Indian River Lagoon Community Engagement Coordinator Caleta Scott sits down with a very special guest — her father, Ronald Scott. As a Fort Pierce Florida native, Scott speaks of his experiences growing up as a Black nature-lover in the 1950s, and father and daughter discuss environmental accessibility through the years, fishing in the IRL, and tips on inspiring a love for the environment in children from a young age.

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[Audio transcription via Rev.com]

Episode Speakers:

Caleta Scott, Southern IRL Community Engagement Coordinator

Ronald Scott, Fort Pierce Native

 

Duane DeFreese: Hi, I am Duane DeFreese, executive director of the IRL Council and the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. Welcome to our One Lagoon, One Voice podcast. 

Each week, myself or one of my staff members will host leaders in the community, scientists along the lagoon, people who know a lot about the system, to talk about some of the problems, and most importantly, some of the solutions to solve the Indian River Lagoon’s health and make sure it’s great for future generations. 

If you enjoy hearing us talk about the Lagoon, like and subscribe to this podcast. So, let’s get the show started, and let’s talk a little lagoon.

Caleta Scott: Greetings and peace. Welcome to One Lagoon, One Voice. I’m Caleta Scott and I’ll be hosting today’s podcast as one of three community engagement coordinators. My education background is not environmental science, but I’m very experienced in engaging community and advocating for those who haven’t always had the opportunity to be at the table. 

So today we’re going to talk about perspective on access and the importance of fostering a love of the environment. Our guest today was born and raised a Black man in Fort Pierce in the fifties. He’s done everything from pick oranges in the groves, be a gas station attendant on Avenue D in Fort Pierce to skateboarding down the Citrus Bridge — and that’s not allowed. He even jumped off Little Jim before there was a sign that said you can’t jump. A lover of nature and all things Fort Pierce, please welcome my go-to for life hacks, funny jokes and financial advice. My dad, Ronald Scott.

Ronald Scott: Hi Caleta. Hey, thank you so much for the opportunity to share in this access in our environment. And just for the record. Just go on the record to say, you are my favorite daughter

Caleta Scott: And I just want to say that I am his only daughter.

Ronald Scott: Yes.

Caleta Scott: Still to this day. All right. I learned something on NPR as always, and this was a story from 2018. It was about the comic strip “Peanuts” and the first Black character Franklin as he turned 50. It was interesting to learn that Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination is what prompted Charles Schultz to create a Black character, but he was really unsure of how to introduce him. Would you believe that he was swimming at a beach and found Charlie Brown’s beach ball? How is that for access? So dad, you were 10 years old when Franklin debuted in 1968. Tell me what you remember about growing up in Fort Pierce around that time.

Ronald Scott: What I don’t remember first is that I don’t remember the introduction of Franklin. I was an avid comic book reader and it was a totally different theme. At that age it was very clear to me that there was a clear division in our community, Blacks and whites, and there were certain boundaries that we were, we just didn’t really have an opportunity to go certain places. 

But it didn’t limit me from doing a lot of things that I thought was necessary because our community had all kinds of activities for us to do growing up in a safe environment at that time. But being 10 years old, there was a lot of civil rights activities going on and it was very confusing a little bit as to why for me as a 10-year-old kid, why people felt certain ways. But we managed to get through it with love from our families.

Caleta Scott: What kind of things did you do?

Ronald Scott: Some of the stuff that we would do as kids, and we had our bicycles and we didn’t always have a nice bicycle, but we would get stuck and make our own bicycles. And at some point we got some decent bicycles so we can ride downtown. And what we would do, our parents didn’t really want us to go too far to the community. So downtown, just on the other side of the US 1, we would push the boundaries like going to places like, not further east in Avenue A where the JC Penney was. And there was some stores down there that we would just kind of frequent but not really go hang out in.

And we would ride by stickers. And of course skateboarding down the big bridge over there, going over the railroad tracks. And also the southernmost boundary was what is known today as Moore’s Creek. We were very adamant that we would stay in the environment, but we were being boys 10, 12 years old. We were a little rambunctious and we would test the boundaries oftentimes and going to areas that we were not supposed to. Thank God we never got in any real trouble from the different communities. But it was fun. It was fun.

Caleta Scott: That’s good. That’s good. What are some of your other memories being out in nature?

Ronald Scott: Well, back to Moore’s Creek. At that time when we were growing up, just briefly, it had water in it. There were like little crayfish in there. There were fish in there that were not the kind you would just go eat, but there was a lot of life in that creek at that time. But mostly my father had a brother and sister who had a lot of kids and they were my cousins. And we would go out in the country, which is out Okeechobee Road, west of town in the Shinn Road area. 

