Outdoor Afro x Nissan

Watch Outdoor Afro channel the tenacious spirit of York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as we return to rugged and kayak 100 miles on the Missouri River in partnership with Nissan.

A Reflection on Harriet Tubman’s Relationship with Nature

Reflecting on Freedom in America

One month ago today (7.19.21), on Juneteenth, we asked you to join us in nature for 2.5 hours and reflect on the question, “what does freedom in American mean to you?” So many of you took to nature to reflect and many of you shared your reflections with us.

What is Juneteenth?

On June 19, 2021 hundreds of people around the United States joined us outdoors in commemoration of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is an annual recognition of the moment when 250,000 enslaved Black Americans in Galveston Texas were told they were free in the year 1865 – 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect – January 1, 1863.

Many accounts of history appear to leave out the “how and why.” How was it possible for President Abraham Lincoln to draft and sign an executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in September 1862 and despite the three months until it took effect, no one told the enslaved?

  • Why didn’t the slave holders tell the enslaved?
  • Why didn’t the sheriff tell the enslaved?
  • Why didn’t the mayor tell the enslaved?
  • Why didn’t the governor tell the enslaved?

What You Shared

“I was able to celebrate Juneteenth with my granddaughter at Egmont Key National Refuge in Crystal River, Fl. We spent a wonderful three hours enjoying the beautiful island beach. As I approach the age of eighty, feeling so blessed and grateful for my life, I realize as Dr. King said that “None of us is free until all of us are free.”

“Reflecting on the meaning Juneteenth, I have always had mixed feelings about it. As Black person, I did not learn about the day until I was an adult. Also, in a black family where we often remember the emancipation in April and learning about Juneteenth for the first time as an adult made me scratch my head. That is because I felt it was celebrating the fact that Texas could no longer lie to its enslaved population and seemed out of place. But I also have learned to appreciate and grow in understanding about the significance of the day. It also can now be a day to reflect on how far we need to go and to not take small victories for granted.”

“Resilience-like the mighty trees and the water appearing still, but moving and providing a reflection of everything, beautiful souls grew strong and never stagnant-so is the freedom that our ancestors desired, somewhat achieved. Freedom now is the chance to grow strong without fear of another cutting you down because “you’re in their way to getting what equally belongs to all”. Freedom is the peace and tranquility reflected back to anyone looking at our society -no muddied waters or distorted reflections.”

 

“I spent a few hours at a park reflecting about what Juneteenth means to me. I marvel at how resilient we are as a people. Our ancestors endured the imaginable. I’m grateful to be living and choosing joy and rest as resistance on this day.”

 

“While I was unable to spend time outside on 6/19, I made up for it today, 6/20, in an event I partook in called WINGS, Women in Nature Gaining Skills. With a group of 17 awesome gals, we SUP’d on a small lake in Bloomington, IN. Some gracefully floated, some swerved, some tracked straight and fast and others sat back and relaxed. No matter the experience level, paddling preference, or personal identity, we all supported one another with a common purpose out on the lake today – to enjoy nature with other women. Spending time outdoors with like-minded individuals, and sometimes also alone, is where I begin my reflection. The element of time and how we choose to spend it is an incredible source of freedom, and to me, it’s one of the most treasured parts of being free in America. The choice to decide what you want to do during those evening or after-work hours, and going out and doing it while feeling welcome, safe, and supported – that matters. Today, I felt free to make my choice to spend time doing SUP yoga. I felt supported by these other women and thankful I could be a part of the experience, and hope the Program helped each participant feel welcome in the space and grow in their relationship with the outdoors.”

“To me, being able to spend time outside, and just “be”, is what it means to be free in America. To be able to make my own choices, about myself, my body, and my time is an incredible freedom. I chose to spend Juneteenth outdoors and just be, listening to the trees blow in the breeze and feel the sun shine down on me. Freedom of choice, to just be.”

“This is the first year I’ve formally celebrated Juneteenth. But something told me months ago that creating my own long-weekend writing retreat would free me from the unfinished manuscript I’d been dragging in my wake for the past several years. My back-country weekend has given me much more than that, though. The outdoors has always been my sanctuary and soothing balm–a socially acceptable form of solitude for an introvert like me. But this weekend– in the wake of last year’s social justice awakening and this new federal holiday–this Juneteenth weekend has made me appreciate what has brought me to this place. For my family and friends, for my education and opportunities, for the many other freedoms I enjoy, I have walked and remembered and embraced the outdoors this weekend as a symbol of the unlimited potential of life.”

