ADK Diversity Initiative director takes new job
SARANAC LAKE — Nicole “Nicky” Hylton-Patterson is leaving the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, where she served as the ADI’s first-ever director and seeded several programs that strive to establish diversity, equity and inclusion in the Adirondack Park.
Hylton-Patterson joined the ADI as director after the state carved out $250,000 for the organization from its Environmental Protection Fund in 2019. The ADI, folded under the Adirondack North Country Association, started out in 2015 with a group of community volunteers who wanted to promote inclusivity in the Adirondacks. Under Hylton-Patterson’s leadership, according to ANCA Executive Director Elizabeth Cooper, the ADI program has “taken off.”
ANCA announced in a press release on Thursday that Hylton-Patterson has taken a new job in Brooklyn as the director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York — a human services nonprofit focused on improving the well-being of children, families and people with developmental disabilities across New York City and Long Island. Hylton-Patterson also wanted to be closer to her family and to help take care of her mother, according to the release. Hylton-Patterson’s last day with the ADI was Friday, and she’ll begin her new job later this month.
Though Hylton-Patterson didn’t respond to the Enterprise’s request for an interview by press time Friday, she told the Adirondack Explorer earlier this week that she felt supported by the “Core Team” at ADI and that she’d miss “the people on the ground” who have worked alongside her during her time with the initiative.
“I am proud of the strides ADI has made over the last few years to increase understanding, compassion and action around issues of justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging,” Hylton-Patterson said in a statement. “My successor will have the privilege to work with a team of hard-working staff, dedicated partners and committed volunteers who are driven to make positive change in their communities. I remain committed to those wonderful people and to supporting those efforts to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the region.”
“Nicky was on fire, man,” Cooper said Friday. “She spearheaded so many new initiatives and we’re so grateful for her leadership.”
Hylton-Patterson developed all of the ADI programs, according to Cooper, which include community policing classes, an emerging stewards program — which brings groups from New York City here to experience the Adirondacks — as well as cultural consciousness training and teaching businesses how they can be more welcoming to diverse workers.
“These programs are well-established and growing, and she did it all in less than three years,” Cooper said.
Hylton-Patterson started working at the ADI just a few months before George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minnesota. It was an intense time, Cooper said, and she said that escalated the need for community policing training.
“That one has definitely taken off,” she said.
Cooper said there was some skepticism among police about the program at first, but now they approach the ADI asking for more training.
Around the same time in 2020, Hylton-Patterson moved out of Saranac Lake after being confronted by racist graffiti painted on a railroad trestle bridge that she believed was aimed at her. But despite the “traumatic” experience and blowback from the community for her choice to relocate, Hylton-Patterson decided to “double down” on her efforts with the ADI. In addition to creating ADI programming, she attended multiple public events advocating for inclusivity in the area.
The Adirondack Daily Enterprise was the first to report on the racist graffiti in Saranac Lake and on Hylton-Patterson’s decision to move out of the village. Within two days of the latter story being published, Hylton-Patterson said 1,000 people signed up to get involved in ADI. Before that, Hylton-Patterson said only 10 people were signed up. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo also released a statement condemning the racist graffiti and directing the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to help village police find the perpetrator.
During her time with ADI, Hylton-Patterson received Adirondack Wild’s 2020 Wild Stewardship Award for “initiating and elevating difficult conversations about race, shared power, and influence in the Adirondack region,” according to ANCA’s press release, and an award from Adirondack Council in 2021 for “making the Adirondack Park more welcoming, safe and inclusive for all.”
Born in Jamaica, Hylton-Patterson spent time in northern Norway participating in a gifted child program before she went on to spend the next 20 years leading programs designed to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Before moving to the Adirondacks to take on her role with the ADI, Hylton-Patterson was acting director of the Mary T. Clark Center for Religion and Social Justice at Manhattanville College. She coordinated programs at the school’s Center for Inclusion.
Cooper is confident that the programming Hylton-Patterson seeded will continue to grow. Cooper added that this isn’t really goodbye, either — she thinks Hylton-Patterson has plans to visit the Adirondacks often and volunteer. Hylton-Patterson said in a statement that she has goals to return here to hike, camp, and “just plain soak up the pristine majesty that is the Adirondack Park.”
Cooper said that ADI staff, along with the core community team that initiated the program, will work together to find a new director to replace Hylton-Patterson. Cooper hopes the process will take about a month, but she said that it could take a little longer, “just because we’re juggling lots of people here.” ANCA plans to post the job opening later this month.