The Black Paddle Expedition

Every year, Outdoor Afro Volunteer Leaders from across the country come together to embark on incredible journeys where they engage in fellowship, explore connections to Black history, and celebrate Black joy in nature. In previous years, leaders have organized summits of Mt. Whitney and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Blackpacking through national forests, statewide campouts, ski trips, and more!  

 

In September 2021, fifteen of those leaders from across the nation joined each other in Hermann, MO to paddle over 100 miles down the Missouri and into the Mississippi River. Fifth-year St. Louis, MO network Leader and Expedition River Captain Anthony Beasley recounted his experiences of celebrating Black Joy down by the riverside. 

“Chaya Harris, the Outdoor Afro National Program Director, saw that I had participated in the Stream Teams United Paddle MO fundraiser and how much I enjoyed it. Considering the substantial Black history of the river, this would be a great opportunity to celebrate and commemorate folks like York, Mary Meachum, and enslaved peoples who used this path on the Underground Railroad.”

The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are teeming with Black history: from the initial American survey to its role in the Underground Railroad to how these trade routes helped Black Meccas thrive, these rivers carry our stories.

Defeated by General Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti, Napoleon pivoted away from his goal of re-establishing a French colonial empire in North America to focus on the impending war with the United Kingdom in 1800. Within this space was an opportunity for then, President Thomas Jefferson to double the size of the fledgling United States of America and push out competing French and Spanish interests. In 1803, Congress ratified the Louisiana Purchase, and the next year President Jefferson tasked Meriweather Lewis and William Clark with surveying the newly acquired territory. 

“Initially, I was hesitant,” says Beasley about the paddle. “I had only participated in the Stream Teams trip; I didn’t organize the event. It was just a 25-mile float. We didn’t camp every night along the river. We were shuttled back and forth to our boats at the end of the day.”

This expedition was going to be a little different. Leaders were going to set up camp at the end of each day on the river and travel four times as far. “I didn’t think I could lead a group 100 miles down the Missouri, but I knew that my Outdoor Afro community had my back. Chaya helped me scout the area, research Black History on the Missouri, and make a plan for a successful paddle.” 

York at the Lincoln Memorial

William Clark felt similar trepidation but would need to build his own support. In preparing for the survey, he assembled a “Corps of Volunteers for the Northwest Discovery” and forced an enslaved man, York, to serve in it. 

“As an enslaved man, York was considered less than human, so not much was recorded about him other than what they [Lewis and Clark] thought to write in their journals,” says Beasley. “He was the only unpaid [initial] member of the expedition but was pivotal to its success.”  

As an enslaved man, York was treated poorly by members of the Corps, who would pick fights with and use him to scout ahead the most dangerous areas. Most of the Indigenous people and immigrants they encountered had never seen a person with Black skin. As they traveled up the Missouri, word spread about the expedition and the “extraordinary” York. The Nez Perce had designs to kill the Corps, but upon seeing York backed off from fear of his retaliation. Because the expedition needed to trade and barter with different tribes along the River, York was presented to them as a novelty and to gain trust. 

 

At over 2,300 miles, the Missouri River is the longest river in North America and is 300 feet across at its widest. This would be Beasley’s first time being on a major river that size. “I’ve been on a few float trips but on smaller rivers. I had never been on a major river like that before, and, I’ll be honest with you, I was terrified.” Thankfully, Anthony had the love and support his team to help him overcome any reservations. For leaders, Outdoor Afro is where they create bonds, build leadership, and find family. “This was my first time paddling with 15 Black folks. When we were out there, just to look back and see all that brown on the river, it was breathtaking.”

Only recently has York been able to receive the recognition he’s deserved as an integral part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The journey was treacherous and not at all rewarding. Despite him being one of the keystones to the western expansion of the United States, York returned to Washington, DC in 1806 and remained Clark’s slave, ultimately being sold out to a farm in Louisville, KY and becoming lost to history.