 

“Today is a day brimming with celebration in our community of Oak Park Illinois-our first bike tour of important black history, influencers, and achievement. Our family learned a new perspective on the history here and are richer for it. The historic narrative has changed and the current one and current black experience is slowly changing here.”

 

“To be free in America is to be humbled by our past and committed to improving our future as a nation. It requires being open to admitting that we are a deeply flawed nation, a deeply flawed people but to have hope and determination that we can do a whole lot better. To be free in America requires that we the people allow everyone to stand in their truth and speak their truth. It means being more curious than afraid, more humble than defensive, more compassionate than aggressive, more united than divided. Is it to understand that this democracy is fragile? Is it an experiment that we must remain engaged in bettering and strengthening?”

“As a non-black person of color, freedom in what is now called the United States means liberation and shalom (wholeness) for all of our human and non-human relatives, particularly our black relatives. For healing to be supported and pursued for us to be in right relationship with each other, ourselves, and Creation. ”

“I spent 2 1/2 hours in a nearby forest riding my bicycle and reflected on how fortunate I am to not have to fear for my safety while spending time in the outdoors due to me being a white male. I have often thought about how it is different for women, but not for people of color until this past year. I will continue to discuss this with people I know in hopes of bringing about awareness. I also reflected on the enslaved people of Galveston and how after they were set “free”, they basically had the clothes on their body, likely no home, no money, and living in a part of the country that was hostile towards them. It is pretty much impossible for me to know what they went through. Brutal, sums it up. My mind rotates in thinking that the U.S enslaved people for 246 years! Not only that, this country was far harsher to the enslaved than happened over history in other parts of the world. As I typed this, I just now had the realization that I let out a verbal sigh. A minuscule act on my part, but a firm realization to how messed up humans have treated and continue to treat fellow humans, simply based upon the color of their skin. It is frustrating how far we have to go to make some amends. I will continue to work to educate myself on our racial past and do my best to be an ally. I know as a white male I have been provided a lot of opportunities that are simply denied to others that aren’t white male. Thank you for being a part in bringing about my awareness,” – Warm regards, Chris

“While out riding my bike, I reflected on what my freedom means to me. My freedom to practice my religion, free speech, buy a house, and spend time outside riding my bike, walking my dogs, visiting friends with no fear. My hope is that we all spend time thinking about how lucky we are and how we can help others be free to pursue their passions. 

 

“I spent the day with my family thinking about how beautiful it was to be in one another’s company surrounded by nature and love. I thought about how it must have felt for those enslaved individuals that waited so long for their freedom to feel that same joy on their own terms. It made me feel incredibly grateful to know that the freedom I experience today draws a direct line to those enslaved individuals that fought for it then. I look back at the history of Juneteenth with humbled admiration for the strength, love, and righteousness those folks faced each day with, and pray that I can reflect those characteristics in even the smallest of ways as an example to my son, on how not to repeat one of our nation’s most grave injustices and approach each day with love and an open heart towards others. ”

 

“I felt so fortunate to be able to have leisure time outdoors in this free country, and reflected on those who were forced to labor (outdoors) to make this country what it is today. ”

“The more I do the work of anti-racism and decolonization, the more I understand that “freedom” is shackled here in America. It is encouraging to look back and witness progress in our country, but in a place that was founded on slavery, white supremacy, and genocide, there is endless work to be done progressively so that “freedom” is equitable. In the meantime, as we work to obtain this goal, we can feel freedom.”

“ Having the empathy and courage to take action and support others when we see an imbalance within the social scales. Having the freedom to collectively fight regardless of how we look, where we come from, or how we identify or what we believe in.”

“I spent the day with my family at Jordan Lake Park in Apex, North Carolina, with the Outdoor Afro Raleigh/Durham Network. I reflected on how strong Black Americans are because of our ancestors and that we need to own and recognize our strength. However, our Ancestors chose to survive the brutality of being enslaved; the future generations are stronger because of their sacrifices. Whether after being enslaved, they jumped off the slave ship, worked on the plantation, worked in the slave house, or escaped, we are stronger because their blood runs through our veins. May the atrocities ”

Let’s Get Outside with our 2021 Leadership Team

We're Ready to get outside with you!

