Alice Lyn talks to CJ Goulding about inequities in outdoor recreation, and feeling safe as a person of color in the outdoors.
Alice Lyn, host of WGVU’s Color Out Here, a TV show that reframes outdoor narratives for people of color. On this podcast she talks to outdoor experts of color about enjoying the outdoors safely.
Shaping Narratives is created by WGVU NPR in partnership with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Shaping Narratives.
--Transcript: You're listening to shaping narratives a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color brought to you by WGVU NPR and PBS in West Michigan in the partnership with the wk Kellogg Foundation. The voice of today's episode is Alice Lyn host of WGVU’s color out here to show reshaping outdoor narratives for people of color. Raised in Brooklyn, New York and educated in Michigan's upper peninsula. Alice talks to national experts about how people of color can safely and creatively enjoy the outdoors
CJ Goulding is passionate about facilitating growth in three things. People, community and leadership. In his roles with children and nature network and fresh chat. He trains and mentors and supports a national network of over 330 leaders who are changing systems and creating equitable access to nature in their communities. His essay. Why I wear Jordans in the great outdoors has been published and featured in culturally relevant outdoor curriculum across the country. He is an eager facilitator, writer, photographer, and lover of sharing and amplifying stories. Thanks so much for joining us today CJ. How are you?
I'm doing well and a happy to be talking with you.
Yeah. Awesome. Um, so I guess just put the majority of the U S sheltering in place right now. Uh, more people are spending time outside, uh, and it's not uncommon for people to think of outdoor recreation in the context of activities like camping or climbing or kayaking. Uh, but a lot of those are restricted to the general public right now. So do you feel like. Just that the era of COVID and can quarantine and people just feeling restless. Do you feel like any of that in these current circumstances are shifting how we experienced the outdoors? Um, or you know, how it might be expanding how we define outdoor recreation?
Yeah, I definitely think it's shifting how we experience the outdoors. I think that the time that most of us now have at home, we're realizing both the need for connection to nature, um, and feeling the inequities of who's actually able to connect, uh, and safely. I also think it's changing just the different ways that we think of connecting to the outdoors of outdoor recreation. Uh, where people are looking for opportunities that are closer to home, people are taking more walks around the community. People are spending more time in their backyards or front yards, no matter how big or small they might be. People are, uh, looking at and gardening and other things like that, as ways of connecting to nature. Um, my mom works at Lowe's and she said that all their planters are sold out. All their plants are sold out and things like that. Uh, just showing that people are looking for ways to connect to nature and get outside during this time. So it's shifting, uh, just both the idea and the framework around it. And then the different ways that people are connecting to nature as well.
So I know that for me, spending time outdoors has been invaluable to my physical health, my emotional wellbeing, particularly during shelter in place. But it's not uncommon for peopleof color to carry a level of discomfort and even fear for their safety and the outdoors as a person of color. Do you ever feel anxiety when you opt outside? Um, and if so, what, what do you do to mitigate that feeling?
Uh, for me, yeah. That's something that safety question is definitely a real one. Uh, Whether it's, uh, cases like Amon Arbery, uh, coming in like last week or even the fact that 35 of the 40 arrests for social distancing violations in Brooklyn over the past two months have been black people. Um, and with little to no, no arrest in, in mainly white neighborhoods, uh, there are enforcements, uh, consistent of questions of the idea that the outdoors is no welcome or safe space and that we, uh, as like people of color. Well, black people specifically don't belong and that's, that's tough. Cause it, especially like in, during these times when nature is beneficial and connecting to nature is something that everyone needs. It it's a stark and tough reminder of opposite society we live in and the structural racism that still exists behind all of these things. Uh, personally, I acknowledge that danger and I acknowledge that discomfort. And in some cases I realized that none of it is on me. Like none of it is stemming from me. Uh, and it is under a lot of it is not under my control. Like I can't change how I can necessarily, or specifically change how people might treat me or, or that safety. And so. Uh, I do my best to make sure I'm going out in a safe manner. Um, and then the thing is if I can’t control, I kind of, uh, leave up to, uh, the, I have to leave them up to chance, but I do my best to get safe, safe spaces of control, not only for myself, but for the folks that are might be taking outside as well. Uh, so I stay off, I step outside of my awareness that. Uh, knowing that there might be things that other people might do that way, uh, affect my safety, um, and then do what I can to shift the system as much as possible. So that one day that's not the case. I think one of the, for me, one of the things I think about in creating a safe spaces for, uh, my community as they're connecting outdoors is.
The idea that the more that we can, even what we can do, what I can do to change the perspective of a nature, not being safe, even for my community. We've a lot of folks have thought that for so long that, uh, it takes some internal work for us to be able to see nature as a place that's safe. And that can be used as a platform to create community connection on.
And in some cases, brotherhood, there are a couple of different programs that I'm hoping to implement. Uh, once we can all congregate outside again, that I have to do with supporting, you know, black men, brotherhood, mental health, and connection to nature on seeing as a space for building in a safe space, even as we're trying to shift the system that may terrain, uh, see it as a dangerous place for us to be.
And you mentioned brotherhood and do you feel that, you know, in addition to changing, uh, the helping to change the perception of, uh, feeling unsafe in the outdoors, do you, how else can brotherhood or building, you know, growing community for people of color contribute to say, just feeling safer outside, um, beyond kind of representation, but you know, sort of going as it going out collectively or what, can you expand on that a little bit more?
