Growing up in Southwest Atlanta, participation in outdoor recreational activities wasn't common. My friends and I were always outside, but we played football and basketball, an occasional game of hide and go seek, and rode our bikes. Camping, hiking, water sports, adventure sports - we weren't exposed to these things. If you were lucky, your parents put you in Boy Scouts or your friend's uncle took you on a hunting trip. Beyond that, the closest you came to camping was throwing a sheet over chairs in the living room on a Friday night.
It wasn't until after I started college that I realized the beauty and wonder that lied in nature. Through the Cooperative Developmental Energy Program at Fort Valley State University (scholarship opportunity!), I was able to study mathematics and, later, at Penn State, geology. In the summer of 2010 I left the country for the first time and traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa for a geophysical field camp. The packing list was full of a bunch of equipment that I didn't have and never owned - a real backpack, hiking boots, field pants, hydration pack, sleeping bag. (I felt SO lost the first time I went to a sporting goods store lol). Nonetheless, I secured everything I needed and hopped on a 16 hour flight. It was through this experience that I secured my love for the outdoors.
Me.. and my not-real-backpack at the Vredefort Impact Structure, South Africa (A UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Being outside was always fun for me, but I didn't realize how much more there was to see outside of I-285, the loop that encircles Atlanta. In South Africa, we traveled from mountains, through valleys, to ancient impact craters, and I was AMAZED at the various landscapes and distinct character that each region we visited displayed. Perhaps the most exciting moment was when we drove down a road in a rural neighborhood - instead of stray dogs wandering, there were real, live monkeys chillin' on the street! What!?
Since that eye-opening summer, I've had the opportunity to visit Japan, Belize, and Costa Rica, 30+ states, 6 National Parks, 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and countless other recreational areas. Most of these experiences I attribute to my career path in the geosciences, but I am truly passionate about the outdoors. I travel for recreation a few times a year and push my friends and family to go out and explore for themselves as well.
Cave tubing in Belize
Through all of my adventures though, I have noticed that I'm always one of a handful of people of color taking advantage of the beauty and wonder that planet Earth offers us. A 2011 study commissioned by the National Park Service showed that only ONE in five visitors to national parks was non-white. For that reason, along with college classmates, I have created "The Black Outdoors," which seeks to increase awareness of and promote outdoor recreation, in an effort to influence other minorities to get up, get out, and experience nature. Too often I hear things like "camping ain't for black people, we die in the woods. Haven't you seen [insert cheesy outdoor horror movie]
Well, I have seen those movies, but I've also seen waterfalls, beautiful rock formations, glacial terrains, amazing sunsets, and shooting stars. Snorkeled beautiful colorful coral reefs, swam with stingrays and nurse sharks. Hiked along boulder fields, crossed streams in the Grand Tetons, walked across salt flats, tubed through limestone caves, zip-lined through the canopy in Belize, and SO MUCH MORE! We really miss out by tricking ourselves into thinking there is nothing in nature for us. You don't have to camp - you can hike, kayak, ATV, swim, surf, float a lazy river, skydive, parasail, or even just chill in a hammock. The options are truly unlimited and it starts with a simple step out of your front door! That first experience you get will likely be transformative and once your eyes have been opened to the endless possibilities of nature, you won't be able to stay inside.
Visit TheBlackOutdoors on social media and be on the lookout for much more soon!
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.