Diversity in Outdoor Recreation

An American Ascent - Denali

We have mentioned the work of Latino Outdoors to “connect cultura with the outdoors.” Current African American culture also discourages the outdoor connection.  Outdoor Journalist James Wells realized decades ago that very few people of color, besides himself, were spending time outdoors.  He says, “I still find myself being one of the very few people of color at National Parks, in mountain climbing situations even at surf locations or beaches or ski hills or a wide variety of other things. But, the fact of the matter is that there are segments of our population that actually say that culturally this is  not something that we’re supposed to do.  As an African-American kid, I’m not supposed to be interested in skiing or climbing or mountaineering because that’s ‘what white people do’.”

As a counter to that,  Wells took the first all African American team on an ascent of Denali in a fairly standard and difficult expedition sponsored by the National Outdoor Leadership School.  However, just 700 feet from the summit, the team found itself in a lightening storm and had to make a high speed retreat from the peak.  Although they didn’t quite reach the summit,  they learned that most people don’t, it’s more about the journey than the destination and anything is possible.

Wells has co-produced an award winning documentary, An American Ascent, about the expedition and written a book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors.  The book uses the team’s adventures as the basis to explore how minority populations view their place in wild environments.  He also exposes the lie of ‘only white people do that’ with stories like those of  Mathew Henson, a Black explorer who reached the North Pole, and Kai Lightner, a sport climber who is currently winning national competitions. Wells’ goal is to inspire minorities to enrich their lives though outdoor experiences.

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