Announcing our 2021 Outdoor Afro Leadership Team!

We recently gathered virtually for our annual Outdoor Afro Leadership Training, and along with learning, connecting and reflecting on our love for nature, it was a celebration. We celebrated how our 103 Leaders who are teachers, doctors, grocery store managers, parents and outdoor employees among other roles, showed up this past year. Through the challenges we’ve all faced, they continued to show up connecting people to nature and each other. 

This year, our inspiring volunteer leaders come from diverse backgrounds in 56 cities and the District of Columbia. These volunteers embody the promise and passion to continue what Outdoor Afro trail blazed more than TEN YEARS ago!

As we continue to transform the narrative about Black leadership in the outdoors, we are honored to welcome the volunteer leaders who will continue the success of the previous classes of Outdoor Afro Leadership. Each volunteer leader will create and guide monthly trips, leverage media and create collaborations to strengthen connections with the outdoors.

Learn more about our training here.

We invest in our leaders through our annual in person training. However, during our online experience this year, we dug deep into two sessions of risk management, broke into small groups by activity to “choose your own adventure,” were grounded in our story as we planned our own mission statements as outdoor leaders,  and had so much fun with an OALT teambuilder.  We are grateful for an amazing team who have worked diligently to create a meaningful experience to deepen relationships with each other and build on existing expertise. You can look back on our training journey with #OALT21.

 

Throughout the year, Leaders will affirm Outdoor Afro values through ongoing training that reflects not just outdoor skills, but building community and relationships as well. We celebrated that nature never closes, and look forward to getting outside with you this year. 

Couples Camping and Roasting Marshmallows

Etiquette Tips For Camping with Friends and Family

Couples Camping © Steve Prezant/Corbis

You can’t change your friends and family, but you can change the way you camp with them. Some moderate planning can make a big difference in your camping experience together. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your camping trips with loved ones:

Shared Space
In some areas, the outdoors still has boundaries, and it’s important to honor both the environment and neighboring campers. If you are planning to visit a drive-up or RV campground, make sure you have reserved a site that can accommodate your entire group plus equipment, to avoid encroaching on neighboring sites. It’s also nice to offer neighbors a hand with tents or with getting a campfire lit. Good stewards leave no trace of trash, but leaving a bit of firewood for the next group in your spot is always a welcomed gesture.

Morning Oatmeal: Dudley Edmonsdon

Food
Plan your meals together at home and share the shopping tasks so there are no surprises. Meat eaters might eat vegetarian fare, but don’t expect your vegetarian friends and family members to eat the steak and bacon you brought, even if it is free range and hormone free! Decide on meal plans that accommodate everyone.

Marva and Daughter: Marva Cherry Flowers

Kids
If you have kids, and are planning to camp with folks without children, discuss logistics, such as the possibility of hands-on help with recreation or watching over little ones. If everyone is bringing little ones, get a watch routine together, so all the adults can plan for breaks in the action.

Music
If your camping mates are all persons of color, don’t assume folks want to hear Li’l Wayne on blast all weekend.   Bring acoustic instruments, like a hand drum or guitar that can be enjoyable and easy to play, even if you are not an expert. Singing or telling stories, while gathered around a campfire is classic, and timeless.

Booze/Drinks
Some drink, others don’t; some like Bud Light, others like Grey Goose. Discuss and get clear regarding alcohol consumption preferences, and know your campground policy on alcohol in advance (see Nancy’s comment below!).

Above all…just chill

Camping trips are a time to let go, and go with the flow. You might stay up ’til the wee hours to stargaze; your kids might eat a ton of s’mores, and all of you might laugh louder than you ever would at home after a long day at work. Enjoy it all! The best part of my own camping plan is to leave the city constraints behind and have fun!

What are some of your tips and experiences when camping with friends and family?

Chillin’: Dudley Edmondson

Black Firefighters Blazing Trails

Every month is Black History Month with Outdoor Afro as we seek to honor ancestors who’ve paved the way before us along with those who walk with us today.

