Cash receives recognition for leadership on race
During a special ceremony Friday, Oct. 21, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash received a major award from the National Parks Conservation Association.
The award, named for the first National Park Service director Stephen Tyng Mather, each year recognizes a federal employee who risked his or her career for the principles and practices of good stewardship in the national parks during the previous calendar year. Cash was named the award winner for 2021, but the ceremony and announcement were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cash received the award in recognition of the Smokies Hikes for Healing program that he created in 2020 following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Cash, who is the park’s first Black superintendent, designed the program to bring people of different experiences together to discuss difficult issues with the park as common ground to share, understand and heal.
“It is an absolute honor to be recognized by the National Parks Conservation Association,” Cash said. “The recognition of ‘Smokies Hikes for Healing’ is particularly special to me as it highlights appreciation of our national parks for the distinctive benefits they provide as a brave space for discussing uncomfortable topics during a difficult time in our country’s history. I am humbled that others found these hiking experiences powerful, healing and worth repeating across our public lands.”
During the hikes, trained facilitators joined groups on park trails, leading thought-provoking, open and honest conversations about the ills and impacts of racism in our country. Hikers who start out as strangers bond together, and leave the experience equipped with tools and ideas to practice antiracism in their communities. The program was offered despite a federal government mandate in place at the time barring use of federal funds for some types of diversity trainings.
“Amid a global pandemic and nationwide reckoning with systemic injustice, Superintendent Cash harnessed the power of our public lands to help communities come together and heal,” said National Parks Conservation Association President and CEO Theresa Pierno. “His Hikes for Healing program serves as an example for other conservationists and national park advocates to follow, and I count myself among them.”
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Wonderful work Mr. Cash!