How people of color can find joy and respite in the outdoors

Outdoor activities such as running, biking, walking, or just taking a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature have been praised for being free and easy to do.

How people of color can find joy and respite in the outdoors

Outdoor activities such as running, biking, walking, or just taking a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature have been praised for being free and easy to do. The truth is that it's not as simple as that.

Black, Indigenous and other people of color have historically had less access than white communities to the natural world. According to the 2020 report by the Hispanic Access Foundation, the Center for American Progress, people of color live in more nature-deprived areas than their white counterparts. This means they have less access trees, streams, and other natural spaces than their white counterparts. According to the report, people of color may face intimidation, stereotyping or violence when they try to enjoy outdoor spaces.

These communities are less likely than others to enjoy the outdoor benefits. A 2018 Journal of Forestry study found that 66% of US national forest visitors identify as Hispanic/Latino and 11% as Black. According to the National Health Foundation's data, although people of color account for nearly 40% of the U.S., white people make up 70% of all visitors to national wildlife refuges, national park, and national forests.

The tragic shooting of Ahmaud, a runner, to the false accusation made by Christian Cooper, a bird watcher, have sparked important discussions about inclusivity and accessibility to popular outdoor activities. These events have sparked the creation of grassroots organizations to help break down these barriers, increase inclusivity, and bring nature to more people. The Inclusive Outdoors project and the Running Industry Diversity Coalition, for example, devote their time and resources to increasing awareness about outdoor inequity and diversifying outdoor events and communities. The work towards inclusivity shouldn't be done by only those from these groups. As the Center for American Progress reported, it is necessary to work on a systemic basis. This includes reaching out to communities that are underrepresented when considering outdoor recreation settings.

Kim Walker, cofounder and co-owner of Abundant Life Adventure Club, a community that utilizes outdoor activities to help Black professionals get away from the hustle, grind, and everyday life tells SELF.

Although it can be helpful to connect with others, it is not the only way you can find joy in the outdoors. For some, the solitude can provide the healing they seek. Outdoor joy is very personal. It is important to find the way that you enjoy it. This collection features the stories of 14 people of color about how they found their own joy in the great outdoors.

"As someone whose family has suffered from stress-related health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, it's important that I live and move in a way that prevents these issues from becoming a problem in my life. My metabolic profile is more stable the more I move and spend time outside, in the woods, near water or in my local park.

Running on trails is a great way to fill my soul. I love to be in the forest, listening to the sounds of the birds and the silence of the trees. Backpacking is something I love, although it isn't for everyone. However, it is a great way of learning about yourself outdoors. You'll feel a lot more confident and have a greater sense of self-worth.

When I ride, run, or hike on a trail, it is not only a way to live an adventure life, but I am also rewriting the story that people like me don’t enjoy the outdoors. I’m also opening up these spaces for those who believe they aren’t suitable. Believing is seeing. Believe is believing. "Nature is for everyone." --Mirna Valio, an ultramarathoner from Montpelier, Vermont and author of A Beautiful Work in Progress

Running has been a way for me to escape my mind, but I realized it played a more important role in my life as a Dine woman. It is a privilege to have been raised in New Mexico where it is easy to meet other Indigenous runners, hikers and athletes. Since I was a child, I have been running joyfully as a way of playing since childhood. My parents made sure that I was aware of the long-standing tradition of Navajo distance runner, who use this form of movement to pray, connect with nature, and represent their people.

Running was my way of coping with isolation when I was older and moved 2,000 miles to college. Running and spending time outside helped me quickly get to know the East Coast landscape, air, and water. Similar to my experience as a woman-of-color in the fitness industry, I didn't see other runners in those years at local road races or run groups. Running was my way of connecting to my family and my culture, even though I was far from home.

