Alone or In a Pack: Finding and Inspiring Black Connections in Nature
By: Stephen Scott
February 24, 2021
Category: People of the Parks
Three Rivers has been working with Outdoor Afro – Minnesota since 2015 and was introduced to today’s guest blog contributor, Stephen Scott, in early 2018 when he brought a group out for the Nordic Ski Opener at Elm Creek Park Reserve.
Outdoor Afro, a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country and one of Three Rivers Park District’s community collaborators, is committed to inclusivity in the outdoors. The mission of Outdoor Afro is to celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. Stephen regularly coordinates group outings at park locations across Three Rivers and throughout the metro area.
Outdoor recreation is something that should be enjoyed by all, but historically (and presently) this has not been the case, especially for Black people. Being the only one in an outdoor setting can be frightening or make you feel out of place. There is a certain level of comfort and security when being with a group versus being alone.
I found Outdoor Afro through an article I came across online. What excited me most about it was finding a group of people who enjoy the outdoors as much as I do AND who look like me. I researched the organization for a local network and found one in the Twin Cities.
Unfortunately, the network had gone dormant, so I continued to follow the national organization. While following the national site, I noticed a post calling for new leaders, and I decided to apply.
After being vetted and selected, I became one of the Twin Cities volunteer Outdoor Afro leaders. We help create opportunities for Black communities to explore and connect to nature in their backyards and I truly cherish the opportunity to share my love of the outdoors with others.
My Experience as a Local Leader
As a local leader, I like to create learning opportunities to help participants build skills for outdoor recreation. We have done so many activities over the past few years, including horseback riding, camping, stand-up paddleboarding, archery, kayaking, canoeing, ice fishing, Nordic skiing, biking, hiking, snow tubing, snowshoeing, map reading and even log rolling.
It's hard to pick a favorite experience because each one is so unique, but a memorable one was a “Snowshoe and Read” event at Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington.
It was a beautiful crisp morning with two inches of fresh snow on the ground. We met at Richardson Nature Center and rented snowshoes. I brought the book The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keets to read at each of the benches along the Oak Trail.
Some folks had never enjoyed the beauty and majesty of cold Minnesota before. It was a bonus meeting them, along with sharing a great story, beautiful trails and the opportunity to walk on a frozen Goose Nest Pond.
Outdoor Afro participants are always thankful for opportunities to learn new skills in a safe and accepting environment. I often get comments like "I would have never done this by myself,” and “Thanks for showing us parts of the metro that I didn't even know existed.” I enjoy being a conduit to the outdoors, and I want to build confidence in our network to get out and explore safely.
The Best Way to Get Outdoors
My best advice for encouraging people to get outside is to just do it wherever you are. It can be something as simple as a walk around your neighborhood.
Another great option is to connect with the many groups around the Twin Cities that focus on creating a supportive environment for us, such as BIPOC Outdoors Twin Cities, Outdoor Latino Minnesota and Melanin in Motion.
You can join Outdoor Afro by following us on Facebook and Meetup. If you can't join us, be sure to check your local park districts and state parks for all kinds of opportunities that may be free or have a small fee.
Connect with Outdoor Afro and Support Leadership in Nature
If you would like to support Outdoor Afro's mission, visit our website to learn more about us and find ways to get involved. Another important way to support us is to be accommodating and welcoming to new faces when you are out on the trails.
Know that everyone may not be a seasoned outdoor professional, and take the time to understand the history of your local lands and the challenges Black communities and others have faced throughout history.
Banner image courtesy of Stephen Scott. Archive image by Penny Momon.
About the Author
Stephen is a husband, father, adventurer, food scientist and volunteer Outdoor Afro leader. When he is not out exploring alone or with his family, he is a food scientist who works on meat and seafood projects. As a volunteer Outdoor Afro leader in the Twin Cities, he works to inspire and connect Black people to nature. He wants to be able to provide people with skills to enjoy themselves safely in the outdoors and take care of the natural spaces, too.
Photo taken by Adja Gildersleve.
Related Blog Posts
By: Nicole Fernandez
Nicole Fernandez, cultural liaison at Three Rivers, finds joy in connecting others to the outdoors. Learn what draws Nicole to nature, and read about some of her favorite experiences connecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community members to the parks.
This year has presented unique challenges for educators around the world. Learn how one of our environmental educators adapted to teaching in the pandemic and what new strategies she used to benefit her students.