When I was assigned this story on Melanin in Motion (MIM), I perused its website and Facebook page in semi-disbelief. “What?” I thought to myself. Black folks don’t like the outdoors—especially in the winter. We may go fishing, but camping, skiing, and hunting? We just don’t really get into all that.
“What an ignorant assumption” was my next thought. Then I instantly questioned why I would go along and believe a generally accepted assumption or urban myth that African American people don’t like to participate in outdoor activities.
I remember about a decade ago when the Oprah Winfrey Show was in its last season. There was this camping series she did with her best friend Gayle King, who is now a big-time morning journalist on national TV.
The purpose of the series was to encourage African Americans to participate and enjoy all that nature has to offer. They were even assisted by African American park rangers as they camped at Yosemite Park.
It was fun to watch them shopping for all the newest camping gear and getting advice from all the experts, but they never answered the question “Why was this show necessary? Why have Black Folks, for the most part, avoided the outdoors?”
You know with the historic stories of the Underground Railroad, Lewis and Clark, and the great Jean Baptiste du Sable, to name a few, our very freedom depended on full knowledge of navigating and surviving in the wilderness.
Looking into the topic, I learned that historically an African American family going camping, hiking, or hunting would frequently face horrifying encounters that often ended in attacks, injury, or even death.
Thinking about grizzly bears, mountain lions, or venomous snakes? Think again. Think lynchings, beatings, and written and unwritten segregation laws that effectively forbid Blacks from enjoying the beautiful landscapes and connection with nature that America has to offer.
As recent as 2020, climbers were still encountering remnants of this racist history when they discovered climbing routes with offensive names like “Slavery Wall,” “Happiness in Slavery,” and “Welfare Crack” in Wyoming, for example.
The information is out there and still being uncovered about the dangers and obstacles African Americans had to endure to enjoy the great outdoors. Understanding this history allowed me to fully appreciate the existence of Melanin in Motion.
Founded by Anthony Taylor and Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson as an initiative of the Cultural Wellness Center in partnership with the Loppet Foundation, the REI Cooperative Action Fund, and The House, this Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) organization calls itself a “movement movement.”
Their goal is simple: to connect Black people with opportunities to experience the outdoors with the belief that Black bodies in motion are the “ultimate expression of freedom.”
Paying homage to their ancestors, MIM is dedicated to removing barriers from point of entry opportunities with free-to-low-cost activities. That was the purpose of the organization’s most recent event on Dec. 2, as Taylor explained to the MSR. “We started an event called ‘Warm Up to Winter’ because what we found is that, particularly African American people, and immigrant community members, were in some ways afraid of winter.”
Taylor explained that winters in Minnesota are often seen as dangerous, and as something to be suffered through until summer.
“So, that’s why we wanted to call it ‘Warm Up to Winter,’ Taylor continued, “and introduce people to opportunities to learn about how to be active outdoors, and how to do it in a way that was safe, that was fun, and that was validating and that allowed us to do it in community. It was a night of music, food and celebrating community, and sharing information about what we can do.”
Taylor added, “We asked people, not what do you want to do but what are your aspirations for this season. When they answered build family, stay active and stay healthy, we showed them ways that snowboarding, cross-country skiing, biking, and snowshoeing helped achieve all of those things.”
Taylor reported that the event was a success, with over 200 people showing up.
Next up for MIM is a downhill skiing and snowboarding event for adults and children on Dec. 30 at Trollhaugen Outdoor Recreation Area. The group also offers I/She Boards, a woman-and-girl-led community program to teach girls how to snowboard at Theodore Wirth Park.
Check out the website melanininmotion.org for even more ways to explore nature-based activities all year long, meet other BIPOC community members and allies, and create lasting memories.
I hope MIM gets as much assistance from the multibillion-dollar camping and outdoor companies as Oprah got when she did her special. It would just be the right thing to do.
For more info, visit www.melanininmotion.org.
Travis Lee is a contributing photographer and writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.