time together and in person is precious and I don’t want to take that for granted. As we are finding new and safe ways to connect again in person, I want to challenge myself and POST to gather with a bold and sharp purpose. I’ve taken a lot of my learnings from the book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. It’s a must read and I highly recommend it to any community event planners out there.
My advice to someone who is looking to be a leader, build community and create meaningful connections is to be courageous and lean into vulnerability (like Auntie Brene Brown would say). I still get nervous when I try something new for the first time. But then I remind myself that almost everyone is also anxious to be vulnerable and take those first steps.
A friend once described me as someone who is not afraid to push open doors in a world of so many doors. How do you know what’s on the other side if you don’t open the door? I found my path by creating opportunities for myself — by trying something new like a pilot project to put my idea in action. When I needed to request additional resources for a project, making a creative pitch and telling a story with a clear vision usually worked for me to get the team on board.
One benefit of putting myself out there has been nurturing supportive bonds with others. I found a mentor who helped build my confidence and taught me key lessons such as how to negotiate a salary. I also sought out BIPOC spaces at conferences, and joined networks like Environmental Professionals of Color. The connections I’ve made have inspired me and encouraged me to grow along the way. It’s been energizing and grounding to be in community with my peers and healing to share stories, advice, and support.
I’m still working on leaning into my power and taking up space. Sometimes when I enter a predominantly white or male space I tend to shrink myself to not draw more attention to the fact that I stick out, almost like a reflex. I’m working on actively undoing the internalized reaction and giving myself permission to belong and shine bright. It has taken me a while to understand what taking up space means. For me, that looks like not being afraid to share my ideas, dress fashionably, and give honest and critical feedback when something feels harmful or off. I do it not only for myself, but to also create more space for others to help them shine a little brighter.
Interested in connecting with Megan? Feel free to reach out!
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more