• Adirondack Diversity Initiative Executive Director Nicky Hylton-Patterson speaks at a Black Lives Matter rally in Saranac Lake.

Facilitating change through community engagement

Making the Adirondacks a more welcoming and inclusive place for both residents and visitors is at the heart of the Adirondack Diversity Iniative’s work. Executive Director Nicky Hylton-Patterson emphasizes that it is not about finding faults or flaws with local institutions, businesses, or residents; rather, it is about building cultural consciousness through meaningful, authentic dialogue. The larger goal to dismantle systemic racism and structural oppression begins with internal awareness and reflection on the part of program participants and community members.   

Recent grants to the Adirondack Diversity Initiative (ADI) from Adirondack Foundation have focused primarily on the Community Wellness Initiative and the Cultural Consciousness Program. The former includes working with local law enforcement officials to, among other objectives, reduce racial inequities in policing; reform and modernize policing strategies, policies, procedures and practices; as well as better address the needs of Black, Indigenous (and other) People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized communities to promote public safety, improve community engagement and foster trust.

The timing and purpose of the community policing initiative ties directly to the June 2020 statewide Executive Order #203 “to create changes in local law enforcement policies and strategies to mitigate police-involved deaths and racially biased law enforcement,” which was issued in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the widespread calls for justice it spurred.         

ADI has so far reached 60 sworn officers in the Adirondacks. Learning about the history of policing provides greater context for understanding how perceptions about police are formed. And gaining insight into social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, can help show how calls for reform can both affirm the societal value and necessity of policing while also pushing for improved relationships between police and the communities they serve. Feedback from participants has been positive and ADI aims to reach 300 officers between 2021 and 2025.  

In describing ADI’s other programs, Nicky distinguishes between Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and cultural consciousness by saying that DEI implies a one-time training; building consciousness has no endpoint  –  it is a way of living and being. She likes to lead by example, using her lived experiences as a “queer, black woman, from Jamaica who came to this country at age 29 to go to college” as a way to acknowledge her own biases.

The way she explains bias is not in terms of it being bad or good, but something we all have. It’s the lens through which we understand and interpret the world. She asks others to be both vulnerable and brave as they reflect on their biases to help build consciousness.  

A huge benefit of working on these issues in the Adirondacks is that nature is a great unifier. That’s why ADI creates opportunities for BIPOC communities to explore the Adirondacks through outdoor recreation and cultural exchanges. In September, BIPOC students from three colleges, including SUNY Potsdam, will be visiting for a weekend. With whitewater rafting on the itinerary, they are poised for an exciting adventure. Not one to miss an opportunity, Nicky will also train the rafting guides in cultural consciousness to help them provide a positive experience for this group as well as other visitors with diverse backgrounds.

As a founding member of ADI, Adirondack Foundation is thrilled to see it flourish under Nicky’s leadership and applauds the Adirondack North Country Association for hosting the program since 2019. As New York’s population grows increasingly diverse, the Adirondacks needs broad support to continue as a unique conservation model where people and nature can co-exist and thrive.

Cali Brooks, Adirondack Foundation President + CEO

Cali Brooks

President & CEO