SARANAC LAKE — Tiffany Rea-Fisher has been hired by the Adirondack North Country Association as the new director for its Adirondack Diversity Initiative and is starting to travel around the Adirondacks, speaking with people along the way to carrying out the ADI’s goal — making the Adirondack region a more welcoming and inclusive place.
Rea-Fisher is ADI’s second director after it’s first, Nicole Hylton-Patterson, left ANCA in October 2022. After three years in the position, Hylton-Patterson left to take a job with a human services nonprofit in New York City, where she could be closer to family and take care of them.
Rea-Fisher currently splits her time between homes in both Harlem and Saranac Lake, but is moving to the North Country full-time in the coming months. She will begin her role on a part-time basis on Feb. 1, and transition to full-time on March 6. She will be based in ANCA’s office in downtown Saranac Lake.
Rea-Fisher has experience at the intersection of arts, activism and community organizing.
She currently serves as the director of the Lake Placid School of Dance and the executive artistic director of EMERGE125, a professional dance company with a focus on education and social justice that offers programs in Harlem and Lake Placid.
Rea-Fisher is the first woman of color to serve as director of the Lake Placid School of Dance and worked to increase staff diversity there.
“Kind of kismet”
Rea-Fisher said she’s been around people working with ADI and ANCA through the work she does with Martha Swan at John Brown Lives! and has talked with Hylton-Patterson in the past, but she never expected to hold a role like this.
“Every job that I’ve had I never expected I had it,” she said.
She lives life open to opportunities, she said.
“It was kind of kismet,” she said.
In October, a collaborator and friend of hers was at a We ACT gala in Harlem, where board members from JBL! and Adirondack Council were, too. They had mentioned that Hylton-Patterson was leaving the ADI and her friend threw out her name as a possible hire.
“She did a great job of hyping me up,” Rea-Fisher said.
A few days later, an email popped up in her inbox asking if she would like to apply for the position. As she went through the interview process and learned more about what the ADI does, she decided she did.
“With each interview I just got more and more excited about the possibilities,” Rea-Fisher said.
So did the interviewers.
“Her experience, vision and maturity left a powerful impression on us,” ADI co-founder and Core Team member Pete Nelson said in a statement. “Her warmth and passion will undoubtedly be embraced by our Adirondack communities.”
“Her rich background and experience in the arts and leadership, as well as her passion for issues around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging will help advance the important work ADI has already accomplished in the region,” ANCA Executive Director Elizabeth Cooper said in a statement.
Rea-Fisher and her husband have wanted to deepen roots in the Adirondacks for a while. They’ve been visiting the area for going on 20 years now. With the arrival of their daughter, now 19 months old, they began thinking about it seriously and, recently, were finally able to buy a house after a long time of looking.
“We just love this place so much, so I hope to pass on that love to her,” Rea-Fisher said.
Plans for future
The ADI was established in 2015 as a volunteer-run group of nonprofit and community leaders, but it really came into its own in 2019 when New York state allocated a quarter-million dollars in its budget for ANCA to hire a director — Hylton-Patterson.
Rea-Fisher said there wasn’t much time then to do a listening tour. Now that the ADI has been operational for nearly four years, she wants to do one to hear where it’s been successful and where they need to “turn up the intensity.”
She also wants to familiarize herself with the different communities in the Park.
“Because I haven’t gotten a chance to tour the entire region in my new capacity, I can only speak to the regions I have frequented most often. It is clear that in the Adirondacks there is age, gender and ethnic diversity,” Rae-Fisher wrote in an email. “What I am curious about is where we also are as it relates to people with disabilities, racial, diversity and sexual orientation as well. All are important for a healthy ecosystem.”
In the past five to seven years, she said, she has seen the immigrant population in the Adirondacks growing with lots of Eastern European immigrants coming. She wants them to be able to integrate to North Country American life comfortably.
Rea-Fisher said she firmly believes the Adirondacks should not just be a “playground for the rich.”
“It’s really important to me that people who have been here are able to, without it taking everything from them, that they are able to stay here and have their stories heard and told,” she said. “I think that what’s really special about the Park is there’s a way of being that is understood.”
She said different areas have different needs, so she wants to know what the issues are around the Park — socioeconomic, racial, gender-related or otherwise.
She said she loves education and working with the “next generation.” She has gotten a lot of invitations from high schools to speak or attend events.
Her ultimate goal is to open a dialog about diversity in the Adirondacks, building both inclusivity and community. Inclusivity is built by community, she said, and vice versa. People need to feel seen and loved to see and love others.
She believes there are more things that unite than divide people. She said hate comes from a fear-based place and opening pathways can counter it. A community with discussion is better than an inward isolation of fear, she said.
The Adirondacks is unique, but not alone in it’s discussions of diversity, she said. Other places around the country are having similar discussions, too. But what she feels makes the Adirondacks unique is a prevailing passion about the climate.
“For the Park to be successful, everyone has to fall deeply in love with it,” Rea-Fisher said.
This passion can also lead into conversations about climate justice and then about diversity.
Elsewhere, people don’t always think about intersection of diversity and the environment, she said, especially in places disconnected from nature.
An analogy that can be seen in nature is that environments that thrive are the ones with diverse plant populations, she pointed out. And looking at it the reverse way, environments with diverse populations are the ones that thrive.
If that can be seen in nature in the backyard, she said it’s less of a jump to see it in humans.
Rea-Fisher’s work is basically to foster love in the Adirondacks. After all, it is love that brought her here.
“I love this region and its people,” Rea-Fisher said in a statement. “The opportunity to make the Park a more welcoming environment for all is something I am committed to and look forward to doing with our partner organizations.”
She has a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance; she has participated in professional development programs with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals and National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program; she is a Creatives Rebuild New York awardee with John Brown Lives!; and has earned recognition for her role as a principal dancer, community organizer and direct action activist.
In the past three years, through the coronavirus pandemic, economic crises and a historic racial justice movement, ADI has established itself in the region, developing initiatives including its Emerging Stewards Program, Community Policing Initiative, Cultural Consciousness Trainings and a Business Welcoming Microcredential pilot program, according to a press release.