The issue of the "Nature Gap" is the cornerstone issue of environmental justice, but it's also a reflection of the systemic inequities that persist all throughout society. The outdoors, a space that should be accessible and welcoming to everyone, has been marked by a stark divide along racial and socioeconomic lines.
However, a new generation of leaders is emerging, dedicated to bridging this gap and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background, can enjoy the benefits of nature. This roundup highlights five such individuals whose innovative efforts are helping to diversify outdoor spaces and reconnect BIPOC communities with the natural world. Their stories serve as a testament to the power of individual action in affecting systemic change.
José González—Latino Outdoors
José González, the founder of Latino Outdoors, has helped to connect Latinx communities with nature and outdoor experiences. Recognizing an unmet need for Latinx representation in outdoor recreation, environmental education, and conservation, González established Latino Outdoors in 2013. Initially an online blog and networking platform, it has since evolved into a Latine-led organization supporting a national community of outdoor recreation, conservation, and environmental education leaders.
Latino Outdoors not only celebrates and expands the Latine outdoor experience but also serves as a platform for amplifying cultural connections and narratives often overlooked. Latino Outdoors is helping bridge the Nature Gap and diversify the outdoors through its various programs.
Rue Mapp—Outdoor Afro
Rue Mapp is a visionary leader who has made significant strides in bridging the Nature Gap. As the founder of Outdoor Afro, Mapp has created a robust network that encourages African American connections and leadership in nature. Outdoor Afro has grown into a nationwide movement, with teams in 30 states, reaching over 40,000 people each year.
Mapp's work centers on the belief that nature is not a luxury but a necessity for everyone, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. Through her leadership, Outdoor Afro is diversifying outdoor spaces and fostering a sense of belonging and connection to the natural world throughout the African American community.
Ambreen Tariq—Brown People Camping
Ambreen Tariq, a Muslim, South-Asian American immigrant, founded Brown People Camping. This social media initiative uses storytelling to promote diversity, equity, access, and social justice in outdoor spaces. Tariq's personal experiences have shaped her love for the outdoors and fueled her commitment to ensuring that public lands are accessible and welcoming to all.
Her work also extends to literature, with her debut picture book, "Fatima's Great Outdoors," serving as a loving ode to the outdoors, and a reminder that public land is there to be enjoyed by everyone. Tariq's efforts have garnered attention from major publications like the New York Times, Outside magazine, and NPR.
Chad Brown—Soul River Inc.
Chad Brown, a decorated U.S. Navy veteran, is the President and founder of Soul River Inc. This nonprofit organization unites veterans and inner-city youth in outdoor educational experiences. Its mission is to uplift and strengthen communities by connecting these groups to the outdoors, fostering leadership and advocacy for the natural world.
Brown's personal journey with PTSD and his deep connection with nature has shaped the organization's unique approach. Through Soul River, he has created a space where healing, growth, and leadership development occur in the heart of nature's classrooms. His work has earned him recognition, including the Breaking Barriers Award from Orvis, and the Bending Toward Justice Award from Oregon Senator, Jeff Merkley.
Teresa Baker—Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge
Teresa Baker, a passionate advocate for diversity in the outdoors, initiated the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge. This pledge is a commitment by outdoor industry leaders to step up and foster diversity and inclusion within their realms. Baker's initiative is a significant stride towards ensuring that the outdoor industry reflects the true diversity of those who love and engage with the outdoors. Her work is a testament to the power of commitment and advocacy in driving systemic change.