African American Leaders In The Outdoors That Inspire Us

As Black History Month comes to a close, we’re offering up this short list of amazing Black leaders in the outdoors whose work inspires us. These individuals get talked about in the Hipcamp office pretty often, and by sharing their work and words with you, we hope to increase the reach of the amazing work they’re doing. If there are other leaders out there that you think we should collaborate with and feature, don’t hesitate to let us know!

Photo via Sierra Club

Aaron Mair—President, Sierra Club

As the Sierra Club’s first Black president, Aaron Mair is notable not only for his efforts to clean up America’s energy profile, but for his insistence on access to a clean environment for everyone. In an interview with Hipcamp founder Alyssa Ravasio, he said: “Being African American isn’t what’s special. It’s recognizing that all of us regardless of our race or gender need to be and do more for the planet. The Club voted for a hardcore, kickass advocate and activist… they voted for how badass green I am.” From campaigning against coal power to leading wilderness trips for schoolkids and veterans, Mair and the Sierra Club are using care for the environment as a point of unity for Americans of all backgrounds.

Photo via GPRC

Audrey Peterman—Author, Legacy on the Land, Founder of the Diverse Environmental Leaders Speakers Bureau

Upon retiring, Audrey and her husband embarked on 12,000 mile road trip across the US, visiting as many national parks as they could along the way. Shocked by the lack of diversity of visitors to the parks, the couple wrote a book, Legacy on the Land, full of insights into visiting parks and anecdotes about the Petermans’ own journey through them.

We asked Audrey to reflect on her experiences as a leader in the outdoors, and she shared this short story of connection to the national park system:

“The night of our third anniversary, my husband Frank and I arrived in Yosemite Valley at dusk, expecting to stay at Yosemite Lodge. But the lodge was full and the campgrounds too loud and bright. We wound up sleeping in the cab of our Ford F-150 truck on the side of the road. When we discovered later that the African American Buffalo Soldiers were instrumental in protecting the park in 1904, it gave us sweet feelings of belonging. Though our first night in the park “truck camping” was so unusual, we had unknowingly returned home to where our African American ancestors left us an incredible legacy.”

Photo via Outdoor Afro on Twitter

Zoë Polk—Director of Policy Division, SF Human Rights Commission

When she’s not overseeing San Francisco’s fair chance ordinance or recruitment for HRC lawyers, Zoë leads hikes for Outdoor Afro, an Oakland-based organization that leads outdoor trips nationwide. When we asked her about her experiences with the organization, she replied, “as an Outdoor Afro leader, I spend a lot of time envisioning what stewardship means to me and to our members. I believe that it is my responsibility to create unique experiences for our participants so that they are empowered to reclaim natural spaces. Our trips–which have included singing on the hiking trail in commemoration of African American music month, telling stories about the adventures of the whaling boat Captain William “Black Ahab” Shorey around a campfire and retracing the route the Buffalo Soldiers trailblazed on a backpacking trip up Mount Whitney–invite people to think creatively about their relationship with nature. We present the outdoors as an opportunity to build community and honor and lift up our personal and collective histories. This is how we inspire people to remain invested in the outdoors. And in this beautiful way, Outdoor Afro has deepened my stewardship.”

Photo via Teresa Baker

Teresa Baker—Blogger, African American Explorations

A blogger-accidentally-turned-conference organizer, Teresa has used her written eloquence to connect leaders from across the country on the topic of diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. An initial summit in Yosemite led to both a phenomenal video by the Muir Project and to a second meeting this winter in Berkeley, CA, that brought together perspectives from the National Park Service to North Face. In a Journal interview we had with her earlier this year, she laid out the impetus for her work: “It has been my experience as a person of color that these spaces are not always welcoming. There’s sometimes a sense of not belonging. And that is what prevents a lot of people of color from wanting to get out into nature. Some may not agree or understand this, but when you go into any space and you don’t see others around that look like you, it feels uncomfortable. This is why I work on efforts to increase diversity in our outdoor spaces.”

Of course there are many more black leaders worth mentioning, that we can feature at any time throughout the year. For more organizations that have great expertise in diversity and inclusion in the outdoors, Outdoor Afro recommends, The Avarna Group, the Center for Diversity and the Environment, and the Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau.

What black leaders in the outdoors inspire you, and who would you like to see featured on the Hipcamp Journal? Let us know by giving us a shout on Twitter or our other social channels!

Featured image via Teresa Baker

Words by Aaron Altabet

Aaron is one of Hipcamp’s loving and dedicated Interns this spring. He enjoys thinking about airplanes while he’s in the woods, boats while he’s in the city, and ice cream all of the time. Sometimes he remembers to put photos from his travels on Instagram.

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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