Bridging the Adventure Gap
Outdoor recreation is a term encapsulating most activities under the sun, clouds, moon, and rain. From lounging in the public park down the street, running through state park trails, swimming in Lake Michigan, skiing Boyne Mountain or biking Belle Isle, nearly half of all American’s engage in some form of outdoor leisure.
We live in a world where 70% of the youth that participate in outdoor recreation are Caucasian. You may be thinking, "So what.", "Who cares?", "Not my problem." but this is your problem, this is our problem, this is our children's problem, and our earths problem. 49% of the United States population is Caucasian, the other 51% are people of color (African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asians, & Multiracial). So now we can ask ourselves why are the majority of people participating in outdoor recreation Caucasian? Why is there such a demographic disparity in outdoor recreation?
History. Access. Economics. Yes, you read that right- history, access, and economics- not a lack of interest, not laziness. Continue reading to delve deeper into why these factors have and are effecting the diversity of participation in outdoor recreation AND what Urban Outdoor Outreach is going to do to change it!
Historically black people's relationship with the outdoors have been developed over centuries of trauma and oppression. Collective memories of oppression and violence could affect how black people interact with the outdoors. “While diverse, the African American community is arguably unified by enforced subordination and oppression. Specifically, 250 years of slavery and a concerted effort by the United States government and legal system to legitimize Jim Crow laws that have left scars that many are unwilling or unlikely to forget” (Finney, p55). Retrospectively the relationship of African Americans with the outdoors have been filled with violence and forced, this relationship was beneficial to others and not themselves. This kind of painful relationship with the outdoors may have been passed down generation by generation; with the newer generations not knowing the pain and trauma associated with nature but just missing out on the opportunity to explore the land and mother earth that belongs to them as well.
Being able to physically access spaces designated for outdoor recreation is crucial to personal engagement and enjoyment of the activities. People who primarily live in urban areas are faced with the difficulty of reaching public lands and areas meant for outdoor recreation. The areas in which they are able to reach are not suitable for enjoyable play. Typically neighborhood parks are trashed and overgrown or dangerous. In order to find space that is suitable for enjoyment & recreation one would have to travel far. Dr. Roberts and Dr. Drogin write, “We cannot expect women from inner cities, who have had only minimal exposure to outdoor areas through the media, to feel good about adventuring beyond their personal/familiar environment unless there is sufficient time to interact with other areas, develop an enjoyable relationship with the outdoors, and want to explore”(Roberts and Drogin p17). Lacking comfortable transportation to and from true nature, people of color experience an absence of connection with outdoor spaces.
Economic status and financial means also creates a divide in who can participate in outdoor recreation. Individuals, family units, and communities alike have less time to allocate for leisurely activities due to their financial status. Many people view outdoor recreational activities as expensive and I agree; it is much more important to put put on your table and in your families stomachs than to go kayaking or mountain biking. As someone gets increasingly involved in an outdoor activity, the cost of gear and equipment will increase as well. In communities of color, which in the united states are disproportionately affected by poverty, economic means may determine one’s ability to participate in outdoor recreation.
WHAT WE CAN DO
From these previous statements we can see that there are several barriers that can keep urban individuals and families. People of color have historically had a traumatic relationship with the outdoors due to outside forces. It is time to create a peaceful and harmonic relationship with nature as that is what it offers. The accessibility to outdoor recreational spaces for people from urban community is discouraging and almost impossible. The cost to actually participate an outdoor activity and enjoy it without worry of missing a meal is disheartening.
That is why Urban Outdoor Outreach was created. Our goal is to bridge this gap by not only introducing urban families to the transformative powers of the outdoors but by giving them the means to enjoy, explore, and be educated. Our three programs are designed in mind to keep families coming back. We plan on providing equipment for our outings, subsidizing the cost of trips, and teaching environmental stewardship. We will give to the earth that gives to us. Nature is for all to enjoy. By fostering a connection between ALL individuals and natural spaces, we may better protect them for generations to come.
Roberts, Nina S., and Ellen B. Drogin. “The Outdoor Recreation Experience: Factors Affecting Participation of African American Women.” Journal of Experiential Education 16.1 (1993): 14–18. Web.
Finney, Carolyn Marie. Black faces, white spaces: African Americans and the great outdoors. N.p.: n.p., 2006. Print.