Black Experience

ASALH Exec Among National Parks’ Centennial Honorees

One of D.C.’s most tireless advocates for the global promotion of Black heritage and culture was recently honored by the National Parks Conservation Association for her diligence in protecting and enhancing the nation’s parks.

Sylvia Cyrus, executive director of the D.C.-based Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), along with two other champions of the National Park Service — former National Park Service Deputy Director Denis Galvin and renowned nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen — were honored April 3 by the National Parks Conservation Association at its centennial year “Salute to the Parks” celebration at the National Building Museum in northwest D.C.

“Sylvia’s passion for protecting and preserving the African-American experience and stewardship for national parks is awe-inspiring,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association. “From preserving a critical chapter in the civil rights movement with the designation of Birmingham, to illuminating important stories of American industry, labor, urban planning and the first African-American union at Pullman, Sylvia’s efforts to honor and engage all of our nation’s people will have a lasting impact on our National Park System for generations to come.”

Cyrus received the Centennial Leadership Award for her dedicated service. Under her leadership, ASALH supported NPCA’s work on campaigns to create two national park sites dedicated to telling the important stories of the first African-American labor union and the struggle for Civil Rights with Pullman National Monument in Chicago and Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. Most importantly, Cyrus helped guide the National Park Service in their efforts to rehabilitate and reopen the Carter G. Woodson home in D.C., where Woodson, the “Father of Black History,” spent a substantial amount of time researching, documenting and distributing information on African-American history and achievements.

“I celebrate our roots in the national parks – they are here, and migration has expanded their impact,” Cyrus said. “Where would we be without educational opportunities outside the classroom in community spaces? Most importantly, our national parks are part of this story. Preservation and expansion of the back story of each park and African-American contributions is my mission and through ASALH I live to work daily with NPCA to advocate for their protection. Our future lies in enhancing our parks reaching out to all communities to visit, learn and share.”

The NPCA’s annual celebration — which pays tribute to national parks and the people across the country who speak up on their behalf — offers one of the largest and most influential gatherings of the conservation and environmental communities.

Galvin, who also received the Centennial Leadership Award for his outstanding contributions toward preparing national parks for their second century of service to the American people, joined the National Park Service in 1963 as a civil engineer at Sequoia National Park. He later worked as an engineer at Mount Rainier and training specialist at Grand Canyon.

Galvin’s distinguished park service career includes the prestigious role of deputy director for the National Park Service where he served for nine years under the Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Galvin also established the Natural Resource Challenge, creating a new source of funding to increase the role of science in decision-making within the Park Service and developed a long-term protection plan for Sequoia National Park’s giant forest of 3,000-year-old trees that at the time, were threatened by sprawling development.

Pierno, who lauded Galvin as a treasure and an institution for America’s national parks, added that, from testifying as an expert witness on Capitol Hill to serving on the National Parks Second Century Commission, he’s shown time and again that his expertise and broad understanding of national park issues remain relevant.

“Advocating for the parks and related programs is always necessary,” Galvin said. “We are a democracy — advocacy is a duty and a privilege. I am honored to receive this recognition from NPCA. For 100 years they have served the nation by spearheading the protection and growth of our amazing National Park System.”

Mangelsen was awarded the prestigious Robin W. Winks Award for enhancing public understanding of national parks.

Mangelsen has dedicated more than 40 years to observing and photographing the earth’s last great wild places and was a leader in the campaign against the illegal removal of federal protections and a subsequent hunt of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears.

He also donated photos to NPCA, in support of its work to defend Grand Teton and Yellowstone grizzly bears, as well as to stop the barbaric hunting of wolves and bears in Alaska. Mangelsen’s images in the campaigns were seen by millions and helped NPCA activate public comments by more than 33,000 park advocates across the country.

Pierno praised Mangelsen’s power to inspire the masses through his camera lens and to move people to action.

“Tom’s partnership in our work to protect grizzlies and wolves, from Grand Teton to Denali inspired tens of thousands of advocates to speak up and became one of the most visible campaigns in NPCA’s 100-year history,” Pierno said.

Mangelsen commented that national parks can be more powerful than most imagine.

“[Regardless if they were] inspired by a grand vista, moved by a wildlife encounter, or touched by history, visiting a national park can alter one’s life in unexpected ways,” he said. “The course of my life likely took a different path following my first visit to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and now having NPCA use my images to aid in their advocacy for these same parks and their wildlife is truly an honor. These special places need as many voices as possible speaking for them and NPCA stands among the best.”

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