Feb 01, 2018 09:00AM
Photo by Tony Lewis Jr.
Founder and Director of the Chesapeake Ecology Center and environmental activist and organizer, Zora Lathan recalls spending a great deal of her childhood in Illinois in the great outdoors. “My father was a self-styled naturalist who would take me and my three brothers camping on serious trips. We’d go for a week or so and it was pitch your own tent, no frills, and no modern-day conveniences,” Zora reminisces, “That was just a wonderful joy. I loved being in the outdoors and I still do.”
When Lathan left Illinois, she initially moved to D.C. where she worked for the National Audubon Society in government affairs. While in the office she was talking with a colleague on the phone and he rang out, “There goes a heron” and “There goes an egret.” Lathan, of course, was curious about her colleague’s location and learned that he was renting a home in Highland Beach. He told her a bit about the bay-front Annapolis enclave and its history and Lathan was intrigued. She and her husband went to see the community first-hand and immediately fell in love. They built their home on the very property they viewed on their first visit. “It was wooded, on Black Walnut Creek, and across from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation land,” Lathan muses.
While there are only 83 homes in the cottage community, Lathan has made her mark raising funding and installing four raingardens, a rainscaping pocket park, two additional raingardens on the beach front, and a living shoreline. Lathan and her husband William Sanders, who is mayor of Highland Beach, also completely greened the community’s town hall, which is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certified. “We have zero utilities and we are actually feeding energy back to the grid with our solar panels,” Lathan explains.
Greening the greater community too, Lathan educates youth at the Chesapeake Ecology Center, which she founded in 2002. Located on a ten-acre waterfront campus at Mary Moss at J. Albert Adams Academy in Annapolis, the CEC’s gardens and groves were hand-planted by the thousands of students who have been educated about ecology and conservation landscaping practices for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Students in grades K–12, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and college, and countless other groups have passed through the CEC’s programming but Lathan says her biggest compliment came from a conversation she overheard. “Two women were looking at a map of the CEC gardens and one said, ‘My nephew attends the school and he comes home and talks about the butterfly garden, and the forest buffer, and the rain garden. And he is so excited about learning.’ That was music to my ears,” Lathan says. “You couldn’t pay me a better compliment.”
In addition to educating through the CEC, Lathan also co-wrote a book entitled Ecoscaping Back to the Future. “The book may be the most impactful thing I’ve done,” Lathan says. “It has been used by Anne Arundel County, the City of Annapolis, Master Gardeners, and many other garden and environmental groups.”
When Lathan reflects on her inspiration, she loosely quotes Ghandi who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” She firmly believes that being an example to youngsters and students is one of the best things you can do.
While she hopes to leave behind an improved world, Lathan also hopes that her efforts have influenced students and inspired them to learn.