11 African American Outdoor Leaders Who Inspire Us

At Hipcamp we believe that everyone should feel safe, welcome, and celebrated in the outdoors. There should not be any one-size-fits all representation of who belongs outside (i.e. scaling mountains, surfing waves, hiking in the backcountry, or simply relaxing in a hammock and enjoying nature). Part of our company’s overarching mission is to make getting outdoors easier and more accessible to more people in more places.

Outdoor spaces belong to everyone, and all people should feel encouraged to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature. One of our company values is “diversity is strength,” and we invite and support more diverse representation in the outdoors.

To further this goal and to celebrate Black History Month, we’re excited to highlight the work of influential outdoor leaders of color who are continually innovating, breaking new ground, and inspiring change in our culture and in this industry.

By sharing their work and platforms, we hope to raise awareness and inspire our audience to  share their stories and amplify the important work they’re doing.

If you know of other outdoor leaders we should follow and collaborate with, reach out to us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and let us know.

Leah Penniman, co-founder of Soul Fire Farm

1. Leah Penniman, co-founder, co-director and farm manager at Soul Fire Farm and author of “Farming While Black,” which champions regenerative agriculture to end inequity and injustice in the food system

Today, fewer than two percent of farms in America are owned by Black people — a steep decline from 1920, when fourteen percent of all land-owning farmers were Black. Raised in Massachusetts, Leah Penniman began farming as a teenager in the 1990s, steadily building a storied, 20+ year career as a soil steward and food sovereignty activist. In the introduction to her 2018 book “Farming While Black,” Penniman wrote, “’I never imagined that I would become a farmer. In my teenage years, as my race consciousness evolved, I got the message loud and clear that Black activists were concerned with gun violence, housing discrimination, and education reform, while white folks were concerned with organic farming and environmental conservation.” After taking a summer job at The Food Project in Boston, Penniman fell in love with  farming. She wrote: “Something profound and magical happened to me as I learned to plant, tend, and harvest.” In 2010 Leah co-founded Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York with a goal of ensuring that Americans of color have access to the means of producing and eating fresh food. Check out the website to find out about opportunities to volunteer at Community Farm Days or find out about the Soul Fire Farming Immersion farming courses for people of African, Indigenous, and Latinx heritage. Penniman can be seen in the excellent film “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” In 2019, Penniman was a recipient of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award.

Rob Horton, founder of Trap Garden.

2. Rob Horton, founder of Trap Garden, a non-profit devoted to growing fresh food to improve Americans’ health

St. Louis native Rob Horton (aka “Rob Veggies”) attended Nashville’s Tennessee State University, a historically black college (HBCU), because of its prestigious health care administration program. After graduating, Horton discovered that the American health care industry was heavily focused on prescriptions, rather than disease prevention. Horton realized that he wanted to make a positive impact on Americans’ health by helping food sensitive communities improve their diets and have better control of their food supply. To help increase the availability and access to fresh vegetables in food sensitive communities, in 2014 Horton created his Nashville-based nonprofit Trap Garden. Through supporting community gardens and creating nutrition education programs for elementary schools and HBCUs, Horton has shared information that has helped Americans to grow a sustainable source of healthy, high quality fresh foods. Check out the Trap Garden website to find out about their services and volunteer opportunities. When asked to share someone who inspires him, Horton told us: “Blake Nathan, creator of the Educate ME Foundation. As a young non-profit leader, I am constantly motivated and inspired by Blake’s big ideas and concepts. His ability to dream big and bring his ideas to life to support his organization’s mission of increasing the number of men and women of color in the field of education is so dope!” Horton and Trap Garden joined forces with Hipcamp in Nashville last October to create a #LeaveItBetter event that showcased our commitment to sustainable land use and stewardship education.

Teresa Baker, founder of The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge

3. Teresa Baker, founder of The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, which encourages  leaders of the outdoor industry to increase representation and inclusion of people of color

In July 2018 Teresa Baker created The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge. Aiming to move the outdoor industry toward authentic inclusion, the Pledge pairs leading outdoor brands in one-on-one relationships with inclusion advocates to increase representation for people of color across staff and leadership teams, media and marketing, and as athletes and ambassadors. Hipcamp’s CEO Alyssa Ravasio was among the first group to sign The Pledge. In 2017, Hipcamp team members collaborated with Baker on the Women’s Outdoor Summit for Empowerment in San Francisco. “I hope the outdoor industry leaders finally see and understand the role they play in bridging the gap between underrepresented communities and outdoor spaces,” Baker said. “I truly believe that nature heals, so outdoor spaces will continue to be my refuge from all the noise and craziness that consumes us in our day to day lives. Avenue of the Giants is atop my list of places to visit more often. The amazing redwoods that I call “roofless cathedrals” never fail to ground me in purpose.” Baker told us that she finds Greta Thurnberg especially inspirational. “Her fearless voice gives me hope for the future,” she said.

