Understanding the lack of diversity in the great outdoors

A growing coalition hopes to get more people of color outdoors. AccuWeather takes an in-depth look at how this is being done.

Video Transcript

SHELTON JOHNSON: When I was starting out as a Ranger you just didn't-- there was not a back story of previous African-Americans who had written about the experience of wilderness.

MONICA DANIELLE: Shelton Johnson is one of few black National Park Rangers in America.

TERESA BAKER: I just noticed the people around me. It WAS an entire week that I spent in Yosemite, and none of them looked like me.

MONICA DANIELLE: For Teresa Baker, it was the lack of diversity she experienced on a trip to Yosemite that inspired her to found In Solidarity Project, which aims to increase the number of people of color who experience the great outdoors. Statistics show although people of color make up nearly 40% of the US population, roughly 70% of people who visit these outdoor spaces are white. Black people are the most dramatically underrepresented group. Johnson says a combination of economic inequality, legalized segregation, and other forms of historical and current racial violence have perpetuated the diversity gap.

SHELTON JOHNSON: Why would African-Americans, who descend from Africans, descend from people who had an innate, intimate connection with the natural world, why would they all of a sudden resist the experience of being in the wild, resist the experience of willingly seeking respite in the mountains or in nature. What happened in between?

MONICA DANIELLE: While many visitors see national parks as places of serenity or adventure, the African-American experience with the outdoors has historically been punctuated by lynchings, flights from slavery, and trauma.

SHELTON JOHNSON: Up until the 50s, even into the 60s, many of the sundown towns had those signs up saying, don't come in here, up until the 70s.

MONICA DANIELLE: Baker says businesses and other organizations need to do their part when it comes to representation for people of color, especially on social media.

TERESA BAKER: We aren't visible. And that's what we're working to change. Because when we see ourselves, then there's a sense that's created that we too belong.

MONICA DANIELLE: Finding ways to close the gap and make people of color feel safe in these places that have historically been white spaces.

TERESA BAKER: It's a matter of finding ways to get more people of color in park uniforms, so that when we are there it's not uncomfortable to approach a Ranger who looks like us and engage in conversation about the park.

MONICA DANIELLE: For AccuWeather, I'm Monica Danielle.