I decided to change the feeling of isolation that other Indigenous runners felt and make movement more enjoyable. In 2020, I founded the Grounded Podcast with Dinee Dorame. Here, I talk with athletes from all walks of life about the intersection between culture, land, community and running. I have had the opportunity to talk with many different athletes with different stories and experiences. It has revived my childlike spirit in running and has also been a reminder that all of us deserve to feel welcome, included, seen and joy in the outdoors." --Dinee Drame, a runner from Albuquerque and host of Grounded Podcast with Dinee Dorame

"Cultura has been a key component in my discovery of joy in the outdoors. This was one of the most important elements in Latino Outdoors. I wanted to ask questions like "Where are other people like me?" or "What does it take to enjoy the outdoors in such communities?"

We create, experience and share joy from the answers to these questions. The beauty and magnificence of the natural world are what fuel the joy. It also comes from the joy of a mom or dad experiencing an outdoor activity for the first time with their children; the linguistic code and cultural code that are displayed on the trail that represents our multifaceted identities; and from putting my hands to the earth and giving thanks to Tonantzin [Our Sacred Mother in Nahuatl] as well as all culturally divine forces. It's a joy that's liberating, nurturing and healing. One that honors the expression "La cultura cura," [cultural-based heal] and one which we cocreate outdoors, embodying the practice of being future ancestors." --Jose Gonzalez. He is a conservationist and founder of Latino Outdoors. Latino Outdoors is a Latinx-led organization that strives to inspire, connect and engage Latino communities through outdoor recreation, conservation, environmental education, and conservation.

"When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I used it as an opportunity for me to take a break and enjoy the outdoors, to find hobbies that bring joy to my life, and to get out of my misery. I began to take more walks outside and eventually started running. I fell in love the process of progression and all the challenges it brought.

I am an immigrant from Jamaica, a Black woman and a first generation American. There are many nuances to being in the fitness industry that you don't know about. Being outside and feeling the sun on my skin brings me joy. Running, playing sports or hiking gives me new meaning in my life. These experiences also show how lonely I can sometimes feel when enjoying the outdoors. I'm always aware of where I am, what the people are doing, how late it is, and what time the sun sets. I also keep track of any personal protection that I have. Although it can be exhausting, I believe people of color, particularly the Black community, have become more comfortable with doing more to ensure safety in a world that is not designed for them to thrive.

We do. I searched for a diverse running and fitness community in Boston. Because their mission is similar to mine, I have aligned myself with certain organizations." --Tameca Folling, a runner from Cambridge, Massachusetts

"My view of the outdoors is simple and nuanced. When I connect with nature, my number one priority is to focus on what it means for me to be human. It's about understanding that my body is unique in its own beauty, but also that it is interconnected with everyone and everything around me. Because of this interconnectedness, I believe it is our responsibility to continue building more caring communities. This is something that I have noticed is lacking, particularly due to the traumas in our community during the pandemic.

One thing that I've been focusing on is my influence on others. This is why I co-created the Inclusive Outsides Project with Sophia Bielsky, a diversity, equity and inclusion strategist. This is to raise awareness about the main barrier to outdoor recreation for those who are marginalized. This is to raise awareness about the main barrier to outdoor recreation for marginalized groups: access.

"The joy I find in the outdoors is being able to divert my attention from my racing thoughts and concentrate on the natural environment around me. I get caught up in the cycle of checking my emails constantly, scrolling through social media mindlessly, and following the most recent traumatic or anxiety-inducing news story every minute. Outdoors is a great escape from all that.

It allows me to disconnect from all the happenings in the world. I can let go of the expectations that others have of me, and my own expectations, and just be in the moment. It is not difficult to remember moments of discomfort that I felt as a Black woman in an outdoor space dominated by whites. But, I find peace in the spaces that I find. It's a reminder of who I am and where I belong.

"I drive 14 hours per day as a commercial truck driver. It is very sedentary and high-stress work. I find peace and grounding in the outdoors, and it is a great way to relax. It is my therapy and it centers me.