Outdoor Afro Essentials: Build a Fire

By Chaya Harris

Prefer to watch a video? Check out fire making with Antoine Skinner!

You arrive back to your campsite in the evening after a long day’s hike, ready to build a fire to cook dinner and enjoy s’mores. Or maybe you have your loved ones over for some cozy, socially-distanced fun around your firepit in your backyard. You strike a match, drop it on a log, and….fizzle. Nothing.

Don’t let your fire plans go up in smoke!

This season especially, we encourage you to enjoy some time around a fire, whether indoors or out, reflecting on the good that endures. Many indigenous people honor the way fire can restore in nature, and perhaps it can stoke the wonders that we are.

Here are our sure fire tips – and yep, a few more puns – for a successful blaze every time.

Know Before You Go / Getting Started 

  • If you’re camping or backpacking in a national or state park, or a private campground, know the fire rules before you go. There are regulations about if and where you can build fires, seasonal considerations, and usually rules around outside wood.
  • Bringing in wood from another area commonly introduces invasive insects, like the emerald ash borer beetle, and tree diseases.
  • Build your fire on a stable surface; clear rocks, pinecones and other debris from the fire pit or ring.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings, including the space between your fire and tents, trees, tablecloths, etc… Flames and sparks spread easily and quickly. Different types of wood and weather conditions can cause embers to “jump” unpredictably.
  •  
Gather your supplies 
 
Bring more than one way to start a fire, including waterproof matches, a lighter and a ferro rod stored in a dry sack

Whenever you’re creating a fire, think of a triangle of heat, oxygen and fuel. If you remove any of those elements, then you will extinguish the fire. In gathering your materials, consider what the fire will burn (the fuel) and how you’re going to spark a flame (the heat). Of course, include safety precautions with gathering your supplies and be sure to have a small fire extinguisher which works on any type of fire, or a bucket of water for wood fires.

  • Use a small hatchet
  • Practice at least two ways to ignite the fire, such as waterproof matches, a lighter, and different types of firestarter kits (like a magnesium bar or ferro rod)
  • Gather wood in a variety of sizes. You will need small twigs and branches as well as larger logs if possible. Use wood from fallen trees and scattered branches.  Dry tree bark often lights easily.
  • Grab a stick or bring a fireproof tool for stoking the fire
  • If you’re buying wood, different types of wood will give you different scents and varying burn times.
Firestarter

Outdoor Afro Leaders love talking about firestarter! It’s one of our most frequently asked questions during events and will ignite some creativity when you start discussing options. While you can purchase firestarter at most outdoor and sporting goods retailers, there are some everyday household items to use, like dryer lint

Wax, dryer lint and egg cartons make for fantastic fire starters

Wax, dryer lint and egg cartons are fantastic fire starters

  • Dryer lint, stored in a baggie with petroleum jelly
  • Toss the dryer lint covered in petroleum jelly or soaked in oil in an egg carton
  • Place the lint in an egg carton and drizzle with old candle wax
  • Cotton balls, also covered in petroleum jelly, can be stored in a balloon to keep them dry or a mint tin (solid option for wet conditions)
  • Save the sawdust from your home projects, or ask for the leftovers at a home improvement store, and then add old wax for sawdust balls
Structure / Fire lay
Logs stacked in a cabin style will support a long burn

Coming back to the fire triangle, the structure is crucial for how the oxygen and fuel (the wood) will interact for the ongoing chemical reaction. Decide on your structure, then place your firestarter and tinder, then kindling and build up to larger sticks. These structures balance the oxygen and fuel for a long-lasting fire.

  • Teepee style: arrange your smaller pieces over wood over your firestarter and kindling like a teepee; add larger pieces around the outside.
  • Log cabin style: crisscross 4 pieces of wood like a tic-tac-toe board with your tinder in the middle. Add a few layers until you have a small cabin.
  • Lean-to: Best for wind protection and to use in light rain. Using a larger log, like a tree trunk, or a large, flattop boulder, place your tinder close to the log or boulder. Then lay your kindling and larger branches across the tinder so it’s slanted from the ground to the top of the log.

Always light your fire from the bottom of the firestarter and tinder so the flames move upward and burn the larger pieces of wood.

