When I think of all the things that I am, a writer is not at the top of the list, but, here I am writing for you because of my passion for the outdoors and how it relates to diversity. I have kept a journal for every year of my life for as long as I can remember. The pages most certainly are not filled with epic outdoor excursions, but I am willing to be vulnerable in my pursuit to share my current experiences. My love for the outdoors was rekindled just five short years ago, and my hope is one day my children will have journals filled with memories of our outdoor adventures!
As a child, my parents were both present and involved. I was one of four children and my cousin also lived with us for many years. My parents were a working-class Black-American couple with a full house, full-time jobs and the regular marital stresses. We always resided in larger cities, so national forests and parks weren’t always within easy reach. Now, as a parent myself, I understand how loading up five small children and heading for the mountains three hours away could appear daunting — not to mention the outdoors aren’t always the most comfortable place for a black family. I did grow up hitting the beaches of California during my early childhood years and noticed right away I had a desire to be in nature. It grounded me in a way I didn’t quite understand yet.
Planting the seed for the outdoors
We moved to Washington State when I was 9 years old, and I started to experience more frequent outdoor encounters that consisted of camping trips and small fishing excursions with my dad. Although I cherished those moments, I always knew there was so much more to explore.
As I grew older and made new friends, often white, they encouraged me to come along on their outdoor adventures with their families. One I remember the most, was a yearly camp trip with my longtime best friend, Sheryl. Every year as kids, her big family would pull together and meet in Morton, WA, and camp for a weekend. We would play outdoor games, swim in the river, jump off bridges (them, not me), and venture into town to hit the local IGA grocery store for junk food! At night, we would roast S’mores around the fire, play hide and seek in the dark and try to scare the living daylights out of each other. The days were long and the nights seemed even longer. In the morning, we would get up and do it all over again. As Sheryl and my friendship grew, I made sure to mark her family’s annual camping trip in my calendar. It was something I cherished year in and year out. Friendships that start with adventuring seem to last longer; and 20 years later, she is still one of my most treasured friends and favorite adventure buddy! Within this memory, my love of the outdoors was ignited.
Fast forward fifteen years, I met my husband and we now have two kids of our own. We have two amazing girls. My oldest was born in Colorado where we were surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. Our youngest entered the world in Washington State in my husband’s hometown surrounded by the Cascade mountains. This is where we live now, amongst the Northern Cascade mountain ranges, 360-degree mountain views at all times, kid-friendly trails at our fingertips and peaks I can summit at my leisure! I am currently one of the only black women living in this town, where Africa- Americans have never been a percentage on the local census. I know … crazy right?!
Nurturing the love of the outdoors
Since becoming a mother I have only lived near the mountains. My daughters don’t know any different. Their backyard is the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This is where they have laid their roots. The forest is where they have learned to walk, run, play, and live among the Larch. My girls have both started hiking with me as young as 3 months old. As they blossom from babies into adolescence, I too am blossoming beautifully into motherhood and the outdoors will always be at the center of that. We make it a point to be outside and explore. We camp, float the rivers, hike in the Summer and snowboard often in the Winter! Despite the barriers placed on people of color in the outdoor community around the world, we are choosing to follow our hearts. So far I have experienced nothing but acceptance in our little mountain town community but realize cliques form based off of the extreme sport you are in. My family and I choose to tackle this specific mountain together.
Our family lives a wonderful life outdoors. The mountains are home and I am my girls most important role model for diversity in nature. Motherhood is easier outside and in nature, all ethnicities deserve to experience the ease of parenting a child outdoors. There is nothing like watching your children chase butterflies through the forest, while jumping off rocks, balancing on logs, smelling the wildflowers, swimming in the rivers and lakes and most importantly just opening their eyes to this diversity – that is nature.
As an adult, I have learned that the ability to visit the outdoors is 100 percent a privilege. It is a privilege not everyone has in this world. Most faces of the outdoors, for as long as I can remember have been white men. Most marketing tactics to get people outdoors or to purchase their outdoor products are quite obviously targeted towards white people. The outdoors is not diversified. Many black people have had negative experiences visiting outdoor spaces. By being excluded in the marketing and social media world most won’t even consider the outdoors an option for their families. The face of nature is white, and I aim to change that. Nature should be as diverse as the flowers, trees, and animals that exist in it. This is everyone’s nature.
I fully recognize that we are privileged to live so close to hiking trails, lakes, and rivers. Thus, I feel it is my duty to speak out and be a face for other black mothers that need to know they are not alone. I want to use my privilege in a positive way, so that I can encourage another black mom that wants to give their kids outdoor experiences. I want black children to see our adventures and know that they can do it too! Representation matters so much when trying to be inclusive. People of color are not underrepresented, others are over represented.
Although I may never be represented by a big name outdoor brand, I am my girls biggest representative of the outdoors. I am their biggest cheerleader and number one female role model. I need my girls to know that we can break down the walls of stereotypes the world places on us. The color of our skin doesn’t have to determine what we like to do and most definitely does not decide our hobbies for us. The future generations will be different, and I’m out here encouraging two little girls that will make sure of that.
What are your thoughts on diversity on the trail? We would love to hear your insights in the comments below.
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Photos courtesy of Chelsea Murphy.
Chelsea is an adventure-seeking mama living in the Cascade Mountains. She has two girls who love to hike, camp and swim outdoors. Chelsea wants to be an inspiration to other Black Americans, specifically mothers who have reserves about being in the outdoors. Follow @she_colorsnature to enjoy their journeys.