by Jennifer Fontaine
The definition of DIVERSITY: di?ver?si?ty | d??v?rs?d?,d??v?rs?d?/ | noun
The quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.
A Clemson University Master Teacher and Alumni Distinguished Professor in wildlife ecology, J. Drew Lanham is a naturalist and conservationist with strong interest in integration of game and nongame wildlife management. Lanham also happens to be African American, an avid birder, and author of the provocative 9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher.
A South Carolina native, Lanham understands all too well the challenges minorities face in the outdoors, and that?s precisely why he feels inspired to change people?s perception. Lanham?s perspective on the need for more diversity in the outdoors echoes a much larger movement within the minority segment whose voice is as colorful as it is poignant.
In a global cultural melting pot we are, for the first time in history, moving toward a future where the word minority may soon have no meaning, according to a U.S. Census Bureau.?Supported by UNESCO?s World Report on Cultural Diversity, the benefits of diversity can be seen in all aspects of life and are proven to produce vibrant and thriving communities, stimulate economic growth and enrich the lives of those who participate in a multicultural world.
With this massive boom in minority segments of the population, a surprising reality is that only about 1 in 5 visitors to the National Park Service?s 408 sites encompassing more than 84 million acres across the US are non-white, according to a 2011 University of Wyoming report commissioned by the Park Service.
Another?report? conducted by the U.S. Forest Service in 2008 found that between 2008 and 2012 over 95 percent of visitors were white.
The Outdoor Foundation, an organization established by the Outdoor Industry Association with a mission to inspire and grow future generations of outdoor enthusiasts cited the number one reason diverse populations do not participate in outdoor activities more often is simply lack of interest, followed closely by a lack of time.
Ranking third on the list, lack of ability or skillset deficits examine more deeply rooted cultural and economic barriers that exist when entering a recreational world that may be foreign territory. To address such hurdles, support networks like Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors foster youth leadership and nature conservancy, and inject an overall love of the outdoors within specific minority communities.
The research has been done, the reports compiled, and the conversation started. But how is this information translated to meaningful action that results in authentic change in the way the outdoor industry approaches and interacts with non-white nature enthusiasts? How can individuals mobilize neighbors and fellow community members out of their houses and into our city, state, and national parks?
A simple place to start is within outdoor manufacturers and retailers to select a more diverse cast through which to advertise their products. This tiny step could mean a large leap towards changing the archetype, which in turn has the potential to pique the interest of an entire segment of the population.
Diversity in the outdoors has thrived for centuries in many cultures. From Native Americans to Africans, Mayans, and Patagonians, these cultures were creating urban gardens way before it was ?green?, acting as watchful stewards of this land ages before we set foot upon its rocky shore. Giving these faces a place in outdoor marketing and advertising has the ability to provide important representation of an ever-widening cultural world landscape.
In an industry dominated by white males, we should strive to work together to change the dialogue. With our collective words and actions, imagery and intentions we can break down stereotypes, inform the public and create a culture where the outdoors aren?t feared, but revered as a place to reinforce, inspire and motivate the future owners of these lands.
Latino Outdoors founder, Jose Gonzalez sums it up best, “Every culture can unite in the human desire to connect to our Earth. I look at it as a tree. We all have our roots. They twist and bend, they run deep and lead off in many directions, but the trunk of Mother Nature binds us all and allows us, the leaves to soak up its glory.” We couldn’t agree more.
Get Connected and Get Outside
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in cooperation with its federal partners, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), Forest Service (USFS), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) launched an initiative to achieve both conservation work and environmental career development and learning goals through hands-on implementation of habitat restoration, assessment, monitoring, and other conservation-related projects, particularly urban and minority youth.
American Latino Expedition
Established in 2011 by Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, the mission of the American Latino Heritage Fund (ALHF) is to assist the National Park Service and communities across the country to ensure that our national parks and historic sites preserve, reflect and engage the diverse stories and communities of American Latinos throughout American History and for future generations.
Outdoor Afro has become the nation?s cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. Today with now 30 leaders from around the United States the organization connect thousands of people to outdoor experiences, who are changing the face of conservation.
With roots in the past, a presence in the present and vision for the future, Latino Outdoors is a network of leaders committed to engaging Latinos/as in the outdoors, connecting familias and youth with nature, and empowering our community of storytellers to explore and share their personal experiences. Our growing online platform allows participants to creatively document their cultural connections to conservation, the environment, and the Great American Outdoors with the world.
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.?