An Interview With Teresa Baker: On Diversity And Inclusion In The Outdoors

Earlier in 2015, we received an email from Teresa Baker of African American Explorations, asking Hipcamp if we’d be interested in sharing the video from her recent summit in Yosemite, Diversity and Inclusion in Our Wild Spaces. We watched the video, immediately shared it on Facebook, and asked Teresa to hop on the phone to chat more about how it all came together, and how we, as a company can be more inclusive.

In an interview with Hipcamp last year, Sierra Club Board President Aaron Mair stated, “The environment is the great equalizer. The environment doesn’t know race, it doesn’t know what you have.” As Hipcamp grows, we want to set a standard for inclusion, so that anyone who finds themselves outside through Hipcamp — regardless of race, age, or gender — can relate to our message, and is inspired to connect with the outdoor community.

Join in the conversation as we start the year off by participating in Teresa’s diversity summit held in the Bay Area on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. Though this summit is a convening for business leaders to talk about diversity in their organizations, Hipcamp is volunteering to help facilitate the event, and has two open volunteer spots for anyone that is interested in being involved. Head over to our Instagram page for more details about how you can become involved, and read the rest of our conversation with Teresa below.

Hipcamp: What sparked your passion for spending time in nature?

Teresa: Nature has always been a place of refuge for me. As a kid I would venture off to local parks on hiking excursions and explore for hours. Being outdoors is both exciting and challenging. It gives me the opportunity to be in a space where there are no interruptions, no crowds, no city noises, just nature in all her splendor.

HC: What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles to getting outside, and experiencing nature?

TB: I don’t really feel there are obstacles in the sense of road-blocks. 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 in to 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.

HC: Have you noticed obstacles specific to accessing public parks, or camping?

TB: Some of our parks can do a better job at accessibility for those with disabilities, but I think these efforts are underway, especially in the bay area. I think some of our national parks can do a better job at it, but some argue that by doing this, we disturb the natural landscape of our parks. I think if the right minds got together to address accessibility concerns, California could lead the way in making our parks more accessible for all.

HC: Tell us more about what prompted you to start your blog, African American Explorations. What do you hope to achieve with your blog, and diversity leadership efforts in the next year?

TB: The work I do was started back in 2013 through Facebook. I posed the question,” if I create a day and call it African American National Parks Event, would you support it?” The response was overwhelmingly, YES. So I created the Facebook page and so began my work engaging communities of color in the outdoors. The blog was just a way to tell the stories of people being in the outdoors, living their true passions. What I have found is that once we begin to see others who look like us, in outdoor spaces, hiking and loving on nature, it encourages others to do the same.

HC: In five years?

TB: To be honest, my hope is that in 5 years this work will not be needed. I along with others are working diligently on matters of diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces. So hopefully our efforts will result in diversity not being an issue in 5 years. Then I’ll find another cause to take up.

HC: In your post, The Urgency of Inclusion in Outdoor Spaces, you mention that, “The climate is changing; so are the demographics of our country. What happens in two to three decades when our new, non-white majority in the U.S. doesn’t care about the environment because we have no relationship with the outdoors?”

How can anyone who reads this interview regardless of race, age, or gender take action to cultivate a culture of inclusion and diversity in the outdoors?

TB: It is vital that we begin to engage communities of color in outdoor spaces. In order for people to care about the land, they must first have a relationship with the land. They must first forge a connection that beckons them into conservation efforts. You can’t expect people to care about anything that they don’t first have a relationship with. This is why I encourage communities of color to get outdoors on hiking and camping explorations, learn about our open spaces, the history of these places and why we must protect these spaces for future generations.

It’s also important that government agencies such as the NPS and the Forest Service and such outdoor organizations as the Sierra Club., work even harder at increasing diversity in their workforce. It’s not acceptable to have neither a government agency nor a conservation organization, have a workforce that is 80 to 90% white. We must work on changing this. Sierra Club is working diligently on matters of diversity and I applaud them, but we must see these efforts in all outdoor organizations and government agencies.

HC: The video from your diversity summit in Yosemite of last year is so inspiring. Can you explain more about how it all came together?

Diversity and Inclusion In Our Wild Spaces from The Muir Project on Vimeo.

TB: Late 2014, I went to Robert Hanna (the great great grandson of John Muir) who took part in the Buffalo Soldier retracing I did earlier in 2014 and I asked if he would be interested in working on a project with me in Yosemite, where we would invite local residents on a hiking/camping trip to talk about John Muir and his legacy in Yosemite. Robert agreed and we began to work together on the project. We also thought it would be good to reach out to the Muir House and ask if they would like to be involved. Kelli English thought it was a great idea as well, so the three of us began the planning.

