Conservation Diaries: Kia Hill, Storyteller of Black History and Administrator
Nicole: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Conservation Diaries, a National Park Service podcast. I am your host, Nicole Segnini. In these new episodes we are highlighting current young National Park Service employees who were once interns, fellows, volunteers, or part of a specialized program.
There are many ways young people can get involved with the National Park Service. And sometimes these youth programs may help you jumpstart your career as a full-time employee with the National Park Service.
We caught up with some employees who have made this jump to hear about their experiences and the advice they have for young people.
Our latest guest is Kia Hill, who I spoke with via videoconference. She is from the small town of Greensboro, Alabama, and majored in Business Administration with a concentration in Management at Concordia College Alabama.
When she was a junior there was a moment where she considered changing her college career path... until an interesting opportunity came along.
Kia: And so my advisor got word of it and he was like, "oh gosh, no, no, no, no. I'm going to get you an internship." And I was like, "okay, cool."
Nicole: And that internship was at the National Park Service with the Greening Youth Foundation, one of our partners.
Since 2009, Greening Youth Foundation has worked with the National Park Service to provide meaningful, interesting, and challenging career pathways to young people from diverse backgrounds. The Foundation’s interns serve in every capacity of resource management across the different National Park Service sites, from cultural resources and interpretation to biological sciences, engineering, business, and more.
Kia became a cultural resource intern for the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. Before this internship, Kia didn’t know much about the National Park Service. But she told me that since day one, she was all in.
Kia: I fell in love with telling the story about the voting rights movement. I fell in love with talking to different people and from all over the world. I mean the story itself is so rich and it's so fulfilling, and I really enjoyed it. I did a lot of research. I worked on a lot of projects. I met tons of celebrities [laughs]. So yeah, it was mind blowing. It was a mind-blowing experience, and I am super grateful to have had that experience.
Nicole: The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail commemorates the people, events, and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March in Alabama. Visitors can learn about this history and trace the events of these marches along the 54-mile trail.
Kia’s job was to interpret the site’s themes to visitors. And she told me the most rewarding part was being able to connect with them.
Kia: I have a friend from Wisconsin, she's my friend now. She came down to the trail in 2017 and she was crying as I was telling her the story. I console her and gave her a tissue and we've been friends since 2017 and we write each other, email each other. And I feel like that's what it's about. It's about making that connection with people when you're telling a story, whatever you're doing within your internship. For me, it was connecting, making that connection with people.
Nicole: After Kia completed her internship, which she did while also attending college, she was able to get her Public Land Corps hours. The noncompetitive hiring authority can help you get a foot on the door of federal jobs.
After she graduated from college in 2018 Kia received a call, on her birthday, offering her a job as a park guide at the same site she had fallen in love with.
So, she began working at Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, full-time.
During her time at the historic trail, as both an intern and a park guide, Kia saw the importance of telling these stories, of crucial moments in America’s history, and especially having a Black woman doing so. She told me she felt empowered to go harder and continue to be a truthful storyteller. She believes everyone should learn about Black history from the achievements, contributions, and historical journeys of Black people and their central role in US history, to the complex and painful stories and events.
Kia: These are events that happened. These events are real, and these events happened not too long ago. And we have to not forget that these events happened because it's a part of our history and it's vital to us. And I feel like if you don't tell these stories, you will forget... For instance, I have, or I had, young kids, students from elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, they would come in and let me know that they're not being taught this in school. Ans so that right there made me feel like, okay, I need to, I have to, what else can I do? What else can I do to inform these kids about the history that took place? That is so important to me, that is so important to me.
Nicole: Kia thinks that while our job at the National Park Service is to preserve and protect the sites and the history, it also our jobs to be truthful when telling these stories and to be genuine.
Kia believes it’s vital that the National Park Service continues to work hard to become more inclusive and diverse. She told me there should be more people like her in these spaces, in these jobs, because it is important for them to be those storytellers, to be able to tell their story and make sure nothing is left behind.
She also told me she felt compelled to become a role model for young Black kids, so they can see themselves represented in the National Park Service.
