The Impact of Oprah’s Yosemite Adventure

It sure has been a great week to love the outdoors and be African American! Last Friday and today, as I tuned in to Oprah and Gayle to see their adventure in Yosemite National Park, I was completely enamored. Beyond the expected funny quips and comical equipment mishaps, I experienced (as if for the first time) a magical moment: moving images of people who looked like me enjoying a National Park.
The show theme was prompted by Outdoor Afro friend Shelton Johnson by a letter he wrote a couple of years ago inviting Oprah to visit. Shelton knew back then that just a tiny sprinkle of Oprah’s fairy dust could bring the National Parks into focus for Americans, particularly for African Americans, in a new and innovative way.
While I have been in the business of making the visual connection between African Americans and the outdoors, the moment I saw Gayle and Oprah with Shelton and Half-Dome in the horizon, I switched seamlessly from purveyor to customer. The beauty of Oprah and Gayle in that stunning natural space helped me visualize myself there.
And apparently I was not alone in my inspiration. Just after the show, my friend’s 78-year-old father phoned to say that he would like to visit Yosemite with her, and they have made a pact to go in 2011.

But the positive impact this show could have on families with young children is important. Those of us in the outdoor recreation field know that parents, especially mothers, are gatekeepers of outdoor experiences for their families. Therefore, in order for outdoor engagement to become a sustained activity for a new community, there needs to be a lot of support to address barriers such as fears and perceptions, equipment, and repeated, positive visual articulation of what it can look like. See this REI ad as a great model.

So Oprah getting out there camping as an African-American woman is significant, in that it demonstrates possibility. Her televised camping experience is the break-through moment that the field has been waiting for, and has needed in order for the outdoors to become relevant to a wider audience.

It is Outdoor Afro’s hope that the buzz that has come from her effort will not only open up new dialog and inspire new audiences, but also convert this new interest into real outdoor engagement and stewardship.

Did you watch the second half of the show today? What did you think?

Visit the Outdoor Afro Community to find people in your area to join in the outdoors!

Oprah Goes Camping in Yosemite!

A memo from National Parks Director Jonathan B. Jarvis shares:

“On October 29 and November 1, Oprah Winfrey will devote two entire shows to her overnight camping trip in Yosemite National Park earlier this month. Ms. Winfrey’s visit originated with a letter of invitation from Park Ranger Shelton Johnson. While in the park, Shelton shared his Buffalo Soldierpersona – Elizy Bowman – at an evening campfire chat with Ms. Winfrey and others staying at the Lower Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley.
While the shows highlight Ms. Winfrey’s visit to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Tunnel View, her mule ride, and fly fishing on the Merced River, she also raises the question of why there aren’t more visitors of color in national parks.
We all struggle with this question – and what to do about it.
Ms. Winfrey’s visit and the popularity of her show offer the National Park Service an unprecedented opportunity to reach a vast audience of potential first-time visitors and to start a conversation with them.

Photo by Dudley Edmondson

Coming on the heels of Ken Burns’ acclaimed documentary, these broadcasts promise to take the national parks to heights of visibility rarely seen before, particularly in mass media and pop culture.
At the national level, we are working with the Yosemite staff to create opportunities to leverage the broadcasts and deliver a National Park Service invitation to visit the soon-to-be 393 national parks and learn about these places owned by all Americans.
I encourage all of you to use this opportunity to reach out to your communities. For example, you could host viewing parties with the show as a discussion starter on how to increase the diversity of our visitors or hold “how-to” events over the weekend of October 30-31 to teach the basics of hiking, camping, and visiting for first-timers.
While we literally had years to prepare for the America’s Best Idea broadcast, there is now little more than a week to prepare for these episodes that will reach more than 30 million viewers and millions more through
I am confident that our innovative and creative employees will rise to the occasion and create immediate opportunities for all Americans to connect with the national park idea.”
The Outdoor Afro community is all aflutter about this news, as a major goal of this site is about changing perceptions of who engages with the outdoors. It is especially important that women of color be shown engaging with natural spaces in a positive context, so that others can see the possibility and benefits of building a relationship with treasures such as our national parks — which belong to everyone.
We hope this won’t be the last time we see Oprah camping! Can’t wait to hear your comments about the show!

