They love each other, their six (combined) children, 16 grand children and three great-grands, and along with that, the nation’s leading Black environmentalists, Audrey and Frank Peterman of Florida, love the grandeur, breathtaking beauty, and sustainability of an ecological system that many lovingly call “mother earth.”
Married 19 years, the Jamaican-born Audrey and her African-American husband, both grew up in the country. She recalled, “I used to do my homework by the river. That’s where I studied. I watched the little fish in the river. I looked for mangos in the bush. It was a very rural lifestyle where we lived very close to the earth. Frank grew up in Florida at the end of the Everglades in the ‘50s before they were drained to build cities. He’s a rugged outdoors guy as well. “
When the couple’s last child finished college they decided to fulfill a dream of starting a ‘bed & breakfast’, with Belize in mind. Frank went to investigate and interestingly enough all their plans hit a brick wall when a curious Belizean questioned Frank about how the Badlands looked, the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders he had heard about in the States. To each question Frank had to admit “I don’t know.”
Talking with his wife later he pondered how they could move to another country and not even know their own. So together in 1995 they packed their truck with maps and a tent and hit the National Parks trail across the country.
Already members of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club to help preserve nature, the Petermans were stunned and overwhelmed on their initial stop at Acadia National Park in Maine with its awesome, beautiful, mountain ranges. To date they have frequented 156 large parks (units; including smaller historic sites) in more than 40 states including the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona, the two-million-acre Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, California’s Yosemite National Park and the Everglades.
But what shocked the budding environmentalists at the time, was literally seeing less than a handful of people of color in the parks across the nation as opposed to large numbers of white Americans, and even foreigners, enjoying the luxurious and abundant land within U.S. borders; land that all Americans pay taxes on but yet only a fraction enjoy. They also learned of the absence of Black history related to Park development.
Activists Audrey and Frank immediately set out to correct these imbalances and to educate communities of color and others. Subsequently they formed the “Earthwise Productions, Inc. company; created a monthly newsletter named “Pick Up & Go”; teamed up with a plethora of other environmental groups nationally; stormed prominent government boards to fight for the equal rights of citizens of color to participate in the parks system and to control their destinies when (perceived) eco threats were waged against their communities in any state and did extensive public speaking to the masses. Their goal was to give people of color a voice and the copious pleasures of enjoying the great outdoors.
Audrey founded the South Florida Partners to fight insensitive developers and vigorously served on many boards such as the National Parks Conservation Association, Association of Partners for Public Lands and many more. Frank is a graduate of Morehouse and Howard University of Law and was appointed to top conservational posts by local Atlanta government and co-founded the popular “Keeping it Wild” conservation program.
In 2009, the Petermans published “Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care.”
Last year the proud environmentalists attended a reception at the White House launching President Obama’s “Great American Outdoors” initiative alongside his environmental staff such as Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior that oversees the parks system.
After nearly 20 years of being advocates of the parks and Americans of color, Frank and Audrey are finally taking a personal break and going sailing on their own boat to see even more of the earth.
But Audrey sums up why all Americans should relax now and be adventurers in the parks: “What a great world that God has created for us. You may think you are not missing anything but I can assure you, having seen what is beyond the city limits, that you are missing everything that is important. Dr. Martin Luther King said he had been to the mountaintop. That is not just a metaphor. You really need to see some mountain tops. And you don’t have to rough it.”
All parks offer mega views, a robust variety of activities, campsites, hotels, cabins, and disability access. There is truly something for every preference.