Remember the Outdoor Nation Youth Summit of over 500 youth from all over the US last June in New York City’s Central Park I attended? Well, the event organizers, the Outdoor Foundation, just released the data collected from the participants, and the findings are fascinating, resulting in a report that offers five top recommendations to President Obama to inform his America’s Great Outdoors Initiative including:
1. Engage, Employ and Empower Youth by working with Outdoor Nation and its community of Outsiders. 2. Engage Youth in the Outdoors during the School Day by collaborating with the Department of Education and local school leadership to engage school children in outdoor learning opportunities and active time outdoors at school. 3. Increase the Number of Safe and Accessible Green Spaces, particularly in low-income communities with significant health disparities, by eliminating park, playground and natural space desserts where they exist. 4. Support Close-to-Home Outdoor Recreation by providing resources to parents and caregivers that help address the barriers to allowing unstructured outdoor play. 5. Strengthen Outreach to New Audiences at all relevant agencies by integrating 21st Century communications tools such as mapping devices, iPhone applications, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other tools that will increase the visibility of our parks and natural spaces.
“This Special Report for President Obama represents some of the best ideas and recommendations for protecting America’s great outdoors,” said Christine Fanning, executive director for The Outdoor Foundation. “For the first time, empowered young leaders from across the country are speaking with one voice about outdoor programs and policies — and being heard. We look forward to working with the Administration to implement these forward-looking concepts.”
Click here to download the full report. Do you think anything is missing from the report? What might you add to it?
Check out this intruging New York Times article brought to my attention by an Outdoor Afro community member about The Negro Motorist Green Book, a book that helped black people find where and how to move about the United States for travel and leisure in the Jim Crow era. Living in these Obama tinted times, it can seem like a distant concept that in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents, where black people might go to eat, spend a night, or merely venture to recreate was often dictated by the color of their skin.
But outdoor engagement for many African Americans was still happening in spite of these barriers, especially in places like the south. Leafing through the pages of my own family photos, my folks and other relatives are pictured outdoors and engaged in all sorts of recreational activities over the years, but the scene was most often a picnic on private land; backyards, or other neighborhood settings — not at a National Park. For example, American Beach in Florida has historically been about celebrating family. Today, some of the community’s original families still gather here for vacations.
Related to camping history in the US, Terence Young in his 2009 article: ‘a contradiction in democratic government’: W. J. TRENT, JR., AND THE STRUGGLE TO DESEGREGATE NATIONAL PARK CAMPGROUNDS, shares some additional historical context:
“Camping began in the nineteenth century as an elite form of pilgrimage to the wild, but the arrival of inexpensive automobiles in the early twentieth century greatly expanded camping’s social diversity. The change was not universally embraced, especially when African Americans were involved, and the issue came to a head during the 1930s after two racially segregated national parks were opened in southern states. As complaints flowed in, William J. Trent, Jr., became adviser for Negro affairs to Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes. He had no special interest in the outdoors or national parks, but Trent championed increased African American access to the parks and an end to discrimination in them. NPS leadership resisted Trent’s efforts until Secretary Ickes ordered them to create one nonsegregated demonstration area in Shenandoah National Park in 1939. The policy was extended to other areas in 1941 and the next year, with World War II shifting into high gear, campground and other forms of segregation were ended throughout the park system.”
Anthony John Coletti – Family Reunion at American Beach
Current barriers to the outdoors can no longer be attributed to segregation laws, but sometimes a fear of the unknown experience coupled with concerns about not being welcomed. Public and private organizations related to the outdoors have the challenge of not only connecting a new generation to wild spaces, but also addressing some of the historical residue that may account for some of the current estrangement.
Today we each have an important opportunity to make a difference related to who engages with our natural and public spaces. There is a monumental effort happening at a national level and across many organizations to reconnect all Americans to the outdoors not seen since Roosevelt. Since my trip to Washington DC for the America’s Great Outdoors Conference last spring, senior White House Officials have traveled all over the country hosting listening sessions to collect inspired ideas from people of all walks of life to map out ways to connect more Americans to the outdoors. The data collected will be presented to President Obama in a report due in November of this year. And even if you cannot make one of the upcoming listening sessions in a town near you, please make sure to add your ideas to the official AGO website. Outdoor Afro Project: Ask your parents or grandparents how they engaged with natural spaces while growing up, especially if they lived during the pre-Civil Rights era. Post your findings here in the comments. You may also mail in photos to be featured in a follow-up blog post. Read: Frank and Audrey Peterman’s book, Legacy on the Land, about the history of the National Parks and people of color.
I just got back from Washington DC on Monday after participating on behalf of the Outdoor Afro community in the first ever America’s Great Outdoors conference. This event was designed to bring leaders from around the country to discuss ways to re-connect Americans to the Great Outdoors and hosted the historic signing of the Presidential Memorandum on the topic.
Last Thursday night was the pre-conference mixer at the Department of Agriculture, where we heard from the Department of the Interior (Ken Salazar), Department of Agriculture (Tom Vilsack), Council on Environmental Quality (Nancy Sutley), and the Environmental Protection Agency (Lisa Jackson). Following a brief program, participants had the opportunity to pre-register for the conference and network among environmental, recreational, retail, and government related leadership from all over the United States.
A highlight of the trip was reconnecting with the historic Breaking the Color Barrier Conference alumni, a subset of a larger group of individuals who represent organizations that work year-round to connect the outdoors to underrepresented communities of color.
Breaking the Color Barrier Alumni
The following Friday morning conference program was held at the Department of the Interior and well orchestrated for both attendees and television audiences, with more networking opportunities.
President Obama, who stood mere feet from where I was seated, impressed upon us in his speech that reconnecting all Americans to the outdoors honors our collective national heritage. The President said “few pursuits are more satisfying to the spirit than discovering the greatness of America’s outdoors,” which referenced his personal family value of outdoor recreation.
We heard from panelists ranging from the federal government to state leadership, such as New Mexico Governer Bill Richardson; key local influencers such as Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, and Ernesto Pepito, Youth Program Director of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
The single most poignant message to emerge from these talks was the imperative to connect urban, underrepresented communities and youth to the outdoors. Pepito, a young Latino male, remarked in his panel that youth need to be represented at the table in leadership talks such as these, and also be introduced to conservation career pathways versus one-time volunteer opportunities. And Gov. Bill Richardson underscored the need for more people of color to be reached, especially in light of America’s changing demographics.
After the morning talks from the stage, participants met in smaller groups to discuss in greater detail the most pressing challenges and share solutions — and senior White House staff was on hand to take notes.
Breakout Session (Photo: Queen Quet)
This conference was just the beginning, and as it concluded, many of us felt a tremendous boost of hope and inspiration for the work we already do that is now supported and made visible in a new national agenda. And we learned that in the months ahead, members of this administration will host regional listening sessions across America. They will meet with everyone from tribal leaders to farmers, from young people to businesspeople, from elected officials to recreation and conservation groups.
“And the ideas from these meetings will help form a 21st century strategy for America’s great outdoors to better protect our natural landscape and our history for generations to come, ” said President Obama.
Outdoor Afro was honored to be at the table for these inspired and ground-breaking conversations that will result in more Americans discovering a deeper connection to the outdoors, and ultimately to themselves.