There was an abundance of orange groves at that time. And being boys, we get a BB guns and our rifles, those who were old enough to have 22s and we would just go for hours walking in the groves and all the different palmetto groves and stuff like that because it was an abundance of trees and stuff like that that had all type of wildlife, alligators, raccoons, rabbits, birds, and some we hunted.

Caleta Scott: So I’ve seen some pictures of you and our family at the beach when you were as young as like eight or nine, and I know that beaches in Florida were defacto segregated in the early sixties. So what do you remember about those days and where were you in that picture?

Ronald Scott: I think it had to be possibly a beach over in Tampa, which diversity was a lot different in Tampa. But back to our part of the state and Fort Pierce, we would go to the Frederick Douglas also known, it was known then as the Colored Beach. We didn’t really, I don’t think it had any signage at that time, identifying as Frederick Douglas, but that’s where we would go to the beach, take that long trip down A1A South. But I remember the families, it was just so many different families and before they put the, what do you call those things with the cover on them?

Caleta Scott: Pavilions.

Ronald Scott: They was just like benches out there and we didn’t need umbrellas and stuff like that. But it was a bunch of families and everybody’s barbecuing. You had R&B music from the Motown and everybody just having just a good time. Kids played with each other, families played with each other. And of course there was the beach. Part of the beach back then as a kid, it was very rocky right off the edge of the beach. Especially at low tide, it was very rocky and unbeknownst to us that was part of the reef. The reef, as you know, is very abundance of life, and there were lobster there. Didn’t know about that until several years later.

But I remember at some point some small kids would step into some of the coral heads and get their feet stuck and the parents would’ve to come and get them out before the tide came back up. Of course we would get scratched up from falling because of salt water on the wounds, you wouldn’t feel it until you actually got out and your parents said, Hey, what happened to you?

Caleta Scott: So talking about parents, what was it like the dynamic with Grammy and Granddaddy explaining to you what was going on? What was it like to have their guidance during that time?

Ronald Scott: Well, thankfully my parents were very loving for us and they didn’t want anything to happen. But what they did not do helped in our mind separate us from what was going on. They made sure that we were aware of what was going on, but they never really taught us not to dislike people who were… Like on the TVs you would see stuff. They never taught us that just, Hey, look, just be careful where you go. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t get yourself in unnecessary trouble.

And thankfully, because of the upbringing of teaching, it made me a better person. And I only had one sister, but my sister didn’t go places. But I was a little boy, we had our little crew about four of us, and we never really thankfully got in any real trouble because back then, if we were in an area where we were not supposed to be, the police would ask… If the police had to intervene, they would bring us home to our parents.

Caleta Scott: Thankfully.

Ronald Scott: And that was what we feared. Having someone of authority, bringing us home, telling our parents what we were doing or where we were not supposed to be.

Caleta Scott: That was scary, right?

Ronald Scott: That was scary.

Caleta Scott: So here’s another little fact I learned. It was 1953 and Florida House Democrat, Jack Mashburn created the first beach set aside for Blacks in Florida, and that was two years before Brown versus Board of Education. He lost his seat right after that. Not a surprise, but he believed that he should always do what is right regardless of the personal consequences. I thought that was a good thing to know that here we are celebrating 70 years of Black access to the beach. In what ways, dad, did your love for the environment influence your daily life and choices, even if it didn’t have anything to do with nature or being outdoors?

Ronald Scott: Well, like I said earlier, I learned to respect the environment when it comes down to having fun. We didn’t really destroy any of nature. We even had gardens and stuff like that growing up. So that environment in our daily life was very important that we fostered and make sure that our communities were as best that we can get them. When we left Fort Pierce and moved to Tampa, which is a much more diverse place there and traveling there, being just north of the tropical belt of Florida, you can see different things that are growing. Going across Highway 60, you can see the change in the environment gradually going northwest.

So it was just watching and observing all the cattle on Highway 60 and the canals and how things were structured. It really got me an opportunity to say there’s a lot of different things just going across the state of Florida from Fort Pierce to Tampa. It was a beautiful thing to see back in those days, the amount of cabbage palms and the different type of prairies and stuff like that. So it was a beautiful thing because of course we didn’t have music in the car, so you had to pay attention to the environment when you’re on a road trip.

Caleta Scott: No music in the car. Sounds crazy. So we moved to Miami and I remember coming back and forth to the beach. Tell me a little bit about how living in Miami… For me, it was a big deal as far as school and education wise, but what did it do as far as access down there?

Ronald Scott: First, there were much more employment opportunities for a young guy and a young family to make a decent salary so that it gave my wife and I, Karen, an opportunity to give you access to a lot more that would have been exposed to at that time growing up in Fort Pierce. Stuff like I got into scuba diving, open water fishing, deep seas down in the middle, and lower Keys and remembrance of some of the trips we would take on the boats playing golf, softball. So by me having access that by default gave you access to a lot more things that were in the community that were readily available for you.

