As the curator of large carnivores at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and black man in the zoo area, I have long been keenly aware of the dearth of black and brown faces in my chosen field. After years of thinking about what I could do to try to remedy this situation, I finally decided, as my mother told me growing up, “to stop talking about it and just focus on it. “. So I gathered a handful of colleagues from the national zoo and together we created the Association of Professionals of Minority Zoos and Aquariums (AMZAP). AMZAP was born out of a desire to take concrete action to effect the change that we have long wanted to see in our field. We created AMZAP, with the simple mission of seeking to increase the representation of minorities in the field of zoos and aquariums. To work on this mission, we have identified two main objectives: (1) to build a national network of zoo and aquarium professionals, especially those from racial and ethnic minorities. This network was intended to be a source of community for minorities in the field and to enable these professionals of color to become visible representations and even mentors for the next generation of potential zoo and aquarium professionals; and (2) allow minorities interested in zoo careers, but who can rarely imagine themselves in this role, to see examples of people who look like them and who look like them doing their dream jobs, hopefully encouraging the, more minorities to apply and work in the zoo and aquarium field.
I find it hard to believe that AMZAP is now over six months old and that we have inspired nearly 300 zoo and aquarium professionals across the country. We are fortunate to have members who fill a wide variety of positions, from education specialist and animal care staff to photographers, vets and even managers! We also have members who represent a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, Black, White, Hispanic, and Biiracial or Multiracial members.
Our network of professionals work together to achieve our mission through four pillars, which are networking, outreach, mentoring and professional development. AMZAP members demonstrate that minorities do not only exist in this area, but that we excel and do amazing things every day!
For example, one of our AMZAP Steering Committee members, Jenn Donato, is Registrar at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. There are a lot of details that Jenn’s work centers on that we could all miss. She makes sure we follow all rules and regulations, while keeping records of every animal in the zoo. Jenn is of Asia-Pacific descent and sees herself as an example to other Asian girls and women who love science and want to explore a field that may be unknown on their own.
And Carly Hornberger, member of the AMZAP steering committee. Carly is an animal sitter at the Smithsonian National Zoo who has Native American heritage based in the Oneida tribe. Carly has always been proud of her heritage, but has struggled to find an outlet to express her heritage in an area where few share her cultural background. Since joining AMZAP, Carly has been able to build her network and connect with professionals from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian as well as zoos across the country, and she has found a fantastic outlet for her cultural expression!
Many pillars of AMZAP focus on supporting minority professionals who are already in the zoo and aquarium business. Our professional development program provides educational resources and opportunities for our members, including scholarships and sponsorships for conferences and other organizations. Our mentoring program connects people who are hoping to join the field or get promoted with a mentor who is an experienced professional. AMZAP’s networking program connects individuals with one another across the country.
Additionally, one of AMZAP’s main goals is to show others, especially students and aspiring zoo professionals, that there are people who are and look like them, including Jenn, Carly and me, in the field. We hope to inspire others to enter the zoo and aquarium business and know that any career is open to them.
We reach our target audience through our outreach program. We use social media, including Facebook and Instagram, to demonstrate that there are minorities on the ground and to amplify their stories. We reach an average of 30,000 viewers each month and we can share the stories of our various members. Different AMZAP members joined after seeing our social media posts and realizing that they are not alone in the field. We had a professional comment that they thought they were the only Filipino zookeeper – now they are in touch with other Filipino animal keepers from all over the country!
Our outreach program also includes holding presentations at schools and universities. During a career presentation hosted by AMZAP for students at the University of Puerto Rico, a student said she never knew there were Boricuas working in zoos on the mainland. We had two Puerto Rican AMZAP members leading this conference (a curator and a vet) and this student said she never knew these options were there for people like her. Our programs can include a single speaker or a panel of speakers. We can focus on a range of topics from career paths to general discussions about animals and science. And our members are excited to speak to groups of all ages and academic levels.
We really encourage anyone interested in an outreach presentation to contact us so that we can organize a presentation for your school or academic group. We also have a variety of zoo and aquarium resources available on our website. Students can learn about different careers, how to enter the field, and learn about different minority professionals, who are currently working in different fields. High school students can also connect with professionals through our mentoring program.
AMZAP has had a big impact in many lives, including mine. I started this group because of my own desire to meet more professionals who are like me and to see more black people entering my chosen field. I hadn’t realized how much the whole minority community in the zoo and aquarium business wanted the same thing. I was even more encouraged by the support given to this effort by the entire Smithsonian community. With the support of the zoo community, as well as the Smithsonian family, AMZAP has a bright future! We hope that your students will be inspired by the various faces that they can see through AMZAP and that they can see themselves working in a zoo or aquarium in the future.
You can find more information about AMZAP on our website, amzap.org, or on social media on Facebook and Instagram. You can also write to us at [emailÂ protected] with all questions. We hope to hear from you!