Back when I had started at my first job in the outdoors, before I knew this kind of career was something I wanted, I heard about a Twin Cities hiking group called Outdoor Afro. I quickly learned that the organization was more than a local hiking group, but a national non-profit working to increase Black participation outdoors.
At first, I followed along only on social media. It was not until I spotted a call for leadership that I saw myself as being able to make a difference.
Fast forward: I have served three years as a volunteer leader with Outdoor Afro. Through this role, I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and led the Secretary of the Interior by canoe down the Mississippi River. Yet the most memorable moments I have had — the experiences that have brought me the most joy — were those I got to spend sharing a love of nature with everyday folks like me. Moments such as teaching a kid how to cast a fishing pole, patching up a scraped knee on a trail, and sharing a warm drink under an evening snowfall.
Looking back, these were the experiences that made me an “outdoorsy” person. I didn’t grow up in this world — my first camping experience was as an adult. My version of being an outdoors person never matched what I saw as the mainstream, which is likely why I never considered myself invested in outdoors culture. I grew up doing cannonballs in the lake off the back of a boat, riding my bike through the woods of my town, and making wildflower bouquets with neighbors.
These experiences were not eye-popping, but they were critical in shaping my childhood, my identity as an adult, and my connection to the natural world. This is why the organization, founded and led by Black women, has been such a powerful force in my life. It is about meeting people on their life’s journey and getting to the next summit together. It has inspired me to think big and expand my realm of what is possible.
Outdoor Afro offers opportunities to disrupt the common narrative that outdoor activity is reserved largely for white, male, and wealthy individuals. More importantly, it offers opportunities to actively participate in creating a new narrative — one in which Black, female, queer, and underrepresented voices are centered and amplified.