Colleagues herald Nicole Hylton-Patterson’s work launching programs, projects across the region
By Gwendolyn Craig
Nicole Hylton-Patterson is leaving her post as the inaugural director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative for a leadership position at a Brooklyn nonprofit. The Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) is convening a hiring committee to search for a new director.
In a phone interview Wednesday, the 48-year-old Hylton-Patterson said she will be moving to Brooklyn to be with her mother. She will be the new director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York, a nonprofit that works with people with developmental disability. She became emotional talking about the people she has met in the Adirondacks and the work she and community members have accomplished. From partnering with local police and sheriff’s departments on diversity training, to bringing more students of color up to the Adirondacks, Hylton-Patterson, ADI and its partners have instituted new and inclusive programs since her start in 2019.
“It’s the hearts and minds that I’ve changed, or even opened a little bit, to consider some of what we are saying or sharing of everyday folks,” Hylton-Patterson said. “That for me I think is what I’m going to miss the most, the people on the ground.”
ANCA staff highlighted a multitude of accomplishments under Hylton-Patterson’s leadership including its cultural consciousness trainings, community policing initiative and emerging stewards program. Hylton-Patterson said she was overwhelmed by the number of requests for diversity training in her tenure at ADI. Pete Nelson, co-founder of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates and ADI, said he is sorely going to miss working with Hylton-Patterson.
“Nicky is a dynamic, passionate leader and she is also my friend,” Nelson wrote, adding that “she leaves behind a strong, vital organization, with multiple initiatives that are making a real difference in the North Country. That’s her legacy, and we will honor it by doing even more.”
ANCA Executive Director Elizabeth Cooper said she was grateful for Hylton-Patterson’s work “that helps us build communities that are equitable, welcoming and resilient.”
In 2020, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve recognized Hylton-Patterson with the Wild Stewardship Award for “initiating and elevating difficult conversations about race, shared power, and influence in the Adirondack region.” In 2021, the Adirondack Council issued her an award for “making the Adirondack Park more welcoming, safe and inclusive for all.”
Rocci Aguirre, deputy executive director of the Adirondack Council and founding member of ADI, said Hylton-Patterson “has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time,” something that “speaks to her warrior spirit, her leadership, and her grace under pressure.”
Hylton-Patterson’s experiences in the Adirondacks have not always made her feel safe. In the summer of 2020, a racist message was spray-painted on her regular running route in Saranac Lake. The community, she had told the Explorer, did not respond for days, and she moved out of the village. If there was any advice she could give to the next person following in her footsteps, Hylton-Patterson said it was to “just be open.”
“Remember to never delegitimize anybody’s position. Understand and respect and get to know the history of this place,” she said. “But know that you’re coming into a position where the core team of ADI is going to wrap their arms around you. That person will have no problem in terms of a support system that is sustaining, because a person of color comes into this position, there’s going to need to be a network to sustain that person in the Adirondacks. That’s what I’ve received from the core team, and I’d say a lot of leaders across the community.”
Hylton-Patterson said she’s not leaving the Adirondacks completely. Since living in the North Country she has been bit by the hiking bug, and has finished the Saranac 6er challenge, the Lake Placid 9er challenge and is now onto climbing the 46 High Peaks. She has started with Cascade and Porter, and an unfinished attempt at Big Slide. She’ll be back for that one.
“I don’t know if there is any other Black woman who has done all 46, but I plan to,” she said.
The Adirondack Diversity Initiative was established in 2015 by a group of volunteers. In 2019, the New York State budget included $250,000 under the environmental protection fund for ADI. ANCA hired Hylton-Patterson in December of 2019. She brought a unique perspective to the Adirondacks, ANCA said. Hylton-Patterson was born in Jamaica and spent her childhood in northern Norway. She holds a master’s in Pan African Studies from Syracuse University and a master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.