- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009


Hermes Castro, 30, of San Diego, has been in a wheelchair since September 2006, when he sustained a spinal injury in a head-on collision with a vehicle while he was on a bicycle. But he refused to let his handicap stop him. During an expedition in March, Mr. Castro became the first man in a wheelchair to explore Antarctica.

Now he is telling his story and encouraging others, particularly minorities, to join the green movement and reduce the U.S. carbon footprint.

Mr. Castro will be a featured speaker during a conference called Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors Wednesday through Saturday in Atlanta, where he will share his love of nature and discuss what needs to be done to preserve its beauty.

“If I can make this trip [to Antarctica] without the use of my legs, then people can get motivated to do their part to lower their carbon footprint,” he said.

Organizers hope people of all colors will be “going green” following the conference. The sold-out event will encourage minorities to join the green movement and raise awareness of the public lands system.

“We are going to diversify the green community,” said Audrey Peterman, 59, an executive producer of the conference.

Mrs. Peterman’s husband, 72-year-old Frank Peterman, is the other organizer. The couple say they want to open the eyes of mainstream green advocates.

“Our number one goal is to create a different conversation about the environment in America,” Mrs. Peterman said. “The movement is inclusive of all Americans, and [we want to show] the diversity and encourage others to get involved.”

According to Mrs. Peterman, there is a prevailing stereotype in the United States that people of color are afraid of the outdoors. The conference will showcase people of color and their stories of outdoor adventure and exploration to prove that everyone can be interested in the environment.

“Our planet depends on how we learn about environmental issues,” Mr. Castro said. “We have to move forward if we want to survive.”

The Mexican native said he was invited on the Antarctica trip earlier this year by Sir Robert Swan of the United Kingdom after meeting the polar explorer and environmental leader at an event at Mesa College in San Diego, where Mr. Castro studies hydrogeology.

Mr. Castro moved with his family to the United States when he was 10 years old. The former personal trainer married a U.S. citizen in December 2002, and following the accident, he received citizenship and was able pursue higher education. His wife, Sarah, will accompany him at the Atlanta conference.

He stressed that education and a good attitude are important when it comes to environmental issues.

The conference is taking place just before the release of Ken Burn’s six-part documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which will air on PBS stations beginning Sept. 27.

“We want to raise awareness of the public land system to the people of color,” Mrs. Peterman said.

The Petermans also are releasing this week a book they co-authored, “Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care.” The book tells of their personal experience with public lands and their passion for the environment.

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