Black Outside Inc. Invites You to Do More for Diversifying the Outdoors
By: Alex Bailey
Three summers ago, the Catskill Mountains called my name. Burnt out from work and figuring out my life in my twenties—adulting as some say—I took a week off to explore myself and an idea that had been manifesting in me for years since my time as a summer camp counselor.
I had never physically been to the Catskill Mountains. I had only traveled there a few times through the pages of Mark Twain in high school. While I was never enthralled by his books, his way of capturing the scenic beauty of nature through the adventure of his character always captivated me. But, even then, I never felt seen or reflected in his literary imagination. The same soon became true on my own journey through the Catskill Mountains.
The day was perfect! An 80-degree summer day with enough people on the trail to garner the occasional hiker’s wave and nod, but not too many that it felt like a nature amusement park—we’ve all been there before; Garden of the Gods I’m thinking of you here!
Like any well-frequented trail, there was a bit of a traffic jam at the scenic spots. It was there that I finally stopped to actually observe for a moment. Maybe it was my music mix of gospel and R’n’B that had me distracted, the fact that I was ruminating on my life’s next steps, or the fact I “took (too) less” gear and water that I had previously failed to notice the people around me. I noticed their gear when they passed by, and my lack thereof, and their friendly waves and smiles, but it wasn’t until that first scenic overlook when it dawned on me: I think I’m the only Black person in this entire park.
Whenever I solo hike, I think a lot about my family, particularly my grandparents. While their beautiful lives were filled with moments of joy, much of their hardships were rooted in the racial inequities of their time—times where they weren’t allowed to travel to certain parts of their state or even city. A time in which the outdoors was visible in their small town, but wasn’t accessible. Some of the places I’ve hiked, they would have been barred from, or felt so much fear for their safety that the thought would have never crossed their mind to go to them in the first place. As a child hearing their stories, I always told myself that I wanted to go places they couldn’t go and do the things they couldn’t do.This is why it was so shocking to me that I didn’t notice my “onlyness” until then. On most of my hikes, I’m conscious of the fact that I may be one of few—if not the only—Black people in that particular park. While aware of this lack of presence, I had never really explored why it was this way. Not just why there weren't any Black people in the park at that moment, but why it was so rare for me to ever see people who look like me on backcountry trails—ever!
It is said that you have three true epiphanies in your life, and that day was one for me. While issues of outdoor access and inclusivity are deeply rooted in systemic issues of race and class, I realized part of the racial gap was an issue of finding a way to get more Black people back outside. For centuries, Black people have been in outdoor space. Today, however, there is a disconnect for many Black youth. It was at this moment for me that Black Outside, Inc. was born.
Today, we serve as one of the few Black-founded, youth-serving organizations in the outdoors. Having served over 200+ youth in our home state of Texas, our community of Black leaders have created a program geared towards ensuring Black youth not only feel included in the outdoors, but that they have a program made with them in mind first! We build on the powerful history of Black people in the outdoors and connect them with leaders who not only share their identity, but are exploring new ways of being in nature alongside our youth. For many of our youth, they experience their first immersive outdoor experience (e.g., backpacking, camping, rock climbing, etc.) with our program; they, unlike me and many of our leaders, aren’t alone when they go.
While our program is doing a lot, there is more that can be done by people who are striving to ensure the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts are not only racially diverse, but also feel the outdoors is a safe and welcoming space.
Below are a few ways you can “do more” today. This list is not exhaustive, but hopefully some a starting point for some and reminders for others as we work towards a more inclusive outdoors.
1. Listen and Learn
Listen and learn from other BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) groups and leaders in the outdoors. Their experiences and stories may be similar or different from mine and can help expand your perspective on diversifying the outdoors.
2. Support BIPOC Organizations in Your Community
Thankfully, Black Outside, Inc. is not alone. There are amazing organizations across our country working to diversify the outdoors. Because of historical barriers to funding and support, it is important to continue to support financially and/or socially when you can. Simply following and sharing their work goes a long way.
3. Think About the Brands You Support
Be conscious consumers. While we in the Gossamer Gear community are intentional about how much we explore the outdoors, it's important to also explore who we are supporting as consumers. Consider: is your brand supporting diverse organizations and/or ambassadors?
Let’s take a little less and do a little more together.
Alex Bailey (he/him/his) is the founder of Black Outside, Inc., and currently serves as the Board President. His love of the outdoors began with fishing trips and gardening with his grandfather, while his passion for equity has been fueled by the works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adrienne Marie Brown, among many others. Alex spends his weekends exploring trails around central Texas, volunteering with Black Outside, Inc., and finding new ways of being in nature. For more information on Black Outside, Inc., visit www.blackoutside.org or follow their movement on Instagram or Facebook.