It's amazing how seemingly chance encounters can change the course of your life. Well, last week something like that happened to me and the idea of Black on the Outside was born. In my job as an academic researcher, I am often asked my opinion on topics in the area of physical activity or obesity but an email from the National Park Service really got my attention. Some of you know how much I love being outside running and hiking through the woods but I had not linked this passion to my day job. At least I had not thought of a way to integrate the two just yet.
Anyway, one of the national parks wanted my opinion on setting up a panel of scholars to talk about what they could do to get more African Americans to visit their park. Since this was outside of my area of expertise, I referred her to other African Americans doing this work, The African American Nature & Parks Experience (Teresa Baker) and Outdoor Afro (Rue Mapp). And for my part, I told her stories of my childhood experiences that led me to my passion for the outdoors. It was during this conversation that I felt a shift in my being as I recalled memories of my dad hunting, fishing, horseback riding and a bunch of other outdoor activities. My dad had all kinds of guns for hunting wild game (deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, and possums -- yes, he ate this stuff) and he showed me how to shoot all of them. I was always eager to try new things and to prove to my dad that I could do anything even though girls were not always encouraged to participate in adventurous activities. But my dad let me tag along with him whenever he was doing stuff outside. I guess you could say I am a little country girl who fell in love with nature through exposure and encouragement from her dad.
In the end, I suggested that the park representative go talk to the African American people in her community to find out their stories and why they use or do not the park. I think a lot has to do with experience and a feeling of support and being welcomed. So in addition to including pictures of a diverse cross-section of people of color on park advertisements, it is important to include our stories of convening with nature.
Black on the Outside is a collection of stories from childhood up to now that shows the value of early experiences on future behaviors. Some of these accounts are scary and some are hysterical. Hopefully, some of my stories will resonate with you and move you to get outside!