01 Jan Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, What you can do to help
There’s a moment in public speaking when you know you’ve got them. Someone in the back of the room shakes their head. Tongues click with disgust. Oh the injustice! A sharp intake of breath from the third row sets the hook as others gasp, right on cue. A grown man wipes a tear from his eye. Then, at the end, there’s the question I’m so often asked: “What can we do to help?”
Over much of the last two years I’ve traveled around the country presenting to audiences on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. 2017 was a great year of outreach and engagement. At universities, public libraries and community centers in cities and small towns across America I’ve tried to impress upon the general public the importance of creating a world where nature is available and accessible to everyone regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. As an African-American man who has work as an outdoor professional for many years I am constantly amazed by the number of people who have yet to realize that the same disparities that divide people along the lines of social mobility and economic opportunity also separate those who can enjoy the world outside. But in recent years I am very pleased to discover a growing population of advocates who are now actively working toward an environmental movement that welcomes everyone to participate. I get to tell their stories.
Officially my career in the outdoor industry began in 1989. It’s safe to say that I’ve been at this for a while. With the benefit of long memory, I know with certainty how much things have indeed changed. Today there are far more people of color engaged in outdoor recreation as a personal passion or professional pursuit than when I was coming up. There seems to be more and more every day. And that’s exciting to see! Though we still have so much further to go in order to achieve lasting change, less often I find myself the only person with black or brown skin hiking trails, paddling rivers or descending ski hills. The face of the outdoors is a bit different now. Those who spend their time outside for work or play now better reflect the broad diversity of people from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. I believe circumstances have improved. And though I can take little credit for the progress I have witnessed in recent years, it has been my privilege to chronicle the lives of several individuals who have made a profound difference.
Through my work on ambitious initiatives like Expedition Denali or the Next 100 Coalition, I’ve watched rates of participation among people of color in outdoor recreation and environmental conservation steadily climb. Organizations that did not exist a decade ago like Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, the Greening Youth Foundation and many, many others have risen up to engage entire communities in the cultural, social, spiritual, physical and economic benefits of a substantive relationship with nature. They have worked diligently to shrink the divide, I call the Adventure Gap, between those who spend time in the outdoors and those who do not. In the hopes of inspiring a generation of modern-day environmental stewards to protect and preserve our natural resources, these organizations and individuals have laid the ground work for a conservation movement that is diverse, equitable and inclusive of every social strata.
As this important work has been underway for quite some time now perhaps we can finally move past the notion that this is anything new. Thousands of people across the county have awoken to the revelation that the defense of our natural environment relies on the involvement of every demographic persuasion. Rather than revel in our shock and disappointment that too many people are deprived of our privilege to enjoy the outdoors, we should instead do all that we can to introduce more people to the natural settings that we love. What you can do to help is to become actively engaged in national and local efforts to make our public lands more easily accessible to everyone. Only then can we bring to bear the political will required to protect and preserve them well into the future.
What you can do to help is become aware of those individuals and institutions that are already making a difference. Many have created organizations that you can join to improve or expand your relationship with the natural world. Or if you already have skills and expertise in outdoor recreation or public land management, perhaps you can share your knowledge and experience with those who are just beginning their journey. There many points of entry for anyone interested in environmental activism or just the leisurely enjoyment of life outside.
I am currently writing magazine article that will profile activists on the forefront of DE&I in outdoor recreation. I’ve compiled a list of those individuals who are leading the way. Several are long-time friends and colleagues. Others are new acquaintances whom I hope to meet one day. Each I believe can inspire excitement and enthusiasm for spending time in the outdoors. Please draw no conclusions as to the order in which they are listed. Take no offense if obvious choices I neglected to include are omitted. Are there names that you would add? Who are they? Tell me why. Are there questions that you might ask if you had the opportunity to have a person on this list sit for an interview? What are your thoughts on the current state of DE&I? Leave your comments below and let the discussion begin.
~ James Edward Mills
- José Gonzalez – Latino Outdoors
- Leader of an organization that gets Latino people into the outdoors. An advocate for the expression of Latino culture in outdoor creation and environmental conservation
- Rue Mapp – Outdoor Afro
- Leader of an organization that gets Black people into the outdoors. Creator of a social media platform that has inspired communities across more than 30 states spend time recreation in nature
- CJ Goulding – Natural Leaders Network
- A young leader in a network of dedicated individuals who work to encourage kids to play in nature as part of their education
- Theresa Baker – African American National Parks Event
- Creator of an annual event that encourages Black people to visit National Parks across the country on a single day in June, but also throughout the year.
- Audrey Peterman – Earthwise Productions
- Perhaps the mother of the modern Environmental DE&I movement, the leading voice in the creation of the 2016 Presidential Memorandum of Understanding on diversity, equity and inclusion in the management of Federally regulated public land
- Ambreen Tariq – Brown People Camping
- A Second Generation Muslim American she is a leading voice in the discussion on getting families of color to experience the outdoors through camping
- Jenny Bruso – Unlikely Hikers
- A plus-sized queer woman, she works to connect with those whose body image and sexual orientation are seldom seen in outdoor media and raise their profile in the common recreation scene
- Mikhail Martin- Brothers of Climbing
- Creator of an urban-based rock climbing community in New York City that encourages fellowship among people of color in all aspects of modern alpinism
- Elyse Rylander – Out There Adventures
- The executive director of a travel company that facilitates outdoor education experiences for LGBTQ youth
- Len Necefer – Natives Outdoors
- The founder of an organization that encourages native people around the world, not just North America to experience the outdoors for the purposes of recreation and conservation
- Shelma Jun – Flash Foxy
- A filmmaker and storyteller that creates compelling narratives around the experiences of women adventurers, particularly climbers
- Erin Monahan – Terra Incognita
- The editor-in-chief of a web site that encourages racial and gender equity in outdoor recreation. As a white woman she is especially interested in making other white people aware of their responsibilities and roles in creating more diversity
- Mirna Valerio – The Mirnavator
- A female black plus-sized ultra-marathoner
- Dani Burt – Amputee Surfer
- A woman with an above-the-knee amputation who inspires people with disabilities to take up actions sports like surfing
- Autumn Peltier – Water Protector
- A 12-Year-old Native American girl who is an advocate for water security on tribal land
- Justin Forest Parks – Chicago Cares
- He focuses on diversity and inclusion in climbing by introducing communities from the South and West Sides of Chicago to rock climbing.
- Taimur Ahmad
- Recreation & Forest Policy Fellow at the Wilderness Society
- Michael Davis Jr
- Field Instructor YMCA Bold & Gold Programs in Seattle, Washington