Extinguish the Fire

After you and your loved ones admire your fire building skills, be sure to put out the fire completely. This means it is cool to the touch. You can let it die out, or…

  • Douse it with water and break up remaining embers
  • Dig down a few inches, and use dirt from under the fire to cover the embers. Then douse to create mud.

Never leave a fire unattended, and if you’re using charcoal, many of the same fire starting techniques apply. However, do not dispose of charcoal outside of a fire pit or near a tree. For other details about charcoal, that’s a whole other post.

Wait – what about the hatchet?

In addition to boosting confidence and posing for outdoorsy photos, a hatchet is great for trimming wood for kindling, such as stripping off some tree bark or cutting small branches from a downed tree. If the wood is wet or iced over, use a hatchet to strip the wood down to the drier core and dry the outer layers around the fire you’ll have built in flash.

….and there we go – you’re ready for a blazing fire! What other essential skills would you like to see us demonstrate?

Fire Making with Antoine Skinner

Finding a Path in 2020: Blackpacking with Outdoor Afro Leaders

By Chaya Harris

What do Outdoor Afro Leaders do with the challenges we face in 2020? We make a way.

In the fall, I found out that six of our Leaders near Washington, DC were planning a backpacking trip in the Otter Creek Wilderness in West Virginia. I had not seen them in person this year since our annual Leadership Training was virtual, and my local trails have been pretty crowded, so I invited myself along.

Our team of seven – Antonio, China, Jessica, Monette, Ray, Scott, and I – started our Zooms and planning documents, first deciding on where we wanted to go and considering safety precautions, including our own Covid-19 protocol. Using vague maps we found online, we narrowed down an area and had a few routes in mind, depending on how we felt as a group during the trek. As we learned more about the creek crossings, likelihood of a mudfest and the start of bear hunting season, we dug a little deeper and found our new friends, Purple Lizard. They’ve published two detailed maps of the Monongahela National Forest and provided a lot more info about trailheads and parking.

Another part of our risk management is preparing for our psychological safety, too. With more people wielding flags as symbols of hate all over the country, we knew what to expect to see on our drive, and with local hunters likely to be out, we were also prepared for the who. Even though this was not part of our official training, all Outdoor Afro events provide ongoing fortification so we’re able to connect and uplift each other in nature. Also, Mike and Justine with Purple Lizard informed us about a friendly town for strong coffee!

We organized our gear, resolving that it was best for everyone to bring their own of everything, even though it meant a bit more weight in our packs. Although we agreed not to share food, one of the best parts of backpacking, we stored meals from Backpacker’s Pantry that we looked forward to as we settled into camp for the night.

Under overcast Friday morning skies, we set out in our cars through northern Virginia into the deep western hills, buzzing with the excitement of actually being together and heading into  the backcountry.” 

Perhaps from being indoors more, our curiosity about outside was piqued, asking each other about the weather and fog in relation to the wildfires, and discussing the potential conflicts of coal mining and wind turbines for the residents, in between singing along to the road-deejay’s hits.

About four hours later, we all met at the trailhead near the small town of Thomas on Massawomeck Indigenous land. As with any of our trainings, we had a long greeting full of joy and gratitude in seeing each other and hearing that our loved ones are healthy. We checked our packs, some of us still weighing whether that extra fleece or instant camera was worth carrying, and checked our outfits, seeing how we could coordinate on the trails. We even had an opening circle, setting our intentions for our three day, two night hike.

Immediately after the parking lot, we crossed a wooden bridge over the Dry Fork River, where we peered down and marveled at the evidence of passing time: symmetrical grooves in the river rocks from glaciers and changes in the tree density and heights showing a second-growth forest. The path narrowed quickly with lush bushes and trees, short inclines and quick boulder scrambles along Otter Creek. We paused often for Monette to take pictures of the fungi, for China to wander along the water’s edge, and for Antonio to assess backup campsites.

At every stop or fallen tree we had to navigate, I spent extra time petting the velvety moss! We shrieked while crossing the chilly creek, but you could hear ooohs and aaahs in between.

An Outdoor Afro Leader climbs over a fallen tree on a muddy ledge

After the creek crossing, I left on my sandals as we continued our hike instead of changing back into my Keen boots.

