Family Forest Blog

Board Member Spotlight: Jennie L. Stephens

American Forest Foundation

September 29, 2023

A spotlight on a green background.

In 2023, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) launched a new strategic direction and welcomed three outstanding individuals to our board of trustees. Weaving their unique perspectives and hard-earned wisdom into the AFF tapestry, these new voices are set to help us tackle climate change and bolster the health of America's family forests for generations to come. Stay tuned as each board member takes center stage in this special Q&A blog series that highlights their distinct experiences and expertise.

We're especially excited to introduce Jennie Stephens. Joining the AFF board of trustees in 2023, Stephens is the chief executive officer of the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation whose mission is to protect heirs’ property and promote its sustainable use to provide economic benefits to historically underserved families. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years in positions such as senior program director at a community foundation and sponsored programs director at a historically black college.

Jennie L. Stephens professional headshot - 2

Jennie L. Stephens. Photo credit: Catie Cleveland, College of Charleston.

A Conversation with Jennie Stephens

AFF: First of all, a big hats-off on joining the AFF board of trustees. Can you share what drew you to AFF?

JS: I was attracted to AFF because of AFF’s mission and good work and the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation’s partnership with USDA’s Climate Smart Commodities Program.

AFF: We seek out and highly value diverse perspectives. Given your wealth of life experiences, professional skills and unique knowledge, what distinct perspectives would you say you contribute to our mission?

JS: The perspective I contribute to AFF’s mission is my many years of engagement with historically underserved landowners and communities and empowering them to be the change they want to see.

AFF: As an individual with considerable expertise in the forestry field, which facets of our mission do you think we need to emphasize and address with urgency in the upcoming years?

JS: The focus on empowering family forest landowners is the part of AFF’s mission I embrace the most. Consequently, I believe AFF should place emphasis on diversity among landowners, as well as among its staff. For example, does AFF have the persons on its team to engage with diverse groups of landowners to encourage them to sustainably manage their forested lands and to participate in the carbon market?

AFF: Often, the road to a career in forestry seems like uncharted terrain for many women of color. Do you have any words of encouragement or practical advice for other women of color embarking on a career in forestry or the study of forestry?

JS: My words of advice are “you’ve got this; don’t doubt yourself.” I believe that the leadership skills that women of color (or women in general) demonstrate in their homes, houses of worship and/or social organizations are transferable. Identify and use your strengths and talents, then surround yourself with people you trust who are (1) strong in the areas in which you are weak/lacking and (2) display your values. When women of color do rise to leadership positions, there are often no mentors within the organizations to whom they can turn, so they may have to seek a mentor who is outside of their organization. Find a mentor with whom you can share the good, the bad and the ugly. This person may be working outside of your organization in a different field. Oftentimes, when sharing with your mentor, you will discover that what you are encountering is the norm rather than the exception. You’re doing much better than what others say and how you feel. Give yourself some grace; don’t panic. Be like the lil’ engine that could or the tortoise who beat the hare in the race. You’ve got this!

AFF: Lastly, just for fun, could you share your all-time favorite forest activity with our readers?

JS: My favorite activity is walking on forested land and enjoying the sounds of the many creatures that call the forest home.

Thank you to all of our board members for being an integral part of our mission to deliver meaningful conservation impact through the empowerment of family forest owners. Your unique stories remind us how individual perspectives and efforts can unite to create meaningful impact for America's family forests, our communities and the planet. Check back for our next post in the series as we continue this important dialogue.

American Forest Foundation

September 29, 2023

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