To you, the great outdoors is bae. And what better time than National Park Week (April 18 to April 26) to validate your love of nature and consider a future career with the National Park Service?
By Ava Marshall
Kayla Diallo, 22, is proof there is more than one way to prep for your dream job. As a journalism and mass communication major, she’s become beast at blending two of her passions: creating content and preserving the earth.
“I always feel closer to God when I’m in natural environments. I grew up not being exposed to a lot of information about the National Park Service as a whole, but as I began working with them, I realized a lot of activities I had participated in as a child were at National Park sites,” she says. “My passion for working in media was sparked in high school … [and] I have always been interested in creating content and using different forms of art to express myself.”
As a child, she grew her love of the outdoors in Girl Scouts; fast forward several years and she continues nurturing this love at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina (she graduates in May), where she’s been happy to surround herself with professors who see the power in her two passions. “They encourage us to be well-rounded individuals,” she says. “None of them were ‘easy’ professors, but the care they had for their students was evident in the life lessons they taught us while in their classes. They inspired me to be the best version of myself beyond the classroom.”
Blending her dual pursuits, though, didn’t really cross Kayla’s mind until she became a Historically Black Colleges and Universities Intern (HBCUI) and got involved with the Greening Youth Foundation, an organization that aims to introduce young people to conservation-based careers, in which they’re typically underrepresented. “It changed my life,” Kayla says. “I was exposed to so much information about the history and impact of African Americans in national parks.” The project she’s most proud of from her time there? A short film she co-produced titled, Twenty & Odd, dedicated to the first enslaved Africans that arrived at Fort Comfort in Hampton, Virginia. “[I] along with five other Black women and an Indian-American man were able to travel the country and capture images that tell the story of the African-American experience, as well as our resilience and excellence,” she says, highlighting her visits to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Georgia; the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama; and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Selma, Alabama, among others. “We wanted to create something that would allow other Black people to see themselves in parks and get them interested in looking deeper into their history.”
While Kayla Diallo is killin’ it now, her slayage hasn’t been without its Ls. “I struggled immensely throughout high school, especially in my senior year and almost did not graduate,” she shares. “My mental health was not in a good space and that manifested itself in all areas of my life. I was distracted by things that did not matter and did not have the confidence in myself to do my very best.”
But she turned this strife into a learning experience and set her life back on course. “I have been through so much to get where I am now, including health issues, financial problems, and overall growing pains,” Kayla says, also expressing hella thanks for her mother for always supporting her as she moved through her journey. “I faced a lot of rejection, but I didn’t allow that to discourage me. I used the lessons learned to better myself and come back even stronger.”
That strength is exactly what motivates Kayla’s crusade to diversify representation in the National Park Service. The lack of Black women in the industry, particularly in positions of power, drives her to keep moving toward change. “[The National Park Service] prides itself on being America’s storyteller, yet they lack the diversity and inclusion to tell the story of all Americans,” she says. “Being a Black woman is my biggest flex; it has allowed me to view things differently than most … I often [think] of how I [am] helping to change narratives and ultimately history by being one of the few Black women in this space.”
Committed to continuing to rep the culture, especially when it comes to national parks, Kayla has a few tips for those looking to follow in her footsteps: “Show up fully and authentically in everything you do. You never know who is watching you and could be inspired by you just being yourself.”
This is a portion of an article that originally appeared in Sesi’s Spring 2020 issue. Subscribe here to get your copy and read the article in full. (Spring 2020 issue on sale through April 30, 2020.)
On a mission to fill that void in the mainstream media, in which Black girls are virtually invisible, Sesi (a quarterly, print magazine for Black teen girls) celebrates them. As an independent magazine with very little advertising, we rely on the support of our community to continue publishing. You can show your support by subscribing or donating. Subscriptions are $15 a year and you can donate any amount you’d like. ❤️