Well a few months later, early 2015, the conversation began around the country on the relevancy of John Muir. This conversation angered me, because I felt it was very distrustful to call into question the relevance of such a man. So I went to Robert and Kelli and said, let’s make the event about relevancy and inclusion in outdoor spaces. Let’s invite outdoor organizations and government agencies who are having issues around relevancy and diversity. They both agreed and thus the 3 day summit on diversity and inclusion was launched.

Robert and I reached out to various outdoor organizations and government agencies across the country to invite them to participate. In no time we were at our limit for the campground that Yosemite offered us. We had agencies such as the BLM, Forest Service and NPS, along with organizations such as the Sierra Club and the NPCA. It took a lot of planning to bring it all together, but with our sponsors, the Foundation For Youth Investment, BAWT and the Sierra Club, we were able to pull it all together.

HC: What were some of the objectives for the summit. And the outcomes?

TB: For me, the main objective was to bring together all these organizations and agencies who have been working on solutions to diversity and inclusion, to hear about the work they are doing and to find ways we might collaborate on our individual efforts. It was also our hope that we would be able to send a message throughout the outdoor industry that we understand the importance of having a more diverse workforce and we are willing to work together to make it happen.

One of the biggest outcomes from the Yosemite summit was the video that was made by The Muir Project. That video has been seen by thousands and was selected for the Wild and Scenic Film Festival taking place in January. The film was also selected to be on tour throughout the country.

Another outcome is that I have been contacted by several outdoor organizations about the work I do around diversity and inclusion. Speaking engagements have been plentiful. And in January I will be partnering with Sierra Club and Youth Outside for a convening on this very topic, where executive directors and board members (decision makers) will be on hand for a discussion on being more culturally relevant and inclusive in our work.

So there are several outcomes that are still rolling out from the Yosemite Summit. I’m looking forward to working with several of the universities around diversity and the environment.

HC: Did anyone attend the summit in Yosemite that we should know about?

TB: There were several awesome individuals who attended. John Griffith with the California Conservation Corp, Alan Spears and David Lamfrom with the NPCA, Graciela Cabello with Latino Outdoors, Elizabeth Linder with the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, Fernando Villalba with the National Park Service, Margaret Hangan with the Forest Service, Queta Gonzalez with the Center for Diversity and the environment and James Edward Mills with The Joy Trip Project, just to name a few. All together there were about 30 brilliant minds on hand for this 3-day summit.

HC: What advice would you give to someone who would want to host their own diversity gathering in the outdoors?

TB: I would say reach out to decision makers with companies and organizations. Making sure executive directors are involved in the conversation is huge. Often when these conversations are had, those with the ability to make changes are not involved, so they’re not hearing from the public nor are they hearing from their own organization rep, what their concerns are.

HC: What are some resources that can help someone who may not have access to outdoor equipment, or knowledge get started in exploring the wild world out there?

TB: When it comes to equipment, BAWT (Bay Area Wilderness Training) is an awesome resource. They provide outdoor gear and training to individuals and organizations, at little or no cost.

REI also holds classes and trainings at several of their stores across the country. Many of their Bay Area locations hold these trainings and are on the affordable side.

HC: What is your favorite park to visit, and why?

TB: By far my favorite parks are Yosemite, Big Sur and Redwoods National and State Park along the Avenue of the Giants. Yosemite has a legacy that very few people are aware of. The famed Buffalo Soldiers were the first to patrol and monitor this park. At the time it was under control of California State Parks. These dedicated African American men were charged with keeping poachers out of the park, building and maintain roads and escorting people through the park. Plus, who cannot fall in love with the roaring waterfalls or the towering redwoods? It’s a special place.

Big Sur in all its splendor offers a coastline like no other. As you drive along the coast, each turn offering breath taking views of the most serene ocean front in California. If you camp during the off season, there’s not a lot of visitors on the hiking trails and most campsite are less than half full.

And then there’s The Redwoods National and State Parks, what an amazingly beautiful stretch of real estate. There’s nothing like driving through The Avenue of the Giants. You lose yourself in the serenity of it all. It beckons you to pull over and take in the vastness. I lost count of just how many parks there are along this twelve-plus mile stretch, so there’s always quietness to be found.

HC: What are your top three campgrounds?

TB: My current favorite is Burlington Campground in Weott, CA. On my most recent visit, back in October, there were maybe 10 other campers and no reservations were required. I just pulled in, paid the fee and went about finding the site I wanted.

Sonoma State Beach has nice campsites as well. It can get a little cold, but you can’t beat the sound of seals in the morning.

When I don’t really feel like driving far, Samuel P Taylor is awesome. My most recent experience was in the newly constructed cabins. I had the entire cabin site to myself. It was lovely, listening to the rain fall on the tin roof, amazing.

Featured image by the Joy Trip Project

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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