Chair Board of Trustees
Here at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, we are fortunate to have an amazing team of volunteers and staff that are focused on CNC’s mission to connect people with nature. One volunteer group that is not often heard about but is very active behind the scenes is the Board of Trustees. The purpose of the Board of Trustees at CNC is to advise, govern, and oversee policy and direction always with the mission in mind. Clarence Jackson has been on the Board of Trustees since 2016. He has served as Vice-Chair and currently serves as the Chair leading the 30-member volunteer team made up of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and individuals.
Clarence works at Cox Enterprises, a privately held global conglomerate, and is the Senior Director Sustainable Supply Chain and Business Operations. The roots were put down many years ago that led him to CNC to join the Board of Trustees and serve as the Chair. We recently spent time getting to know Clarence better regarding his background, what drives him, and what he sees in the future for CNC.
What is your background and how did it lead to becoming part of the Board of Trustees at CNC?
I joined Cox Enterprises working at the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2011 and immediately began to find ways to be involved with environmental sustainability issues and to give back by participating in Habitat for Humanity builds, EarthShare, and other events where Cox gives. I joined the Environmental Council at Cox and was part of a group of people that gave advice and opinions on what Cox was doing from a social and environmental governance standpoint.
As my involvement in environmental issues and giving back was noticed, people began to ask, “What are you doing formally?” and “Are you on any boards?”. I started thinking about giving back at a higher level and more strategically to a specific organization.
Through a process of evaluating organizations with open spots, it was the onsite tour of CNC that sealed the deal. I learned about the amazing programs and saw firsthand how CNC connects people with nature every day. They aligned with the values of Cox Enterprises, the AJC and most importantly the priorities in my life were in line with CNC’s mission. I felt like I could add a lot of value and support to the organization through my strengths in management, leadership, and organizational change.
How long have you been on the Board of Trustees at CNC?
I joined the Board of Trustees in September 2016 and was Vice President from October 2018 to October 2020. I became the Chair of the Board of Trustees in October 2020 and when it expires in 2022 the current Vice-Chair, Nick Diluzio will become the chair.
It can be stressful and challenging, but I am always willing to take on more. I will always choose to lean in and support the organization or drive change. A perfect example was during COVID. Initially, our primary goal was to make sure everyone, including kids, staff, and visitors, were both physically and mentally safe. The first step was deciding to shut down for an extended period, but the challenges and decisions that continue to be a part of doing business during a pandemic are still impacting CNC.
Working through hard times will always make you stronger and I have gotten much more out of my time volunteering on the Board of Trustees than I have put in. I am grateful for the diversity of the people on the board as well as the staff and the community that CNC serves. I am a better contributor and director at Cox because of my experiences at CNC.
What does being part of the Chattahoochee Nature Center mean to you?
I grew up in a rural part of Dayton, Ohio and while I got to experience being outside, I went to the City of Dayton schools where most teachers and students were African American and did not get to experience nature past concrete sidewalks and streets. CNC’s partnership with Atlanta Public Schools and the scholarships available to Title 1 schools really hit home. I wanted to be part of something that connected kids that would never normally see the river, walk in the woods, or see a snake up close with nature.
One of the long-term goals for Cox Enterprises is to positively impact 34 million people by 2034. It makes me want to help CNC positively impact as many people as they can. Through the visitors to CNC as well as the business that CNC may work within the community. Throughout the Capital Campaign construction project, we have made sure to have a diverse group of contractors that include minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses. CNC can positively impact people by connecting them with nature through exploring trails, getting on the river, and the health benefits of spending time outside. I want everyone to have that opportunity because I know how much better it makes me and my family feel.
What do you hope to accomplish as the Chair of the Board of Trustees?
The biggest strength that I bring to the board is in business operations and strategy. I can support the board and Natasha as the CEO/President through the Capital Campaign, transitions, safety issues, operations, and truly be a partner with her. I come to CNC events and meetings as often as I can to support her and the CNC staff.
