On January 22, Yvette Austin Smith became the new Chair of AMC’s Board of Directors, accepting the baton from outgoing Chair Elizabeth Ehrenfeld, who has led in that capacity since 2018. We recently connected with Yvette, who first joined AMC’s Board as a Director in 2016 and served as Vice Chair of the Board from 2018 to 2021, to hear her vision for AMC and what inspires her involvement.
How did you first become connected with AMC?
When my son was young, I read about an AMC family trip geared to 5-to-8-year-olds, a weekend hike and overnight stay at Zealand Falls Hut. As a child who had grown up in California and Texas, the outdoors were quite familiar to me and I thought the trip would be a fun adventure for us. We met a number of families and had a great time. That was a really warm first experience with AMC.
What’s your favorite place to be outdoors?
My sister and I used to take our sons camping every summer. We would camp anywhere. I mean, if we were two miles or 20 miles off the road camping, we enjoyed the activity, so that was really fun. In addition, my son and I would go on a camping trip to a national park every other summer. Our most memorable trip was to Denali. We flew to Anchorage and caught the train to the park. We carried in our food and spent multiple days hiking and camping. That was a really special time, and we also saw our first moose! These days, most of my time outdoors is on or connected to the water—kayaking and swimming.
However, over the next few years, I’m planning on discovering some new favorite places. My goal is to visit all—well maybe almost all—of the AMC facilities by the end of my tenure as Board Chair!
What are your objectives or goals during your tenure as Chair of AMC’s Board of Directors?
In any organization—particularly one that has a multigenerational connection to families, like AMC—it’s important to fully understand the organization before setting goals that could result in changes.
Having said that, I do think there are a couple areas in which I’d like to engage the Board’s focus. One is a more inclusive definition of what it means to enjoy and be stewards of the outdoors. Absolutely, hiking, paddling, and multiday trips are a part of it. But there are lots of people who enjoy the outdoors in a different way. As just one example, if you visit Harriman [State Park in New York] on a summer weekend, you will see large, multi-generational family groups picnicking all day. Maybe they’re interested in going on a multiday hut-to-hut hike, and maybe they aren’t. I’d like AMC to find more ways to build community with people who are already outdoors. Everyone outdoors has a role to play in being stewards of the land and enjoying the land.
Second, AMC has this great history and tradition. I’d like to think about how we harness what has been so foundational and important about our volunteer community, and what do we need to do to adapt our volunteer model as we move forward. We also have some of the most amazing facilities and locations, at least in the Northeast, but we now have a lot more competition. We have to think about celebrating who we are but adapting our hospitality offerings into the world that it was not 150 years ago.
As the first person of color to serve as Chair of the Board, what does this new role mean to you?
It’s exciting for me individually. I hope it is an external demonstration of the fact that there are diverse people who are outdoors, interested in conservation. [Being outdoors] has always been a part of our family. It’s not that we always went cross-country skiing. It’s not that we knew of the huts growing up as kids. But being outdoors has always been part of our family, and we are not some unique exception. It is part of the experience of many, many families of color. If my chairmanship can help create the awareness of the fact that there is a community of people already out there, that would be fantastic.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself outside of the AMC?
I am the Chairman of The Brattle Group, an international economic consulting firm. In that role, I advise companies and their legal counsel in the context of major corporate litigation. My family and I split our time between Brooklyn and Great Barrington, Mass.