By Bethaney Wilkinson

I grew up in middle Georgia, raised in an African American farm family in the South. A big part of my upbringing involved everything that comes with farming, from picking up sticks in preparation for planting to ending our holidays early because the goats were in labor. The importance of the land, land ownership, and land stewardship are in my blood.

I have worked as a writer, facilitator, and spiritual director throughout my career. It has often meant finding the “heartbeat” of those I have encountered—that is, what is happening, how to draw out the very best of what and who people are, and what they hope to do. As I begin my work with SFLR, I feel an incredible intersection between the Network’s mission, my organizational development experiences, and my passion for community-based work, grounded in the roots of my life in a rural place.

I am new to SFLR, but I believe my role as its first executive director is that of convener and point person. In undertaking this responsibility, listening, and learning are my highest priorities. As I become more familiar with the Network and my position, it is my hope that we can smooth out some of the transitional challenges that often accompany the growth and expansion of such an important and thriving organization.

I’m eager to work alongside the people who have been carrying the mantle of SFLR for many years as we respond to the challenges and opportunities before us. SFLR’s legacy of collaboration and partnership on behalf of African American forest landowners serves as a solid foundation to build even greater alignment and connectedness between this uniquely positioned yet diverse and geographically dispersed Network.

Together, I believe we are cultivating the next phase of the SFLR Network’s legacy and discovering new ways to advance a sustainable support system for the landowners and communities we serve.