Emanuel Hayden, farmer and Host of Homestead Asili

4. Emanuel Hayden, farmer, homesteader, and Hipcamp Host of Homestead Asili, whose goal is to inspire everyone to experience the outdoors

North Carolina homesteader Emanuel Hayden is a youth advocate who enjoys teaching, being outdoors, and living a minimalist life. He runs a small farm and has been a successful Hipcamp Host of Homestead Asili in Woodleaf, North Carolina (about an hour north of Charlotte) since 2018. According to Hayden, Homestead Asili began out of a desire to reconnect to the land. “The homestead focuses on sustainability,” Hayden told us. “We produce our own hatch eggs, sell buckeye chicks, pastured poultry, and market egg layers.” As Hipcamper Jeanne wrote in her review: “Camping at Emmanuel’s Homestead was perfect for our family. Emmanuel is a kind and hospitable host who made us feel welcome.” When asked if he is planning on trying any new outdoor activities this year, Hayden told us, “My girls and I have plans to go Hipcamping ourselves this year, so we can try out what some of the other Hipcamp Hosts are offering in their campgrounds.”

Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro. (Photo by: Bethanie Hines Photography)

5. Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a non-profit dedicated to celebrating African American connections with nature

Oakland, CA resident Rue Mapp founded Outdoor Afro in 2009, and incorporated it as a nonprofit in 2014. Outdoor Afro inspires volunteers and social media leaders to organize outdoor excursions for a nationwide network of thousands of members of all ages. With nearly 80 leaders in 30 states from around the US, Outdoor Afro is trailblazing and leading the way for inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature, and conservation. Check out their website to find local meet-ups near you and/or apply to be a leader.

Tyrhee Moore, founder of Soul Trak Outdoors

6. Tyrhee Moore, founder and executive director of Soul Trak Outdoors, a non-profit that welcomes underrepresented  youth to explore our planet’s green spaces

Born and raised in one of the toughest neighborhoods of Southeast Washington, D.C., Tyrhee Moore is a mountaineer and outdoor education advocate for urban communities of color. He has climbed Grand Teton, Mount Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and was a member of the first all African-American climb of Denali. When he was only 25, Moore created the D.C.-based nonprofit, Soul Trak Outdoors. Check out their website to join a local event and/or become an outdoor leader.

Morgan Dixon, co-founder of GirlTrek

7. Morgan Dixon, co-founder of GirlTrek, a movement to mobilize Black women to reclaim their health

When college friends Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison learned that African American women die from preventable diseases at younger ages and higher rates than members of any other demographic, they created GirlTrek to inspire women of color to walk daily in their communities as an act of self-care to reclaim health and wellness. Today GirlTrek is the largest health movement and nonprofit organization for Black women and girls in the US. It is not a fitness organization, but a campaign for healing. Beyond walking, GirlTrek’s 100,000+ walkers and active members support local and national policy to increase physical activity through walking, improve access to safe places to walk, protect and reclaim green spaces, and improve the walkability of 50 high-need communities across America. Visit their website to find a walk near you or volunteer as an organizer or team leader.

Ron Griswell, founder of HBCUs Outside (Photo by: Cliford Mervil)

8. Ron Griswell, founder of HBCUs Outside, a non-profit devoted to leading Black students into the outdoors

Born and raised in North Carolina, some of Ron Griswell’s favorite childhood memories were from the time he spent outdoors at summer camp. He yearned for adventures like he’d seen in National Geographic. In high school, Griswell said he started caring more about what his peers thought of him, and this caused him to come to the realization that “people who looked like me didn’t participate in outdoor activities,” so he stopped seeing himself as outdoorsy and stopped doing many of the activities he truly loved. Happily, while attending North Carolina A&T State University (A&T), a historically black college/university (HBCU), Griswell found some likeminded friends who also enjoyed outdoor adventures. Their shared interest and support helped to rekindle his passion for the outdoors and dismantle the stereotype that the outdoors only belongs to a certain group of people. Following an internship at an outdoor company in Minneapolis, Griswell created the nonprofit Historically Black University and Colleges (HBCUs) Outside which inspires Black college and university students to lead healthier and more environmentally aware lives through participating in outdoor activities. Griswell is also a graduate of the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy, and he’s a writer and interviewer for SNEWS and contributor to their magazine, The Voice.

