Black Meetings and Tourism

July/August 2010

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SHELTON JOHNSON PARK RANGER AND BUFFALO SOLDIER SPECIALIST only of the com- pelling mission under girding the work of the rangers, but of the beautiful natu- ral environments in which they carried out that mission. CAREER FOUNDATIONS M BY VEDA E. WARD, PH. D. Introduction any Americans are unaware of the extensive system of national parks extending from one end of our nation to another. The 58 parks belong to the people of the United States and are managed by the National Park Service (NPS), within the Depart- ment of the Interior, and provide employment to 20,000 full-time- equivalent employees. In addition to the parks, there are 24 national battle- fields, 18 national landmarks, 74 national monuments and 10 national seashores managed by the NPS. Shelton Johnson, the subject of this column, is a Park Ranger at Yosemite National Park where he serves in Interpretation and Education. John- son, who grew up in Detroit, was unaware of the role park rangers play in the parks, or that there was a feder- al government career path associated with the job until, in 1984, he accepted a seasonal position with Yellowstone’s chief concessionaire near the famous geyser, Old Faithful. During that sum- mer, as Johnson observed the interac- tion between rangers and park visi- tors, he became acutely aware not 22 Looking back to a childhood filled with television westerns and the intriguing, but unfamiliar west- ern landscape in which they were set, Johnson acknowledges, “I was in love with the idea of national parks before ever entering the reality. I also certainly noticed the absence of people of color in those television movies and documen- taries, so I have always been inter- ested in both cultural diversity and these great iconic landscapes”. Shelton Johnson is a great example of the meandering and indirect path that many take in order to discover their true calling. Early aspirations included training to become a classi- cal clarinetist at Cass Tech High School in Detroit, but he admits, “my shyness and lack of self-confidence kept me from pursuing that dream.” His love of books pulled him toward History and English literature, since both disciplines revolve around sto- ries. He earned a BA in English from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, winning a Major Hopwood Award in poetry – an external valida- tion of his skill as an effective writer. Looking back, even a brief stint as a Peace Corps teacher in Liberia, West Africa was another stepping stone for his current responsibilities since “my background in literature prepared me very well for my position because I understand how stories work, and interpreters are essentially story- tellers. Many of my peers have back- grounds in the sciences, which gives them an edge in understanding natu- ral history, but I found that my back- ground in the arts gave me an edge in the interpretation of that history”. Over the past two decades, Johnson has developed a passion for educating and involving African- Americans in the magical legacy of the national parks. Thinking about his early years, he recognizes that “it’s pretty easy to grow up in a city, espe- cially an inner city area, and have no conception of the national park sys- tem. The Park Service doesn’t really advertise itself, so if you don’t have parents who have taken you camping, Black Meetings & Tourism July/August 2010:

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