It is something that I often wonder about how I have managed to find joy outside. I live in Manchester, New Hampshire. There is not much diversity. I was the only person who started running and hiking when I began. Although I didn't feel completely safe or accepted, I loved the feeling of being on top of mountains and seeing miles of vastness. I also loved how it felt to be drenched in sweat after a run. This is what kept me coming back. I ignored all the comments and looks because my joy was greater than any microaggressions.

I have made friends through amazing local communities and I don't often, if ever need to travel alone. My experience with Caucasian friends is very different. I'm able to let my guard down, I don't get criticized, and I can take a dirty look. It's allowed me to enjoy the outdoors in a safer environment and without worrying about being in a place I'm not supposed to be.

Three-day hiking in Peru's Andes Mountains was one of my favourite hikes. I was unable to carry my gear and food and suffered from altitude sickness. But I persevered. These views were simply breathtaking. "I remember feeling so accomplished, and also an incredible sense of peace." -Yuma Haidura.

"I can remember hiking as a child, but growing up in New York City we didn't have much access to nature. We couldn't rent a car or be very intentional about it. It has been more special to me because I don't have as much access.

As an adult, I hike more and my fiance and me do it together. We love the view and being close to nature. This is still a rare thing in Chicago where we live. But I have noticed that people of like ours are very rare. It is unfortunate that I haven’t seen many Black women enjoying the outdoors. This has made it difficult for me to see myself in those spaces.

However, I am also a distance runner and believe that running outside has helped me stay sane during times like the pandemic. It's been a joy to challenge my body and explore new places. Running is a great way to explore a new place. You can learn so much and cover so many miles. It helps you feel at home and get your bearings in a new city.

I love to run, walk, and hike. It's time that I prioritize for myself, or it's time that I connect with others. Moving is a great way to process grief and challenges. I have leaned in hard over the years as I dealt with some of these things. Running outside gives me the opportunity to be free and it is empowering. -Kira West (Chicago-based fitness influencer, marathoner).

"Abundant Life Adventure Club was founded by my husband, Claude, four years ago. Although we didn't do a lot of outdoor activities growing up, we decided to hike waterfalls near Nashville. It was a great experience that we loved. We noticed that there weren't many Black people kayaking or hiking in the parks. We believed that outdoor activities such as these would be more accessible, inviting, and enjoyable if they were made available to the community in a way that was welcoming, fun, and easy to access. This is exactly what happened.

Our outdoor adventures began with us inviting others. This grew from a small group of friends to a company to travel, to include our entire family. Half-day activities are offered by'microadventures', which don't require participants to travel hundreds of miles and/or take time off from work. These activities aren't very strenuous. We want them to be accessible to all levels of activity, while still making it enjoyable, engaging, and rewarding. It should be part of your daily routine and something that you do regularly for self-care.

Our current adventure series is called "Black Joy in Nature" and we hear the joy of people who are out in the woods with like-minded people. It is so important to have these moments when we are intentional. Being outdoors and in community with like-minded people in nature is an excellent way for us to take care ourselves, connect with each other, and receive all the benefits of being outdoors for our mind, body and spirit." --Kim Walker.

"City Fit Girls was founded by a friend and me in 2011 (which has recently been rebranded to Strides to make it more accessible regarding gender identity) to assist everyone, particularly Black and brown, to pursue healthy and sustainable fitness. We began hosting low-cost, free boot camps in Philadelphia. After we became interested in running, we started a club for runners that was launched in 2016. We realized that many people with similar interests to us didn't know where they could start. The last ten years have been spent introducing people to running. We taught them how to build up to their first half-marathon, marathon or mile and helped them to encourage their friends and families to do the same.

Thanks to the community I built, I have found joy in my outdoor fitness and health journey. You must be focused on your individual potential when you are trying to achieve your goals. Sometimes it can be lonely. Strides was instrumental in giving me a support network when I wasn't feeling like exercising or when I didn’t feel like going to a group activity or studio. I knew that I could find someone who would join me, or give me a recommendation for an activity that would make me feel more secure and comfortable.

