High SchoolProspect Hill Academy, 2019
Undergraduate EducationB.S. in Environmental Science and Statistics from Colby College, 2023
Kenny Douyon spent much of his early life with one foot planted in the U.S. and one in Haiti. The son of Caribbean immigrants, Kenny was two years old when he and his family immigrated to the U.S., but his mother’s desire to keep Kenny connected with his roots meant that he spent several summers in Haiti through age 9. The 2010 Haiti earthquake and subsequent political instability have prevented further trips back, but Kenny’s longing to set foot once again on the land of his birth is palpable.
Kenny experienced at an early age some of the environmental disparities between the U.S. and Haiti. But with a keen eye for the sociological and political complexities of environmental policy and practice, he is quick to brush off the overly simplistic characterization of Haiti’s environmental challenges that often show up in popular American literature. “In Haiti, people are very conscious of water usage. I would be bathing with water from a bucket and walking a long way to the nearest well, whereas in the U.S. I’d be taking long hot showers. Haiti’s environmental reality and its limited access to clean water are in part a reflection of its political system and history. They have prioritized economic development and tourism but have not elevated environmental preservation and management. On the other hand, in Haitian villages, they grow their own food and draw water out of the ground from wells with their own hands. In the U.S. we have conservation programs and agencies like the National Park Service, but we don’t know how our food gets to our plate or water into our pipes. My grandmother’s methods of growing food, of conserving water, are all vivid memories that have influenced the way I live now.”
Kenny’s observations of these disparities in water management, especially as it relates to potable water, fueled his interest in environmental sustainability. During his freshman year of high school, a chance encounter with a National Park Service ambassador at a career fair led to multiple years of internships with the NPS, including the TIOBEC Green Ambassadors program and Stewards of the Future program. Through these programs, Kenny supported NPS efforts to give underrepresented communities a greater sense of access, ownership, and belonging in green spaces like the Boston Harbor Islands. “The Green Ambassadors program really transformed how I see myself in the environmental practitioner space. The summer before Green Ambassadors, I hadn’t encountered many people that looked like me in the environmental field. I was discouraged and thought about leaving the field. Jay Esty, the Green Ambassadors program manager, acknowledged this and empowered me to stay. That summer, as part of the program’s mission, he brought youth from the Greater Boston area to Thompson Island to embark on various outdoor recreation activities. This was new to me. For the first time, I experienced how diverse and complex environmentalism could be, ranging from the study of invasive species to conservation education to learning about leave no trace principles. Here, I experienced the way in which the natural world is precious and how its preservation requires the scholarship and passion of us all, not just White people who have historically dominated this space. Having found my sense of belonging thanks to Green Ambassadors and other NPS sponsored programming, I am motivated to diversify the outdoors so that others can find theirs.”
Kenny has continued to thrive by surrounding himself with a network of like-minded peers and mentors. Having built an impressive resume through high school, he was accepted to Colby College through the prestigious QuestBridge program, which provides full-tuition scholarships to students from low-income backgrounds. Combined with the support from the Thoreau Foundation, Kenny has been able to pursue his passion for environmental sustainability without the burden of student debt constraining his choices. “I’m grateful for the financial support, without a doubt,” Kenny says. “But more than that, I’m grateful for my QuestBridge cohort and the network of peers and mentors I’ve developed as a Thoreau Scholar. The Thoreau Foundation semesterly reports I’ve prepared have provided a welcome space to reflect on where I am now and where I envision myself in the future. I’m thankful to Jen and Jackie who have been there in so many ways, exposing me to different pathways in environmentalism, supporting me through the stressors of college life, especially at a predominantly White institution, and ultimately showing me the light at the end of the tunnel and encouraging me to persevere. My successes are a result of my relationships and I hope to reciprocate the kindness shown to me to the next generation of scholars.”
What’s next for Kenny? A Master’s program in environmental science at Villanova University, where he plans to dig more deeply into the environmental justice issues that he saw on display during the COVID-19 pandemic, when disparities in access to healthy environments and green space were thrown into relief. “I’m really interested in the intersectionality of social injustices and environmental health,” he says. “Agriculture, water accessibility, heat exposure, forecasting environmental risk…I want to fill in the information gap by providing this information to communities who can’t conduct their own research.” Kenny has received a graduate assistantship and plans to continue exposing himself to different disciplines, people, and areas in Philadelphia.