Diversity in the Outdoors, Part III

This is the third and final part in a three part series around diversity in the outdoors stemming from a panel discussion on diversity hosted by Sierra Magazine at the Outdoor Retailer Winter event. Part I and Part II are available here and here.

The good news about diversity in the outdoors is that there already a number of outstanding groups and organizations doing a lot of great work to get everyone outside whether they be African American, Hispanic, Asian, underserved, military youth, veterans, etc. All of us though, need to do a better job telling the story and more people need to get involved... outside of course.

Many of these organizations, including the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) program that I mentioned in the last blog have an opportunity for you to get involved as a volunteer, a donor, a leader, or just to help spread the word. Some of these organizations are listed below:

  • Through the Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors, you have your choice of getting involved in Outings, Inner City Outings, Building Bridges to the Outdoors, the Military Family and Veterans Initiative, or National Outings. One of many great story about the impact of outings in general is the story of one of the Sierra Club's many great volunteers, Liz Wheelan.

  • Outdoor Outreach, discussed in our first blog is doing great work in San Diego and will be piloting a program in 2012 focused on developing outdoor leadership skills amongst a targeted audience of military youth.
  • Big City Mountaineers, who train mentors on outdoor skills and partner them with youth on week long outings into the mountains. You can also get involved through their Summit for Someone program and are launching a pilot project this year bringing the military community in to the fold through training veterans to lead youth, as well as a 9/11/12 Summit for Someone focused on youth who may have lost a parent at war.
  • The Children and Nature Network's Natural Leader's Network, headed up by National Geographic Emerging Explorer, Juan Martinez, from Los Angeles. Juan often reminds people that the rain and nature don't care what color your skin is.
  • The Nation's largest skiing community is the National Brotherhood of Skiers.
  • One of the coolest websites on the internet, and from what I've heard and experienced, one of the most genuine organizations out there: http://www.outdoorafro.com
  • Outward Bound, and more specifically, Voyageur Outward Bound School, who among other initiatives, have a great partnership with Dunwoody Technical School in the Twin Cities that ensures a very diverse population gets to experience the joy of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
  • Named in honor of one of the most famous African American mountaineers, James Beckwourth http://beckwourthoutdoors.org/
  • And for a great novel that tells a compelling story about the military and African American experience in the outdoors from the last century, Shelton Johnson's Gloryland, is one of the best.
  • This list is far from complete and I know there are many other fantastic athletes that I have not had time to discuss. We have also not discussed issues of accessibility in the outdoors, but that will be coming. I hope in the comments section we can continue to identify other athletes and organizations and strategies who are making a difference every day in getting America, all of America, outside.

    Finally, we must remember to be intentional in our efforts. In many conversations with partners and potential partners for my work with military families and veterans, I often here people say, "But our programs are not exclusive, veterans are welcome." And so they are, and so are men and women of other races and colors, but unless the invitation is deliberate, the message may not get across.

    The trick is making sure the invitation is not condescending and speaks to the community you, we, are hoping to welcome and that we are willing to meet the new group half way. We cannot continue to expect new participants in the outdoors to only do it our way. It has to be a two way street (or path or portage) where both groups have something to learn from one another.
    I hope to see you out on the trail!