Caleta Scott: Yeah, we took advantage of all that. Thank you. Thank you. And I also remember living in Miami, but coming back to Fort Pierce every weekend for a whole long time. What was that about?

Ronald Scott: Yeah, yeah. Growing up on the beach in Fort Pierce and then going to Miami and particularly Miami Beach and people were talking about how wonderful the Miami Beach was, it was just like a shock to us to see so many people gathered together on a weekend for the beach and it was just not comfortable with that many people. Chairs, stepping over umbrellas. Coming back to Fort Pierce was a wonderful experience to see the difference and how you can enjoy a beach with not a lot of people. You can go to the beach in Fort Pierce at any given time and be the only person or only group of people, small groups of people there in a much more enjoyable experience.

Caleta Scott: Yes, I agree. It’s still like that today, thankfully. So did you ever turn around when we were at the beach and look at the other body of water like the Indian River Lagoon?

Ronald Scott: Short answer is no. We had to cross over the river. We didn’t notice the Indian River at that time, but we remember crossing over that and being excited to get to the other part of the water. But looking back over it, I do remember some things. Like I said, we referred to it as a river. My dad loved to fish and we would go fishing off the seawall just north of the south bridge before the new bridge was erected. And it was a flat span across, had a catwalk.

So what I remember is that there were an abundance of fish and my father would just love the opportunity to catch a big fish. And we found out that there were several mammoth groupers are what they’re called, and some of them go up to two or 300 pounds. And I remember once at that location on the seawall that a guy hooked one and had to get a tow truck to pull it out. It was just that big. You couldn’t get it out of the water with the tackle that he had. But I’ll never forget that as a kid, seeing a truck back up to the seawall and pulling a fish, it was just a mind-blown experience as a young kid.

Caleta Scott: That gives new meaning to there’s something in the water in Fort Pierce.

Ronald Scott: Yes.

Caleta Scott: So here’s a memory that I have and carry with me. I’m wondering, do you remember chaperoning my fifth grade field trip to the Everglades? It was about a week with my classmates and they absolutely loved you. You were a cool Black guy who knew about nature and really you showed up with compassion and responsibility and for some of those kids, you’re probably the first cool Black guy they ever talked to. Do you remember that?

Ronald Scott: I do. I kind of reflected on that and a lot of times hanging out with those kids and you and your friends, it gave me an opportunity to live out my youth. I did not live out that through them. But as part of the access that you had that there was an opportunity for you to experience something different, I wanted to make sure that you had that opportunity and be a part of that experience too. And those kids being…I just like being off the beaten path like I told you when I was young, I challenged the status quo, go places where not properly and being safe. Being safe is the key thing with kids and getting them the opportunity to go out into the Everglades and understand how that environment really worked. We saw like deer.

So getting them to understand being quiet as a bunch of boys in the woods was a challenge in itself. But once they realized that they could see so much more, that’s when I made it cool. I made it fun. I’m a disciplinarian, but in an activity like that, an experience like that, you want to give some flexibility and I really enjoyed that time.

Caleta Scott: Me too. So talking about growing up in Miami, that was really different than if I grew up in St. Lucie County. Was that part of the need to move?

Ronald Scott: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. There was not a lot of jobs that were desirable to have a young family. And part of that move to Miami was just one of those opportunities that came as a result of the technical training that I had with computer engineering and getting into electronics and intervention, medical device manufacturing, where it really made a difference in the financial status. We could have some things and have some fun, but yes, that was part of it. 

Wanted to get you out of an environment that was so small. And part of that was me not knowing the opportunities like in the River Lagoon community didn’t know about those things because I was not exposed to them at that time. But we eventually came back and took advantage of it.

Caleta Scott: Yes, yes. So it’s like you intentionally took me on boat trips in the Keys and fishing at the Miami River and up and down Fort Pierce to Frederick Douglas and Pepper Park my whole life so that I could also love the environment. Did you think that it would lead to something like me having this role?

Ronald Scott: I knew you were destined for something great. We knew, it was all the exposure that you had. I just didn’t know exactly what it would be. But it’s been a beautiful experience watching you blossom as a young lady and take on the responsibilities that you’ve encountered and do well in them. And knowing that if you got an opportunity to do something, you can exceed any and all expectations and you continue to do that even as a young youth.

Caleta Scott: Thank you for calling me young. I appreciate that. Very nice.

Ronald Scott: Even as a young girl, you were very responsible, you were very focused, and I knew there was something that you were destined to do and you are coming to your own now with all that background experience.