Keeping It Wild Gala!

Dianne Glave, Atlanta-based environmental author and Outdoor Afro friend, attended the annual Keeping it Wild Gala last night, a fundraiser for the organization that was created in 2005 by several Atlanta citizen-advocates who perceived the need to bring together members of diverse conservation communities to promote stewardship for the natural lands in the area. Following are Dianne’s reflections on the event, originally posted on her fantastic site:

Sometimes  better, sometimes easier, to start with endings than beginnings . . .
I sat in the amphitheater at Zoo Atlanta listening to Shelton Johnson. He was the keynote speaker for the 6th Annual Keeping it Wild (KIW) Gala, and is a national park ranger and author of Gloryland. As I listened to Shelton, one row back from me I heard the rhythmic breathing of a six year old girl. Shelton’s passionate story-telling and cadence of that small child’s breathing mentally and spiritually took me outdoors.
I imagined being at Yosemite National Park, the source of many of Shelton’s stories.
Read full story…

Buffalo Soldiers Get Congressional Recognition

“Each Spring  these sons of slaves hiked hundreds of miles from San Francisco and Monterey to Sequoya, Yosemite and Kings Canyon serving in effect as our country’s first park rangers.” — Jackie Spier
This morning, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (San Francisco/San Mateo County) testified before a Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.  Speier’s bill, H.R. 4491, authorizes the National Park Service to study the role the African American regiments played in establishing the National Park System and to honor their legacy.”
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to begin to tell the world of the momentous contribution the Buffalo Soldiers have made to our country,” said Congresswoman Speier.   “It is fitting, during Black History Month, that we take the first steps towards the rightful recognition of these soldiers.   They were truly the first guardians of our National Parks, blazing the trails, building the roads and protecting the lands for visitors – they helped make the vision for our National Parks a reality.”
Also testifying before the Subcommittee is Stephen E. Whitesell, Associate Director, Park Planning, Facilities, and Lands for the National Park Service and Geneva Brett, Vice President, Los Banos Buffalo Soldiers Association from Los Banos, California.
Great news for the descendants and educators of the Buffalo Soldiers, such as Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson, who may now get an opportunity to honor the historical contribution of these unsung heroes with federal support.

Great Books as Holiday Stocking Stuffers!

I have to disclose up front that I am pretty biased about these three book recommendations because I am privileged to know each of the authors as partners through the development of Outdoor Afro and our shared passion for people of color and the outdoors. But aside from my excitement and gratitude for these folks, they have each produced some pretty extraordinary work well worth buying for your loved ones this holiday season.

As many of you know, Frank and Audrey Peterman have been at the forefront of outdoor conservation and advocates for greater diversity in our National Parks. Their recent ground breaking conference energized and organized a constituency that supports more people of color to get out and enjoy our natural resources. The work of this couple, and their enlightening book, Legacy on the Land, will inspire you.

$19.95 USD – Click to Purchase!

Shelton Johnson has been with the National Parks as a ranger for decades, but his recent appearance in the Ken Burns Documentary and recent meeting with President Obama, brought his role as a conduit of historical Yosemite’s Buffalo Soldier to new audiences. His book, Glory Land, is a beautifully written historical narrative that’s fun to read aloud.
I blogged about Dudley Edmondson some months back, and since then we became good friends. But every now and then someone will come up to me with a copy of his book The Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places and ask, “have you seen this before?” Well, indeed I have! And it enjoys a prominent spot on my coffee table so my guests and kids can look at amazing photos of people of color in wild spaces whenever they want.
Three different books about similar passions to engage everyone in your family. Can’t decide? Go to your local, independent book store and buy them all!

Outdoor Afro Talk Tuesdays -The Buffalo Soldier and Yosemite

Today’s fabulous show featured African American Park Ranger Shelton Johnson.

Photo courtesy of Dudley Edmondson from his Book Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places