On The Road To Diversity

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For some reason I couldn’t get the song to play. After having spent hours getting the introduction just right I’d be damned if I was going to let the opening frames of this film presentation go without music. Trying not to panic I simply reconfigured the audio file from .AIFF to .MP3 and it played flawlessly. Jake Shimabukuro’s tune Dragon flowed in perfect sync with the animated text and the logos of the Madison-based nonprofit groups this screening of An American Ascent aimed to support. With a free venue offered up by Edgewood College on October 17, 2015 I was proud to share with my community, friends and family five wonderful films that beautifully illustrate the importance of diversity and inclusion in the world of adventure.

It has been more than two years since the Expedition Denali team made it safely back from Alaska. But this inspiring story of African-American climbers on the highest peak in North America continues to resonate with audiences at special events across the country. In the pages of my book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors it has been my great privilege to share the critical importance of bringing more people of color into the ongoing movement to protect and preserve the natural world. And through our feature documentary with such incredible imagery and a compelling narrative my co-producers and I hope to welcome a new generation of young people to become stewards of environment and protectors of our wild places.

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Along with An American Ascent I was pleased to include the work of several talented filmmakers. The program opened with the films The Way Home and Love in the Tetons, both by Amy Marquis and Dana Romanoff of the National Parks Experience film series. These titles helped to frame the theme of the evening by clearly defining the issue. Although African-American, Latino and Asian citizens in our country participate in outdoor recreation at lower rates than their white counterparts people of color have a vital role to play in the long-term protection of wilderness. I also shared the film 14.C by George Knowles which tells the story of U.S. Sport Climbing champion Kai Lightner and Jason Fitzpatrick’s documentary short Diversity & Inclusion in Our Wild Places. The films were followed by a lively question and answer session moderated by Rehman Tungekar of the Wisconsin Public Radio program To The Best of Our Knowledge

By presenting these films as a group my purpose was to help the audience understand the racial disparity that exists today in our National Parks and the conservation movement in general. With these very positive stories of hope and advocacy it is my intention to help make the outdoors more relevant and accessible to those in our society who are currently least likely to enjoy it. And as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary next year in 2016 I want to see a surge of new visitors that reflect the rapidly changing face of the American public.

Over the past several weeks of travel I’ve had the opportunity to share this message greater inclusion at several events around the country. On the road to diversity I have presented An American Ascent and The Adventure Gap at events hosted by Outdoor Afro in Atlanta, The Decatur Book Festival, the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder, City Wild in Denver, Edgewood College and TEDx in Madison, the Sierra Club in Lake Delton, Princeton University in New Jersey and the Omaha Outward Bound School in Nebraska. Across a broad audience of students, educators, outdoor enthusiasts and the general public I have worked at raising awareness and hopefully have inspired many different people and their families to not only embrace the natural world but to share their passion with others. And as I make my way from place to place over the next few weeks I hope that I can continue to excite and engage a growing constituency of citizens who will devote their time and attention to protection of our public land.

Proceeds raised during the Madison screening of An American Ascent including sales of The Adventure Gap will go to support The Ice Age Trail Alliance, The Aldo Leopold Nature Center and a scholarship to the National Outdoor Leadership School. I am eternally grateful to everyone who came out to enjoy this very special evening. More than 150 members of the Madison community attended and I can only hope that everyone came away with a better appreciation for our precious National Parks as well as the role they might play in their preservation into the future.

Expedition Denali from James Mills on Vimeo.

As I continue the tour with stops in cities and towns across America it’s my goal to create connections between organizations and individuals eager to welcome young people and their parents into the outdoors to reap the benefits of nature. I hope that those interested in joining this cause will reach out and get in touch so that we can share resources and information that might make the road to diversity a bit more smooth and easier to navigate. By working together I believe that we can not only maintain but even expand the wild and scenic places we all love for the enjoyment of everyone throughout the next century and beyond.

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Author:James

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

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