Caleta Scott: Thank you. I apparently loved Fort Pierce enough to move here, which was a big shock to you guys after living in Atlanta.

Ronald Scott: Yeah. When you were younger. I used to always kid you about becoming a government worker at some point, coming back to Fort Pierce, ultimately making an impact in the community and now making an impact on the environment. Did you ever see that happening when you were younger? How did you get to the point you are now working through some of the entities that you started off with?

Caleta Scott: Well, I think it started when I came to Fort Pierce to visit when I was a little bit older, when I was able to drive my own car and just seeing some of the disparities in the neighborhoods. I loved Fort Pierce and I thought it was so beautiful. And I saw Moore’s Creek and I saw Granny’s House and Grammy, and then I finally got a chance on my own to drive downtown and see what that was like. And I was like, this is beautiful, and drive myself over the bridge. It was like a wonderful thing. And it’s something that I felt that every Black person in Fort Pierce, or as many people of color, Black and people of color, that maybe didn’t realize they were living in paradise like I did, I got a chance to. So when I had the opportunity to come back to work for the city of Fort Pierce and then the Department of Health, I was able to understand the reasons why things were that way.

And I decided to not focus on the why and more so focus on the what now. So I really love the dual purpose that happens with me in this role because sometimes my sheer presence in the room shows that Blacks and people of color are inherently environmentally conscious. We have attended these lands for a long time, so we know all about it. But I also want people to know that we are in the water, we fish, we kayak, we swim. And if we’re not out there doing it, we have to be out there doing it to let others know that yes, it belongs to us. 

And also this role with the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program really gives me an opportunity to assist in bridging some communities to some of the resources that we’re going to have to offer and let them know that this Indian River Lagoon is theirs to love and joy and protect.

Ronald Scott: Wow, that’s awesome.

Caleta Scott: Yeah. Here’s a beautiful quote that I’ve found about access. 

It says, “You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people. You inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are theirs and their own, and that they must protect them.” That’s by Wangari Maathai. 

So for other parents, dad, who want to support their children’s passion for the environment or anything really, what advice would you give based on your own journey and experiences?

Ronald Scott: I think one of the important things for parents to consider is to allow the kids to go outside of their comfort zone. I mean, as a parent, you want to protect your children, but from certain things like that may be deemed to be dangerous. I jumped off bridges and stuff like that, not to that extent, but there’s so many other things. There’s parasailing, there’s learning how to operate sailboats, there’s snorkeling, kayaking, all those things that some families feel that they’re not comfortable with as parents, but allow their kids to take advantage of those opportunities that you already express that will be made available for them. I think that’s one of the things that parents should do or consider.

Caleta Scott: As a parent, myself and a grandparent, I think people should just get out there and don’t let the environment or lack of people who look like you or who don’t look like you deter you. Because if you don’t go, they won’t see you. And if you’re not seen, you’re not considered. So my advice is get out there. Take your kids out there, take your family out there, you deserve it because it’s yours. We have really outstanding partners at the NEP that have great educational programs that would surely benefit a number of our priority communities. We just need to make that connection. So really it’s about access and connection.

So if you are interested in connecting with future environmental stewards of the Indian River Lagoon, please reach out. We’d love to partner with more organizations who need access to this beautiful natural resource. 

So I want to thank my dad, Ronald Scott, for coming on the podcast to talk about his love for the environment and for being a little bit vulnerable in talking about this topic. I think it was a great way to achieve heightened public awareness and highlight the importance of everyone having access to the water. Because if they don’t know it, they won’t protect it. 

I just want to say, Dad, when you come up next week for your birthday, we’re going to go kayaking at Wildcat Cove. Are you ready?

Ronald Scott: It sounds like fun, you know I am.

Caleta Scott: I love it.

Ronald Scott: Thank you again.

Caleta Scott: I love it. Thank you. Thank you for talking to us today, Dad.

Ronald Scott: Love you.

Caleta Scott: Love you too.

If you enjoyed these discussions about the Indian River Lagoon, please like and subscribe to this podcast. To learn more about the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, how you can get involved in volunteer opportunities, tips on living lagoon friendly, or to support lagoon restoration by purchasing One Lagoon merchandise visit us at onelagoon.org.

Another great way to support lagoon restoration efforts is to purchase a newly redesigned Indian River Lagoon license plate, which has raised over $8 million for lagoon restoration since its inception. And to stay informed about lagoon news in upcoming events, follow us on Facebook and Instagram all at One Lagoon. I’d like to thank everyone again for listening.

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If you enjoyed our new episode, please feel free to share with your friends and family. Questions? Contact us today or connect with us on Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

Interested in doing your part? Make a donation to the IRL, purchase lagoon merchandise on our site or buy an IRL license plate today.

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