In Alumni in Action, Essays & Poems, Featured

Who Gets Left Out of the ‘Great Outdoors’ Story?

You’ve heard of Davy Crockett. Now meet Lancelot Jones, Sylvia Stark and other Black outdoors pioneers who can redefine our notion of the natural world.

By Carolyn Finney, Pacifica CLIE Faculty

Photo Illustration by Naomieh Jovin for The New York Times


In 1987 I embarked on a six-month backpacking trip around the world. The adventure ignited a love so fierce for the feel of the earth beneath my feet that I spent the better part of five years traveling through Africa and Asia, returning home in between trips to earn enough money so that I could hit the trail once more. (The Black author and activist bell hooks once told me of my travels, “That’s the ‘Eat Pray Love’ I want to read.”)

During this time, I devoured every piece of travel literature I could find — stories of individuals crossing deserts, climbing mountains and sailing oceans — but I never found a story about anyone who looked like me. I was no less inspired but I must admit I was frustrated. Later, in 2003, while working on my doctorate, I experienced déjà vu as I scanned the library shelves looking for those Black stories within the context of U.S. history and the environmental movement.

Black people have always “formed relationships with the features and creatures of the natural world,” said Tiya Miles, a history professor at Harvard and the author of “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.” And spurred in part by the events of 2020, we are now witnessing a broader effort to uncover, recover and elevate Black stories of revelation and joy in relation to the American landscape.

[Read the full article at the New York Times, here]
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