How does your position at Cox Enterprises help you as a Board of Trustees member?
My position at Cox focuses on sustainability and business operations focusing on environmental and social governance. Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future populations to meet its needs.
How can Cox be more sustainable in their purchasing and become more environmentally sustainable? A change leader will drive teams to integrate fieldwork and operations to change the way we do things. We help supply teams to focus on environmental sustainability, responsible sourcing, and diversity in everything that is purchased.
Many of those same principles can apply to operations at CNC. Environmental and social governance is just as important to a non-profit as it is to a large corporation. Cox’s goal to positively impact 34 million people by 2034 became even more important after social issues and equity was brought to the front in the last few years. Through my work on the Board of Trustees, I can be part of impacting people positively.
Tell us about the recent construction on the CNC grounds and the plans for the next phase of the Capital Campaign.
Five years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting and discussing the need for a bridge over Willeo Road. A bridge was needed for safety and accessibility. It was a dream, but how would CNC get there?
We are close to completing Phase I of the construction and the new bridge and River Boardwalk Trail will open in mid-March. It was exciting to see the bridge installed, but I was even more excited and got chills watching the curved ramps leading up to the bridge and down to the boardwalk take shape. The ramps make the River Boardwalk Trail and wetlands truly accessible to everyone. The ability to connect people with nature will grow exponentially!
The next phase of the capital campaign is ambitious, but once people see what CNC can accomplish they will be inspired. We were able to finish raising the money for Phase 1 during COVID with the help of foundations, state funds, and the tenacity of hard-working people that would not take “No” for an answer. That same tenacity will be brought to the fundraising for Phase 2.
The ribbon-cutting in March will be much sweeter knowing how hard everyone worked!
In honor of Black History Month do you have a black naturalist or environmental activist that has inspired you?
There is not one specific person, but people that are educating on environmental issues in communities in Atlanta that may not have had the opportunity to learn why we need to reduce our carbon footprint or plastic consumption. Many times, those communities are not affluent and many times they are minority communities. They are not in a place where they can think about large global issues and how it directly affects their communities.
CNC allows kids in those communities to learn about their watershed, how they can affect their watershed, and how the watershed affects them. Through educational or volunteer opportunities they can link it back to their community. They will be more likely to pick up a piece of trash or not dump oil down a storm drain.
It is important to educate and influence all people no matter where they live to enjoy nature and be led to do things differently or maybe even choose a career in environmental sciences.
What are your favorite ways to spend time outside and connect with nature?
I love to get outside and connect with nature by taking walks with the family and our dogs. We also love to spend time at the river and walk in the woods. There is a peaceful feeling and calmness that overcomes you when you hear squirrels rustling in the leaves, see herons on the river, hear a woodpecker, or even be lucky enough to see a beaver swimming.
I can’t wait to see families and kids of all ages on the new River Boardwalk enjoying being outside and laughing. If you ever have a bad day, just come to CNC and walk around you will see amazement at all things big and small in the eyes of the kids.
I am sure you love all the events at CNC, but do you have a favorite can’t miss event during the year?
One of my favorite events is Corporate EcoChallenge. We all work hard, and it is a chance to get outside and spend time with workmates. It also brings out my competitive side. We are all working together to win. Cox Enterprises won the last Corporate EcoChallenge in 2019 and we are hopeful it will return this year.
I also enjoy any event that is at night at the Ben Brady Pavilion and l am looking forward to events on the River Boardwalk. The lights, music, fresh air make the evening feel magical.
Thank you, Clarence, for taking the time to share your background and your level of commitment to CNC. Sustainability, social governance, and equity are keystones to your career and how you live. You live a life that models how to leave the world better for future generations. We are lucky to have you as a member of the Board of Trustees and a supporter of the Chattahoochee Nature Center and the mission to connect people with nature. Keep your eyes open and you might find Clarence at the next event making a difference for everyone.