Giving Compass' Take:

• Black Outside is an organization working to reconnect Black kids and teens to the outdoors, provide more access to learning about the environment, and confront structural racism. 

• How can you support Black-led environmental organizations? Why is it essential to address inequalities in environmental access? 

• Learn more about connecting youth to outdoors with equity.

In San Antonio, like other U.S. cities, the benefits of time outside remain less accessible to children in predominantly black neighborhoods, which are often built and policed in ways that have led to a retreat from the outdoors. Such public planning has serious consequences for public health. Data show that COVID-19 is two and a half times as often fatal for black Americans as for white Americans, largely due to many underlying conditions — obesity, asthma, hypertension and diabetes — that could be lessened by immersive time in nature.

“There are all these underlying systemic issues around health inequalities, around access to fresh air, access to parks, access to nature,” Bailey said, as well as healthy food and clean air. “COVID-19 was like gasoline on the fire. It just blew up.”

Turning that vicious cycle into a virtuous one is the goal of Black Outside. Bailey wants his campers to feel both safe and welcome, because he’s hoping that they will develop a lifelong love of hiking, paddling, camping and climbing — and reap the social, emotional and physical benefits.

When Bailey talks about outdoor safety, he’s talking as much about structural racism as he is about poison ivy. While many park staff have been eagerly hospitable, he said, he has also backed away from trips. If he sensed an ambivalence toward the kids, or an overemphasis on rule enforcement during the conversation, he chose a different park. Undoing generations of exclusion takes more than an open door, he explained: “I want [staff] to be excited for the opportunity.”

As more young black people become hiking and camping enthusiasts through Black Outside and other black-led organizations like it — Outdoor Afro, Greening Youth and Soul Trak — he hopes it will lead to more black hikers on trails and in outdoor recreation marketing. The message needs to be reinforced, he says, to families, park rangers and camp directors alike: Black kids have a place in the great outdoors.

Read the full article about reconnecting Black kids to the great outdoors by Bekah McNeel at The 74.