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Diversity in the Outdoors, Part 2

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This is the second part in a three part series around diversity in the outdoors stemming from a panel discussion on diversity hosted by Sierra Magazine at the Outdoor Retailer Winter event.

I ended my last blog on diversity in the outdoors with the question as to whether or not we simply needed to invite a more diverse audience with us when we headed into the outdoors. This is part of the answer, but it seems likely that having more role models for diverse populations would help others accept these kinds of invitations more readily.

A first step would be for manufactures and retailers to highlight diverse communities in their catalogues and advertisements so that when people look at an advertisement in a catalog, they see someone who could be of their community staring back at them, or more appropriately, staring off into the distance of some mountain vista or careening down a wild river of foaming white water. Outdoor retailers and manufactures have a strong economic incentive to find new, more diverse markets for their products and many companies are beginning to, or already have been, working to support diversity measures, more on that in the final blog next week.

Second, the stories of diverse communities in the outdoors need to be told and retold in all corners of our society. We can start with the past, with such notables like Polar Explorer and son of Georgia Sharecroppers, Matthew Henson who was Admiral Peary's top assistant when he claims to have reached the pole on April 6, 1909. Colorado mountaineer, James Beckwourth is another example largely forgotten in the footnotes of history. One of the commenters on the first diversity blog wrote about the importance of not taking the easy route and lumping everyone of one color or group into the same category. She went on to explain that her family, coming over to the United States from the Caribbean, were gardening and spending time outdoors long before gardening and the outdoors were recognized as 'green' or 'cool'.

In learning our combined history, we can also help to better tell the stories of those men and women who are leaders in the outdoor exploration and recreation movement today. After the diversity panel I was privy to learn more about some of the fantastic stories that abound in the outdoors. I got to meet two men, Stephen Shobe and Phil Henderson, who are doing amazing things.

Phil is hoping to be the first African American to summit Mt. Everest. He leaves for Nepal on Friday. I was shocked when he told me. How could it be 2012 and we've had 14 year olds summit the seven major peaks of the world, an African American as one of the first Americans to ever stand on the North Pole, but an African American has not climbed to the top of Mt. Everest? I had just assumed it had already been done. I think that's the problem, a lot of people assume something is happening, or someone else is doing it, when no one else has.

Stephen Shobe, a Coast Guard veteran and founder of Pioneer Climbing Expedition, is hoping to complete the seven major summits with all black climbing teams. As part of his journey, he's partnering with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). NOLS feels diversity in the outdoors is so important they have hired staff to focus exclusively on diversity issues and are planning a pretty cool climb next year on Denali.

After hearing all these stories and getting to know Stephen and Phil a bit, I immediately wanted to climb with these guys. These were really cool guys, pushing the envelope, doing amazing things and I wanted to be a part of that energy. And so I can be in a lot of little ways, and maybe some day I will get a chance to go climb with these two gentlemen somewhere out in the world. Meanwhile, I can begin to share those stories about Phil and Stephen as climbers with new friends and communities, and together, we can dream about a new kind of expedition to Mt. Everest, not unlike the NOLS Expedition, and follow in Phil's, Stephen's, Mr. Beckwourth's, and Mr. Henson's, footsteps.

When standing and talking with both Stephen and Phil for the first time, I realized how much I have taken the outdoor experiences in my life for granted. I just grew up that way. Its what kids in South Dakota did. While I've certainly had my share of ups and downs, the privilege I've been afforded in my life stared me straight in the face.

Its time those of us who can, share that privilege.

I hope to see you out on the trail.