In 2020, the National Recreation and Park Association hired Autumn Saxton-Ross as its first-ever vice president of education and chief equity officer. She oversees NRPA’s outward-facing membership areas, including member relations, certification and accreditation, customer service, professional development, and the annual conference.
“My job is to lovingly poke and prod at these membership programs to consider changes to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Saxton-Ross said.
As NRPA was developing its most recent strategic plan, it became clear to leadership that they needed someone at the helm who could develop tools, professional development, and networking opportunities that would address a barrier to meeting its mission.
“That barrier is inequitable park and recreation systems, spaces, and programs,” said Kristine Stratton, president and CEO of NRPA.
NRPA created the vice president of education and chief equity officer role and intentionally moved the education, membership, and credentialing teams into one portfolio to embed an equity lens into NRPA’s core programs.
“I think difference meets on the playground,” Saxton-Ross said. “I’m in Washington, DC, and any playground you go to, there’s a good chance you’ll hear a different language or see a different culture celebrating an event. We want to help change communities and municipalities through our professionals.”
Grouping DEI initiatives and education under one umbrella gives associations the opportunity to apply an equity lens to all outward-facing programs. Over time, that will have an impact within the organization and then extend out to members and their communities.