DC: Diversifying outdoor adventure

Mappy Hour DC celebrated Black History Month with a thought-provoking panel discussion featuring local leaders who are helping get more people of color into the outdoors.

On February 23rd, Mappy regulars and newcomers met at The Black Squirrel to learn about black history in the outdoors and hear how local trailblazers are making history now.

Our panel featured Bethany Lebewitz, of Brown Girls Climb, and Brittany Leavitt and Ray Smith of Outdoor Afro.

Brittany described a recent trip she led along the AT, attempting to retrace Harriet Tubman’s path along the Underground Railroad. Ray told us about this history of some of the places we love to play, revealing that our own Rock Creek Park used to be a meeting place for freed slaves. He talked about the history of segregation in the national parks, and how the effects can still be felt today.

Being a climber, hiker, or paddler can be different for people of color, our panelists said. Ray said of backpacking: when you’re on the trail no one treats you any different, but when you go into town you get some funny looks.

The panelists also talked about the barriers to getting more people of color into the outdoors. Many talked about the financial burden, but also highlighted the scarcity of black, outdoor role models, particularly among sponsored athletes.

There are also specific challenges that come with being a woman of color in the outdoors, Bethany and Brittany said. One of the barriers, they said, is the perception, even among women of color, that there aren’t any women of color in these sports. Bethany hopes Brown Girls Climb will help to change that by empowering women of color who are climbing and spreading awareness among those who haven’t yet discovered the outdoors.

All three panelists provided great insight into what we all can do to help build a more diverse outdoors community, and the inspiring, candid discussion gave everyone plenty to talk about for the rest of the night.

Thanks to our panelists and to The Black Squirrel for the great space and even better beer!

We hope to see you all next month at The Big Hunt, where we’ll talk about how to get involved in local conservation efforts.

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