Charles Thomas

Charles Thomas is a rarity among African Americans as he is a man with a long history of firsts in promoting diversity and inclusion in the outdoor world.

In the early eighties, he was the first person of color in the history of Southern Oregon University to graduate with dual degrees in Physical Geography and Environmental Studies.  While at the university, he fought tirelessly with the administration to diversify its student body. Ultimately, the administration created the Minority Student Program, for which Charles became the chief recruiter.

Also while at the university Charles created the Third World Union, a club for American minorities and students of color from around the world to share their common culture and experiences.  During his college years Charles approached the U.S. Forest Service and assisted in the design of a program that recruited African-American students into seasonal employment positions in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the state of Washington.

In graduate school Charles worked as a naturalist for the Los Angeles County Outdoor Schools where he wrote the section of the staff handbook on “how to work with ethnically diverse students.”  Later as an ecologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he was honored by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission for designing a program that introduced urban youth of color to the environmental work of the Army Corps.

Following his work at the Army Corps of Engineers, Charles became the City of Pasadena’s first Environmental Affairs Coordinator, managing the largest environmental restoration project in the history of the city.  Charles holds the distinction of being the principal author of the City of Pasadena’s Environmental Charter, a document that is used today to guide the city’s development and environmental initiatives.

Throughout his life his work has revolved around Outward Bound Adventures (OBA), where he worked seasonally and part-time for nearly 20 years, and worked full-time as Executive Director for 16 years. During that time he created several award-winning programs dedicated to enriching the lives of underserved urban populations, especially high-risk youth and their families, by introducing them to the therapeutic value of spending time in wild places and open spaces including our National Parks.

Over the years Charles has received numerous awards and recognition for his work- he has been a White House invitee, honored by his Congressman, honored by the State Senate, County Board of Supervisors, Board of Education, City Council and honored by numerous Community Base Organizations.  His favorite award so far has been the National Mosaic Conference Award given him in 2000, because it was given by a jury of his peers and the populations he serves.

Charles continues his tireless efforts to ensure all youth have access and opportunity to engage in meaningful nature based programs through his consulting work and his position with the National Park Service. Currently he is working on a book that will assist others in designing relevant youth programs that connect urban youth to nature.

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