The overgrowth was even thicker, with large rhododendrons limiting us to single file and just a few feet of visibility, and it was easy to lose the trail if we didn’t stay toget her. Then came the mud and steep ledges. Frustrated, I asked, “Do y’all think the trail will be like this the whole way?”

Scott replied, “I don’t think about it.” I laughed, thinking that makes perfect sense. I shifted my thoughts to the squishy mud oozing around my feet, feeling appreciative that I get to choose physical discomfort, and various footwear in doing so.

About six or seven miles from the parking lot, we made camp that evening along the Otter Creek River. Settling in felt like such a relief, not just to be done hiking for the day, but to have clear options and being able to focus on the now. Some of us reflected by the river quietly, and I whispered Rue’s reminder, “Nature never closes. 

We had sufficient space to spread out, and worked pretty independently in setting up tents, filtering water, building a fire and preparing dinner. I had endless questions for Antonio about his lightweight pack – just 18 pounds! We teased each other with you packed it, you take it to avoid the shared responsibility of bear bags and bear canisters, putting off the task until we put the fire out.

In the morning, we had a leisurely start after oats, eggs or almond butter and jelly bagels, brushing our teeth and moisturizing, and making sure our campsite looked untouched. We thanked Mother Nature for providing the space, and warmed up with a few yoga moves. We were back to negotiating the same skinny, muddy overgrown trail, but something was different.

Our laughs felt lighter, our discussions more substantial and our encouragement for each other flowed. I know it’s cheesy, but as the sun came out, so did we.

Throughout the day, Jessica stayed at the helm of navigating the map, but we made more decisions as a group, figuring out which trails to follow and traversing more streams. We decided on a loop that took us up a ridge along a steeper section with endless pines, oaks and a few birches. We called out trail hazards so nobody walked into (another) tree, and held poles or lent a hand when needed. When we encountered more mud, this time close to our knees, we shimmied along the sides pushing through the undergrowth.

China literally had Scott’s back, grabbing his arm as he started to fall to prevent a mud bath! 

Sunset came quickly that evening, and we pitched our tents in two areas about 20 yards apart as there are just a couple of sites along that trail segment. We moved quickly, helping each other with rainflys, collectively gathering wood and maintaining a hearty fire, and sharing items like sleeping bag liners so we could all have a comfortable night’s sleep. Although we debated the best cartoons like Rugrats or Hey Arnold, we easily cooperated for tasks like hanging a bear bag. Under patches of stars, we were all smiles sampling a crème brulee.

The next day, we were up and heading out early to cover the last 8 miles or so of our adventure. We had an easy but quick pace as we made our way winding down the ridge, crossing a small stream and coming out to hillside with vivid grass, fall wildflowers and downed trees.

I twisted under one of the trees, behind Antonio and Scott, chatting about our much anticipated dinner, when Jessica yelled, “Snake!”

I pushed Scott out the way and took off.

Jessica, China, Monette and Ray admired the black Eastern diamondback beauty, taking photos as it warned us with a gentle rattle and finding a way around the tree that still left a wide berth. I kept thinking about how close we were and I didn’t even see it! We resumed down the trail, a teammate called out a hole and I screamed, still shook from the snake. Thinking back, nobody laughed at me – well not a lot – and Antonio thoughtfully walked a bit faster and talked to me about his fears to help me calm down. When I finally swallowed my stomach, we noted how the animals around us just want to be left alone.

As we made it to the north part of our loop, the trail flattened out under the canopy and became a bit rockier on the approach to crossing Otter Creek again. We heard hunting dogs in the distance, and saw a few truckfuls on a short hilly road. When we arrived at the stream, we did our water crossing dance of looking for a path without getting too wet, determining whether we should change out of our boots and then stepping carefully across, savoring the last chill of our journey.

Two white guys, decked out in camo gear and carrying more guns that I could quickly count, holding six dogs on leashes bounded out of the forest swiftly across the creek. We said hello with no response. If I had been alone, I would have been on edge as I finished hiking, but being with my team was a firm reminder that we belong there.

Sooner than expected, we were back at the bridge, strutting in a fashion show and heading to our vehicles for a long departure, which included celebratory Oreos and a closing circle. While we have a renewed appreciation for each other and sharper skills to continue leading our communities, I want to remember that we made a way through connecting with each other and relying on what’s inside to navigate the unknown.