When Vision Becomes Reality~ Representation Matters

When Vision Becomes Reality~ Representation Matters

When Outside Magazine editor Michael Roberts contacted me in the late Fall of 2017 I was thrilled beyond words. At the time I was on the road working my annual gig for the nonprofit Choose Outdoors reporting on the journey of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. Michael called me out of the blue while I was shopping at a Walgreens in Helena Montana. As I roamed the aisles looking for alcohol wipes, Altoids and AA-batteries he asked me to write the cover story for the May issue. 

Let’s just say that forgot all about the items I came to buy, and as we spoke I kept walking around the store. In early November it was cold outside and Walgreen’s had surprisingly good cell reception. Talking through my wireless earbuds, I must have looked like a crazy person having an animated conversation with the voices in his head. As we brainstormed ideas for the primary focus of this piece, I’m sure that I gesticulated my hands and maybe even jumped around a bit. I was so excited!  But, realist that I am, I kept coming back to the same question. “Why me?”

Since the release of my book, “The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors”, I’ve enjoyed a bit of notoriety on the subject of diversity, equity and inclusion in the world outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. As an African-American in a field profoundly dominated by white men I’ve devoted a lot of my professional career as a journalist to addressing the disparity of representation where it comes to people of color and their place in the outdoors.  “For this particular project,” Michael said. “You’re pretty much the one person we could think of who can do it.”

Frankly, that’s the problem. After more than 25 years in the business of outdoor recreation there aren’t many journalists who do what I do. That’s not say that I am the only reporter who focuses on issues of equitable access to nature, particularly on our public land. But much of my work over the last decade has been directed toward telling the stories of women and men who realize the importance of sharing their passion for environmental stewardship in the hopes of inspiring others. Standing there between displays of haircare products and first-aid supplies I could easily imagine the names and faces of at least 20 people who have dedicated their careers to getting those whom we too seldom see into the world outside. I envisioned each of them as those individuals who best represent the changing face of the outdoors. Over the following three months  I was afforded the opportunity to conduct research and interviews so that I could commit the list in my mind to pages of Outside Magazine.

The roster of names is a veritable “who’s who” of the Outdoor DE&I movement. Though  many have had their share magazine profiles, bio films, podcasts and blog posts to acknowledge and celebrate their great accomplishments I am honored to have the privilege of curating their individual narratives in a single spread. Though each story is different, ranging across a variety of life experiences, they all have in common the single notion that the outdoors is meant for everyone. Regardless of a person’s cultural origin, disability, body type, gender identity or the color of their skin, we all have a role to play in the protection and preservation of the natural environment. The 12 remarkable people profiled in the May issue of Outside Magazine represent an emerging generation of leaders whose collective efforts are paving the way toward a society that embraces and values the world outdoors and will, hopefully, fight to defend it. Representation matters.

For years now as a journalist I have watched the faces of the outdoors change to reflect the wonderful diversity that is our nation’s greatest strength. I have worked to share the stories of those who represent to others an image of themselves as explorers, athletes and advocates for the conservation of our natural resources. That vision is now reality. In this latest issue of Outside it is my pleasure to introduce The New Faces of Adventure.

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