Park Bench Chat

Park Bench Chat: Land, the Arts, and Black Culture — Intersecting Pathways

Park Bench Chat

Land, the Arts, and Black Culture: Intersecting Pathways

Our Black History Month Park Bench Chat explored the power of outdoor spaces and their impact on Black communities, culture, and the arts. Moderated by Dr. Jocelyn Imani, national director for Trust for Public Land’s Black History and Culture program, our Black History Month Park Bench Chat brought together an esteemed panel of speakers, each providing a unique perspective on how these spaces can be transformative for communities.

Joining us was Grammy Award–winning artist esperanza spalding, Co-director of PRISMID, a BIPOC sanctuary and restorative arts lab serving musicians, artists, and cultural workers; Angelou Ezeilo, author of Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders and founder of the Greening Youth Foundation, known for connecting HBCU students to careers in public lands and conservation; and Maya Rodgers, associate director of special projects for San Francisco Parks Alliance and advocate from San Francisco’s Bay View–Hunters Point community, who discussed the local impact of projects such as India Basin.

Together they explored the profound impact that outdoor spaces have on cultural identity, community resilience, and artistic expression—and in enriching and empowering Black communities.

As we reflect on the enriching discussion, we recognize the continued need to support Black community self-determination and liberation through increased access to public land, as envisioned by our Black History and Culture program. Together, we can continue to build cultural identity, community resilience, and artistic expression, enriching and empowering Black communities.
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esperanza spalding

esperanza spalding

Co-director, PRISMID Sanctuary

esperanza spalding (a.k.a. irma nejando) is an eaabibacliitoti* artist, trained and initiated in the North American (masculine) jazz lineage and tradition. Her work interweaves various combinations of instrumental music, improvisation, singing, composition, poetry, dance, therapeutic research, storytelling, teaching, restorative urban land & artist-sanctuary custodianship, and growing in love as a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, auntie, great-auntie, friend.

She is co-director and curator of Prismid Inc., a 501c3 that ushers and stewards restorative artist residency & workshop space in Portland, Oregon.

With her dance company Off Brand gOdds (co-founded with Antonio Brown) and the Songwrights Apothecary Lab she leads multi-week performance, workshop, teaching, and therapeutic-arts research residencies.

*European-African ancestored being influenced by American cultures living in Indigenous Territories of Turtle Island


Angelou Ezelio

Angelou Ezeilo

Founder, Greening Youth Foundation, Environmental and Equity Consultant at, Engage, Connect, ProtectLLC, Vice President of Empathy and Childhood Strategy, Ashoka Africa Engage, Connect, Protect & Empathy and Childhood Strategy

Angelou Ezeilo is an author, leader, and international consultant with deep roots in environmental, sustainability, law and youth development. Skilled in nonprofit scaling, strategic planning, CSR, and DEI principles, she’s adept in multinational professional contexts. In her 2019 book “Engage, Connect, Protect,” Ezeilo underscores the need for greater inclusivity of people of color in outdoor sectors. As the founder of Greening Youth Foundation, she’s been instrumental since 2007 in creating life-changing opportunities for over 25,000 youths by connecting them to outdoor, conservation, and renewable energy careers, with efforts most recently extending to West Africa. She serves in a leadership role for Ashoka Africa. Ezeilo is at the forefront of working collaboratively with partners and social entrepreneurs who are innovating solutions to the continent’s environmental and social issues. Ezeilo holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida and a BA from Spelman College.


Maya Rodgers

Maya Rodgers

Associate Director of Special Projects, San Francisco Parks Alliance

Maya Rodgers comes to SF Parks Alliance with over 10 years of extensive park advocacy, activism, and community engagement experience.

Maya is a fierce community advocate who founded Parks 94124 in 2010, a local parks advocacy group, as well as the Bayview Parks Collaborative. Throughout all of her work, she believes that community centered collaboration is the key to developing and maintaining sustainable and dynamic parks and public spaces.

Maya holds a Masters in Social Work from San Francisco State University, and is a proud San Francisco native and current resident.


Dr. Jocelyn Imani

Dr. Jocelyn Imani

PHD, Senior Director, Black History & Culture, Trust for Public Land

Dr. Jocelyn Imani leads the Black History & Culture program at Trust for Public Land. Her work focuses on reimagining the activation of Black history and culture sites, aiming to make outdoor spaces more relevant, accessible, and supportive of Black communities. With over a decade in public history, Dr. Imani held previous roles at the National Park Service and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. She has also taught U.S. history at universities such as Fisk and Howard.

She founded the Big Brown Get Down, connecting professionals with students from underserved communities. She holds a BA in history from Fisk University and a PhD in African diaspora and public history from Howard University. Dr. Imani is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Progress, Inc, promoting well-being for people with disabilities and senior adults. A Nashville native from a musical family, she is deeply involved in arts, music, and culture.