Mirna Valerio, ultrarunner, author, and speaker

9. Mirna Valerio, ultrarunner, author, and speaker who is actively redefining what an outdoor athlete looks like

A native of Brooklyn, NY, ultrarunner, Mirna Valerio (aka “The Mirnavator”) created the blog Fat Girl Running, about her experiences as a larger Black woman in a world of thin, mostly white distance runners. In 2017, she published her memoir, “A Beautiful Work in Progress.” Mirna is also a motivational speaker focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as it pertains to education, the outdoor industry, and fitness. Mirna was nominated for this list by Madelyn Lemus, a member of the Hipcamp Customer Support team. “As a woman and a person of color, I constantly interact with other folks like me who’ve left their dreams behind because they believed they couldn’t achieve them based on the way they looked, or had been told they couldn’t.” said Madelyn. “Mirna’s story inspires me to go out and do what I want to do and remember to uplift everyone around me who may be overcoming barriers to do the same thing – all while looking like me, and no one else.”

Scott Briscoe, founder of We Got Next

10. Scott Briscoe, founder and executive director, We Got Next, a non-profit dedicated to amplifying stories of adventure and activism from underrepresented communities

A member of the first all African-American climb of Denali, Scott Briscoe recently created the nonprofit We Got Next to tell the individual stories of adventure and activism from people that have been underrepresented in outdoor, conservation, and environmental spaces. The work of We Got Next is a direct reflection of Scott’s vision — a world where everyone is inspired to fall in love with nature because they see reflections of themselves in outdoor spaces; for it is those of us who love nature that care enough to protect nature. “My favorite place to get out this year will be Payhuunadü (Owens Valley),” Briscoe told us. “From traditional climbing, bouldering, mixed alpine and some of the best sport climbing on the west coast there is always a place to go up. The fly fishing on the Upper/Lower Owens or the small Owens Gorge or even the various creeks that flow from the Eastern Sierra always provide a place of quiet and, if your presentation is on, some good action from the fish. Payhuunadü has gorgeous and dynamic weather systems that are reminiscent of the central rockies with its thunderous cumulus clouds and raging winds. The panoramic views arrest the breath with magical sunsets, orange and purple in color setting behind Palisades, Thunderbolt and surrounding peaks. The bitter cold and fresh mornings set light onto the valley as the sun rises over the White Mountains to the east. Active or still, it is a place of stunning beauty and spiritual ease.” When asked who inspires him, Briscoe told us, “Teresa Baker is a constant reminder for me of what it means, in the truest sense, to be an environmentalist. She spends more time outside than anyone I know. She is a person that is kind, unapologetic in her intentions to do what’s right for air, land, water and community and she is committed to their protection regardless of the barriers she encounters. I have walked with Teresa in forests, I’ve convened with her in boardrooms and she is consistently relentless in her vision to build broad coalitions with whomever will contribute in honest and actionable ways to care for outdoor spaces.”

Harriet Tubman

11. Harriet Tubman, conductor of the Underground Railroad, followed the stars and freed 70 people from slavery

While she is not on Instagram, Harriet Tubman was an outdoorswoman who learned how to navigate hundreds of miles by using the stars and botany to find her way. Born into slavery 200 years ago in Maryland, Tubman was an American abolitionist and political activist. She escaped from slavery in 1849 by making the 90-mile journey from Maryland to Pennsylvania, traveling mostly at night while following the stars. After arriving in the north, she risked safety to return at least 13 times to lead more than 70 people to freedom using the Underground Railroad.

Give us a shout on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook to let us know about other outdoor leaders we should follow and collaborate with. (TO THANK YOU FOR READING TO THE END: You get $10 off your first booking when you create a new account here and use the referral code JOURNAL) #Findyourselfoutdoors #DiversityIsStrength

Jess Barron

Jess is Hipcamp's Head of Content and Storytelling.

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