Yeah, I think it's, uh, going out, I mean, going out collectively is, is going out in groups in small groups, helps with that as well. Um, I think not that it's, it's my, uh, responsibility to, uh, to change the mind of someone who might be. Uh, who might have different ideas or might have like racist or wrong ideas about what it means for me to be black and outdoors. Um, but, uh, the, the more, I got more examples and the more we normalize that in, in mainstream, in the mainstream out, there are outdoor recreation world or outdoor education world. Uh, the more that helps to shift, uh, those, those ideas, uh, the more. And we can highlight stories of, of black folks,recreating in the outdoors and not only just, uh, spending time outdoors now, but sharing the history, the long lasting history that we have with connecting with the earth in multiple ways.
Um, the more that we can shift policies and mindsets and mental models around how people, uh, tend to act. Uh, I think, yeah, it also has to do with like the way that things are enforced in police. Then the more that we can advocate for, uh, representation in, in the folks who make those decisions, uh, the more that our safety in the outdoors becomes a priority. Um, and if it is enforced in that way, so, uh, law enforcement officers, aren't looking to black people and saying, Oh, there's something wrong with them being here. I have to investigate. Uh, that, that basement a model shift and then become one where questioned instead of, uh, just accepted for our presence outdoors.
You see any opportunities arising from COVID that can help to advance inclusion and representation in the outdoors. Um, I guess sort of put it another way is how do you think that COVID might, um, Make it easier or harder moving forward to just get more, um, people of color outside, more, more women, um, LGBTQ, you know, all of the above or just POC or whoever you kind of want to answer that, but how is COVID shaping this work?
Yeah, for me, I think every, every single thing happening with, with COVID-19 right now provides. Evidence for why things should shift. Uh, and if it helps make the case regarding inclusion and equity and connection to the outdoors and outdoor recreation, it COVID-19 has at the state home orders have, have emphasized the need for connection to the outdoors, the need for parks and outdoor spaces who has access to those green spaces. The way we build cities. And how the outdoors is a health factor is benefit. So with, with all of those things and it highlights all of those benefits, and then it also highlights the places where those benefits are awarded inequitably. So for me, I think about folks who live, I live in New Jersey, and I think my folks who live. Uh, right across the bridge, uh, in New York city and in Washington Heights and who live in the, in the towers. And I think of like 1200 people living on top of each other in close quarters and how much access they have to green spaces, having access to those 1200 people who are mostly black and Brown folks have to, uh, outdoor spaces as opposed to folks who might live in Brownsville, Brooklyn, uh, who are majority white. And have a higher, higher access to green spaces. So I think it just highlights how imbalanced the system is and why, how we need to change it. Um, no one can ignore it because this is something that a lot of us are facing, um, that most of us, most of us are facing and struggling and dealing with. And so for me, I think, uh, there's, uh, a lot of the news talks about. You know, when will we return to normal. And, and I think a lot of the, uh, people of color, uh, that I have talked to or follow have emphasized that we're not trying to return to normal because normal and just as acknowledged does, this is a COVID-19 just makes it, makes it a little bit more public. And so we need to continue to press for changes in the system so that we don't return to that normal, that existed.
Before we all started staying at home, uh, which means advocating for changes in policy, uh, changes in representation in terms of who makes those decisions from us, uh, changes in how, like I said, before, changes in how we build cities so that we have more space for humans, all humans, and all people to be able to connect to nature and, and supporting the organizations that are making that change. Uh, like a friend of mine, Chanelle Smith, um, and. Cleveland who works with, uh, the trust for public land to make sure that everyone has a Parkwood and 10 minutes walk up of where they live. Um, but I think just to add, then finally is thinking about the outdoor recreation or outdoor industry. I think this emphasizes that, you know, there's a lot of emphasis on those big trips and those, uh, like, um, climbing and hiking I'm going backpacking and Kayaking on this river, I'm going backpacking across this, like why it says of land, uh, and times like these highlight the importance and balance of representing urban farmers and, you know, uh, people who are doing work with, with kids in cities about collecting to their local parks and balancing that representation of what it means to connect outdoors. So that's not just the emphasis on those grand expeditions, but that, xploring second nature close to home, uh, has its own representation as well.
And, uh, I guess just last, what, what are you doing to, as somebody who, uh, you know, gets a lot and is deeply connected to the outdoors? Um, what are you doing right now to kind of fill, fill your cup in that, in that way?
Uh, so before I was, before I worked in outdoor or environmental education and there recreation and things like that. I, I was always outdoors. Uh, and sometimes not by choice. My parents would kick us out the house and tell us not to come back, uh, until it got dark. Um, and that meant just a lot of time exploring, uh, some of the wooded areas near my house, uh, exploring our neighborhood, uh, spending time. At my grandma's backyard and at the park playing catch with my brother and even digging in my grandmother's garden which we definitely got in trouble for, uh, but as we have been sheltering at home, I find it for me. Like the simplest way to connect with the outdoors are returned to those, to those roots are returned to those, uh, just aimless, wandering, exploring strolls through. Uh, wooded areas that might be close to my house, uh, spending time just sitting outside of the backyard, um, and even, uh, uh, and even just lying, lying in the grass and feeling grounded and connected to the earth. Um, for me, those have been the things that, that gives me a refresh and gives me. A breath of fresh air, both metaphorically and literally when I've been spending a lot of time indoors on zoom calls. Or watching Netflix or anything like that. It gives me a literal reboot in my body and mind too.
Shaping Narratives a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color is brought to you in partnership with the wk Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. Want to hear more Shaping Narratives episodes download and subscribe at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe if you get a chance, it helps us to know you're listening. Shaping Narratives is produced by WGVU PBS and NPR in West Michigan through the facilities of the Meijer public broadcast center in the service of Grand Valley State University. Matt Gruppen processed all the audio, Joe Bielecki edits each episode, Vance Orr designed our graphics and manages our Web presence, Phil Lanes is our director of content. The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the hosts and their guests and do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU or Grand Valley State University.