These communities have made running, fitness and outdoor activities more fun and easier. It can be easy to feel too old to make friends. But you don't have to. ."--Kiera Kleins, executive director at the Running Industry Diversity Coalition, and cofounder of Strides

"As an Afro-Latinx child from New York City and New Jersey I grew up in concrete parks, where you could only hope for functioning slides and swings that were not broken.

As an adult, I have learned that running, biking, and walking help me to clear my head. These activities are more than just a way to clear my mind. They bring me joy, challenge me mentally, and help me to think differently about how I see things and feel about myself. It has been very therapeutic to be able to go outside for a walk, bike ride or just to sit under a tree over the past few years, especially after I went through a divorce and my mom's heart attack.

I often find myself among the few, if not the sole, minorities who use outdoor spaces. For younger generations, representation is important everywhere. However, we must also consider other factors when considering these things such as your safety and emotional well-being. How will these things play out? Are I limiting who I am? Can I be authentic? Adalgisa Rivera is a Harlem Run pacer in New York City.

"Pre-pandemic, I associated running with the joy of running and achieving my race goals, such as qualifying for Boston or setting a personal best. Even though I was missing the joy of racing, I continued to train as if the races were still on.

I had never experienced a similar joy in running until Jordan Marie Daniel, a runner and activist for social justice, appeared on the cover of Runner's World magazine. This was in fall 2020. It was a joy to see a woman from color on the cover. I met her shortly afterwards and realized that running can be used as a platform to promote social change. You could use it to achieve the equality you desire.

My advocacy work for running included speaking out on issues such as lack of diversity and inclusion, race and outdoor races, and ways to include more Black, Indigenous, or people of color in our sport. It was also helpful to be a part of similar organizations such as Oiselle Volee and Running Industry Diversity Coalition. Although my roles with each organization are different, running has taken on a greater meaning. Connecting to mentors and other organizations that make the space more accessible and inclusive was a way to rediscover the joy of running and being outdoors.

"I was raised in South Florida where I ran track in highschool. However, I did not have any guidance in how to properly train. I stopped running again until I was 30 years old and moved to New York City.

The Latinos Run Club was founded in 2016 by me because I saw that there were many Latino runners, but there weren't any clubs or teams that encouraged or promoted Latino participation within the sport. I wanted to encourage runners at all levels to recognize the diverse Latino community that has been largely ignored in the running, health and fitness industries. It was difficult to get the club started because many people, including fellow Latinos, still believed that Latinos didn't exercise or run.

After receiving feedback from women who wanted a safe place to run with others and have personal and intimate conversations, I founded Latinas Run. The clubs now have more than 25,000 members. There are local chapters that host races, social runs and other events in over 40 U.S. cities. Together with our members, I have found joy running because of the social connections these clubs have fostered, even through our social media platforms. This was instrumental in helping people keep a sense community during the COVID-19 epidemic." Maria Solis Belizaire founder, Latinos Run, and Latinas Run

"The outdoors was a great way for me to reconnect with my culture. I was raised in very white environments and tried to be as white as possible and less Asian as I could. In the hope that my whiteness would reflect on others, I was surrounded with people who were not like me. I discovered that I was more open to meeting people of color, especially Vietnamese people. This helped me discover my roots, my grandparents, and my parents' stories.

My parents never understood why I loved hiking, camping, and climbing for so long. My parents worked hard to ensure that I and my siblings were happy and well-equipped to succeed in their eyes. Because they come from a background of poverty, they don't associate sleeping in dirt with success.

There are many things to do outside. You can go for a short walk and have lots of snacks. You can even take a break in the dirt. You can also sufferfests or work really hard. You can do anything that makes you happy or proud. The outdoors has given me the chance to be who I want to be and how I want others to see me. The outdoors allowed me to feel at ease in my own skin, and not be worried about how I look. Paulina Dao is an adventure photographer and climber who founded Bay Area Outdoor Women.

These responses have been edited to be more concise and clear.