Kia: I remember I did this event in Selma, this Jubilee event. And there was an African American family that approached me, and they told me, "I've never seen a Black park ranger before. And my daughter would like to take a picture with you." And I was like, "of course," and that really touched my heart. And it made me think that, okay, what can I do to increase diversity, inclusion, equity, all that good stuff? Yeah, so, that also put a fire under me too, by attending career fairs, internship fairs, talking in the community with our peers, attending friend group meetings. That is our job to connect with these communities. We want to see more people of color in the Park Service. So, it's like, okay, what can I do? What can we do to increase this?
I mean. You can be whatever you want to be, in this world, in this life. You can be whatever you want to be. And I think it's important for young Black kids to see me in this uniform, in this Park Service, because I'm that kid. You know, they can be me as well. And I feel like for me, it's my job to do whatever I can to get them in here. It's my job to leave these doors open for them to walk through because somebody left the door open for me to walk through.
Nicole: Right now, Kia is in a different role at two of the newest parks in the National Park System. She is the secretary for the superintendent at both the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument located in Alabama.
The Freedom Riders National Monument includes the former Greyhound Bus Station located where segregationists attacked a bus carrying civil rights activists known as “Freedom Riders” in May of 1961. It also includes the spot six miles away on the side of the highway where they firebombed the hobbled bus and attempted to trap the Freedom Riders inside of it.
The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument which was established in 2017, features roughly four city blocks in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, where a lot of young Black youth participated in civil rights protesting during the 1950s and 60s.
Kia: So, a lot of prominent figures like Dr., I'm sorry, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Dr. King, they were at the A.G. Gaston Motel. So that's our site, that is currently closed right now. They held meetings there. They strategized there and worked on Project C. It's a lot of rich history here in Birmingham, Alabama, and we are excited about opening soon. It's important for people to come out and view this history to see the A.G. Gaston Motel, because this happened not too long ago. And it's super, super vital for people to learn about. And like I said before, some of this history is not in history books for kids to learn about. However, it is our job to tell these stories and to make sure they learn about it for all ages. For all ages. It's a true gem to the city of Birmingham.
Nicole: As an administrator Kia moves and transfer funds. She handles record management, which includes ensuring that the essential records are organized and maintained so that they can easily be retrieved. She also designates a record copy of each document, product, or other record and keep it in an official file. She handles property management and fleet, does employees’ timecards making sure everyone gets paid, and more. Administration supports everything. It provides resources, funding, logistics, and the behind-the-scenes work that allows a park to run smoothly and conservation to happen.
Kia: I love my job. When I got here last year, I literally did not want to go home. I enjoyed it so much. And at first it was a little difficult for me to adjust doing administration work because I did interpretation for so long. And I was talking to people every single day and on my feet every single day, versus me being at work behind a computer, it was a little hard to adjust. But I have amazing mentors that coach me through these new systems that I work with every single day. And I have amazing colleagues that I get to see every single day. And I'm telling you, I really enjoy it. I truly enjoy my job.
Nicole: Kia will continue to tell these key stories of Black history, of American history and be a role model for Black youth. She also has some advice for young people, especially from underrepresented communities, and that is to have faith in their skills and know that their voices matter and are needed in both the conservation field and the National Park Service.
Kia: For me, I feel like it's about us getting out there and getting into the communities, going to the career fairs, going to the high schools, that's our target audience. So, it's about informing them about the Park Service and asking them what they want to do in life and letting them know that you can do interpretation, administration, facility management, project management...
And honestly, apply...apply to those jobs. My mentor, I remember, he was like, "never feel like you don't possess the knowledge or capability skills for this job. Always apply." I was like, "OK." [laughs]. You know, apply! That's what I would tell them. Make sure you apply. I don't care what the job is. If you're interested, apply! You never know what may happen.
Nicole: Find out more online about the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument at nps.gov/BICR. About the Freedom Riders National Monument at nps.gov/FRRI. And about the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail at nps.gov/SEMO. These sites preserve and highlight the untold stories and remarkable stories of African Americans in history, stories that we all should learn about.
And remember, in these new episodes of Conservation Diaries, we are highlighting young National Park Service staff, like Kia, whose National Park Service journeys started as volunteers, fellows, interns, or as part of a special program.
To learn more about these jobs, internships, and volunteering opportunities, you can go to nps.gov/youthprograms.
Thank you for listening!
Meet Kia Hill, the secretary for the superintendent of Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and the Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama. Before landing this job, Kia was an intern and a park ranger at Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. Learn more about Kia’s journey to the National Park Service and her passion for storytelling and being a role model for Black youth.