Until now, I have tried to ensure that my Posts from the Collections focus solely on the extraordinary beauty of plants that can, in every season, lift our souls. But, for all of the magnificence to be found in the natural world and at the Arnold Arboretum, this season demands that we focus intensely on the human world. Today, I believe it is important to acknowledge that nature cannot be an escape from the realities of systemic racism and the extraordinary death toll caused by a pandemic coupled with grossly inequitable health outcomes for people of color.
I encourage all of you to continue to come to the Arnold Arboretum to find solace and inspiration. But, I ask, as you take in Frederick Law Olmsted’s magnificent landscape—the soaring majesty of the trees, the amazing representation of biodiversity from around the globe, the startling beauty of the natural world to be found in a single flower—that you also reflect hard upon why so many do not similarly enjoy this privilege. While the Arboretum is free and open to all, that does not mean it is accessible or comfortable to all. We need only look to the seemingly simple act of birding in Olmsted’s Central Park at the end of last month.
As a country, we face a reckoning with the devastating effects of more than 400 years of racial, social, economic, and environmental injustice that continue to be baked into the very foundations of our public spaces, educational systems, cities, states, and indeed our republic. The Arnold Arboretum, like many of Olmsted’s designed public spaces, was founded on the premise that everyone has a fundamental right to be inspired and educated by nature, and that such institutions are essential to true democracy. All of us at the Arnold Arboretum know we must do more to ensure that all feel welcome in this peaceful landscape. We will endeavor to listen and learn, reflect deeply on our foundational ideals, and do all that we can to give real and abiding weight to these democratic values of inclusion. Now, more than ever before, we must rise to the challenge.
William (Ned) Friedman
Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Director of the Arnold Arboretum