#EveryoneOutside Film 004: Here We Stand with Teresa Baker

An inclusive future in the outdoors.

By: Sara Sheehy + Save to a List

For Teresa Baker, a leader and advocate for welcoming diversity in the outdoors, exploring the natural world has always been a part of her life. 

"I spent the majority of my childhood outdoors, hiking, biking, and exploring local parks," Teresa says.

Teresa's experience is extraordinary viewed through the lens of modern childhood, but also unique as a person of color. It wasn't until she reached adulthood that Teresa noticed that singularity, and determined she had a responsibility to the outdoor spaces that she grew up enjoying. She decided that to care for the environment, there needed to be a diverse group of people enjoying the outdoors. And she just wasn't seeing it. 

There are historic boundaries that exist around communities of color, especially as they relate to parks and outdoor recreation. Teresa is now working to erase those boundaries. "I would be outside and look around and think 'these spaces need more people that look like me,'" she remembers. "They need more people to care for them."

"The demographics are shifting," says Teresa, "and people of color will soon be the majority. We care about the environment, and we need to find ways to start working together now to protect it. We need more faces at the table."

Teresa tackles this challenge head-on by focusing on partnerships and collaborations that bring diverse people into spaces where they haven't always been welcomed or represented. For example, in 2016, she partnered with the several national parks and communities across the country to create the African American National Parks event, which encourages participants to go to a park, explore, and share the photos on social media.

"People now gather on their own in national parks," says Teresa, who continues to work with her local park, Yosemite National Park, on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. "In just the last few years, I've noticed more people of color when I visit at the Grand Canyon, at Yosemite, and at Point Reyes."

Teresa is continuously looking for opportunities to connect to non-profits, organizations, and businesses. It was a post on Facebook that brought the Save the Redwoods League and their acquisition of 700 acres of old-growth redwoods in Sonoma County to her attention. She immediately wrote an email to Sam Hodder, the League's President and CEO, though they had never met. "Let me bring a group of underrepresented communities to see it," she recalls telling him.

Not only did Sam agree to Teresa's plan, but it has also changed how he and the League approach welcoming diverse audiences into the outdoors. "The service that our parks are providing, redwoods and beyond, are fundamental to a healthy society and livable communities," says Sam. "Reimagining how we welcome a diverse public is fundamental to that."

Another of Teresa's projects is the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, which pairs leading outdoor brands in one-on-one relationships with inclusion advocates. The goal? To advance the representation for people of color across the outdoor industry.

"A lot of companies don't know where to begin with welcoming communities of color, and they don't want to make a mistake," explains Teresa. "It paralyzes them. My team and I don't want to call people out but call people in. We don't come to this work perfect, either. We have to do better, work together, and move past the mistakes."

The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge is for those companies who are serious about understanding, representing, and championing diverse communities. "We don't say yes to everyone," shares Teresa. "This isn't a checkmark for them to tick or a token gesture. The company needs to be sincere about wanting to do the work."

Teresa emphasizes that though she has been visible in this effort over the last few years, this is a partnership of people from all across the world.

"I do not do this work alone," says Teresa. "Some of us get the spotlight, but I bring an entire army with me to the table. People need to know that we exist across the country, in a community near you, doing this work."

When asked how individuals can participate in the movement to create a diverse future for the outdoors, Teresa shares that being active on social media is a powerful way to drive inclusion. "There are so many affinity groups for communities of color on Instagram and Facebook," she says. "I encourage people to put a call out and ask diverse people to come for a hike or join a climb. Brands are seeing this movement on social media and connecting with groups based on that."

"It's simple," she concludes. "Social media is making people aware of what we're doing, and the more people who know, the more diverse the faces at the table become."

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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