Environmental Justice for a new decade

It’s hard to believe. The Joy Trip Project just turned over its first full year of production. The podcast, blog and photo stream posted to the Internet one year ago this week. And after 12 solid months of experimentation, hand wringing and soul searching the JTP is slowly emerging as a recognizable voice in the social media mainstream. And as the feed sets out its second lap around the sun the JTP is moving forward with a profound sense of purpose and a worthwhile new mission.

From the outset, the Joy Trip Project was created to report on the business, art and culture of the active lifestyle. To that end I’ve developed a number of stories along the lines of outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living. That’s in the mission statement. In my reporting I have discovered many amazing individuals and institutions dedicated to protecting the natural world and making it possible for future generations to enjoy safe land, air and water.

Perhaps the most successful project of 2009 was the creation of a 9-minute audio story for the Public Radio International program To The Best of Our Knowledge. I produced a documentary short on The Buffalo Soldiers and their contributions to the establishment of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks at the turn of the last century. Thanks to Recreational Equipment Inc. REI for providing a small grant that made that piece possible. In September it aired on 139 National Public Radio member stations across the country. Thanks to Patagonia for sponsoring in part the 2010 season of the Joy Trip Project that will continue this line of inquiry to find answers to a most perplexing question.

While researching African-Americans’ earliest engagement in the conservation movement I discovered that there are still many in our community whose access to basic natural resources are severely limited. Due in part to the financial challenges of our struggling economy, there are many among us as well who miss out on a healthy active lifestyle because of racial discrimination in our past that perpetuates to this day.

Perhaps as a person of color myself I am a bit more sensitive to the subtleties of racism. More than 40 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and even with the election of the first African-American President, there are still institutional artifacts of discrimination that present themselves. Ethnic minorities, most of whom live in urban centers across the country, are denied the same access to green space, uncontaminated drinking water and air free of pollutants. To my knowledge there are no overt, racially motivated efforts to deliberately target communities of color. Modern discrimination, in its complexity, is incidental as to race. But many disenfranchised neighborhoods, most often populated by African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians, simply lack the political clout to receive preferential consideration in municipal zoning.  Often these communities become dumping grounds for industrial toxins or the sites for processing facilities that produce noxious emissions. Seldom are these communities selected for the creation of parks or recreation centers for their residents to enjoy.

In an interview with urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter in 2009 I learned that many of the social policies that affect our relationship with the environment are unjust and people of color seldom get their fair share of initiatives designed to improve life on the planet.

“The current state of the environment is a direct result of inequality,” Careter said. “It affects everything. It affects public health. It affects education. It affects the kinds of jobs that we’d like to have or not have. It affects the incarceration rates. It affects how people view themselves within the context of being an American. It affects their self-esteem. You name it. It affects it.”

When it comes to environmental protection there are many policies currently in place that unjustly impose a higher burden of ecological stress on communities of color. With drastic stiffs in the weather patterns around the world due to global warming, people who live on the fringe of our society, those disenfranchised for any reason will be among the first to feel the impact of rising temperatures on our planet. In this country Hurricane Katrina is the perfect example. Years after the event there are still black families (and many poor whites) in New Orleans who cannot return to their homes.

Environmental Justice will be a primary focus of the Joy Trip Project moving forward. I aim to develop a number of new feature stories and blog posts on issues that disproportionately affect communities of color and the role minorities play in the modern conversation movement. The goal will be to develop content for print magazines, web sites and NPR programs who have expressed interest in my work.

I realize that this change of focus will disillusion many of the fans and friends of the Joy Trip Project. And for that I am truly sorry. I suspect that there are many who believe that racial discrimination is a thing of past. And especially in the natural world, in the wild and scenic places we love, there is no racism. But I have to tell you from my own personal experience and that of many who share this belief there’s plenty of discrimination to go round.

Take a look and ask yourself: Why aren’t there more people of color where I go hiking? What about skiing? Rock climbing? Whitewater rafting? Take a look at your favorite magazines or retail catalogs and count the number of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians you find there. The number will be remarkably small.

A friend at my alma mater UC Berkeley counted the occurrences of print images of African-Americans in a popular outdoor magazine spanning 10 years. Once she formally releases her findings I’ll share them in this blog. But I can tell you now that the results are shocking and painfully disappointing. To some they will come as no surprise at all.

There are no signs nor are there laws that prevent people of color from enjoying the outdoors. There is no one at the gates of Yosemite or Yellowstone today denying minorities access to the National Parks. Discrimination goes both ways. In many communities people of color are making a choice not to become involved in outdoor recreation or environmental conservation. I want to know why. I believe that throughout our culture there are social and institutional pressures at work that segregate our notions of outdoor recreation along racial lines. In 2010 I aim to discover or at least discuss what some of these pressures are.

I’ll still create fun stories on emerging technologies in outdoor recreation and adventure stories of people doing remarkable things in the natural world. But as one of a very few African-American journalists in the outdoor recreation industry today, it’s become clear to me now that if I don’t dedicate some time to addressing these issues in the new decade no one else will. ~ JEM

Photo illustration by James Edward Mills

Share :


Share your questions comments and criticisms

Powered by Facebook Comments


I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

  • congrats on all the transformations! be well brother!

  • Anonymous

    Greetings to one and all: In that most precious name. That name which is above every name, the name: “Jesus”

    There’s tremendous power in that name. I’d suppose we’ll never fully realize all that can truly be accomplished, by us simply calling out that name in true faith.

    There’s an old, old, gospel song that goes like this: Faith in the Father, faith in the Son, faith in the Holy Spirit, great victories are won. Demons will tremble and sinners will awake, faith in Jehovah will anything shake.

    For you who have never come into this realization, if you’re reading this, just give him a welcome into your heart and life. You will both feel and see an awesome difference. You will have also purchased the ticket to heaven (by accepting, therefore making him welcome to come into your life. You will also sup from His cup that contains living water. (As did the woman at the well of Bethesda.) John 4:10

    Much love,

    Your brother in Christ Jesus, who is both our Lord, and Savior.