Anthony and the BlackPaddle crew used their time on the river to celebrate and give honor to people like York, Mary Meachum, and more who carved out spaces where we can feel free in Nature.

“I think about York traveling the opposite way on this river on the journey out west. It just gives me a sense of ownership on this river. I belong here.” 

We’ve been here and will always be here, celebrating Black Joy and Black Leadership in Nature.  

From Savory to Sweet: Outdoor Afro’s Favorite Camping Foods

Fall can make for excellent camping experiences all across the country. Up north, you can set up camp surrounded by the changing colors of deciduous trees, and, in the south, it’s finally cool enough to sleep in a tent. Monsoon season is over in the west, and, in the east, your risk of encountering ticks is greatly reduced. No matter where you live, one of the things key to a successful trip is making a camp menu that fuels your group and gets you excited about starting up that cooking fire. Ready to plan a weekend in the woods? Check out camping food recipes from several current and former volunteer Outdoor Afro leaders. 

 

Some camp chefs love to build on their repertoire of camp cooking by mixing it up a bit with a challenge. Antonio’s Dutch Oven Campfire Stew recipe is perfect for car or RV camping. You can prepare some things at home or pack a cutting board with you to chop up the fresh veggies at your campsite.   

Leader: Antonio Simmons

Network: Washington, DC

 

Dutch Oven Campfire Stew 

  •  
  • 1/4 lb. shaved ribeye (substitute mushrooms for a vegetarian option)
  • 3/4-1 lb. boneless short rib cut in bite-size pieces (substitute beans for a vegetarian option)
  • 1 chopped red onion 
  • 2 diced garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 1 chopped yellow and red pepper
  • 1 chopped medium-sized zucchini, yellow squash
  • 1 cup of baby carrots
  • 1/2 lb. of halved brussel sprouts
  • 1 stalk of chopped celery
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cracked pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sage, basil, curry, oregano, paprika, and salt of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon of Complete Seasoning and Oregano
  • 1 cup of half-cooked rice (you can add more if you would like)
  • 1 26 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of drained chickpeas
  • 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil

 

 

Now that your ingredients are prepped, it’s time to get your 8-quart Dutch oven ready. 

  1.  Place Dutch oven over coals or flames to get it hot.
  2.  Sauté shaved ribeye, onions, garlic, peppers, and seasonings.
  3.  Add short rib, and cook until pieces start to turn brown.
  4.  Add remaining ingredients, and cook covered for 20 minutes while stirring occasionally.

Imagine a hot bowl of this stew waiting for you after exploring the trails! Cooking with Dutch ovens can add a rustic feel to your adventures as well as help you scale recipes for larger groups. Check out this next delicious crowd pleaser.

Former Leader: Wandi Stew

Network: Atlanta, GA

Dutch Oven Campfire Lasagna 

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups pasta sauce (a 24 or 25 ounce jar is perfect)
  • 12 oz. FRESH lasagna noodles divided into 4 sets (thawed if frozen)
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or a blend of Italian-style cheeses
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • Instructions

    PREHEAT: If cooking over a campfire, get your coals ready. You’ll need 25 total. If cooking at home, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

    ASSEMBLE THE LASAGNA: Start by coating the bottom of a 10″ Dutch oven with the olive oil to help prevent the bottom layer from sticking. Add 1/2 cup pasta sauce and spread evenly over the bottom of the Dutch oven. Use the first set of noodles to create the base of the lasagna. Layer 1/2 cup sauce, 1 cup baby spinach, and 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat (one set noodles, 1/2 cup sauce, 1 cup baby spinach, 1/3 cup cheese) two more times. For the final layer, use the last set of noodles, 1/2 cup sauce, and 1/2 cup cheese. Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the top.

    BAKE: Use 8 coals to create a bed to set your Dutch oven on. Place the Dutch oven on top of the coals. Cover the oven with the lid, and place the remaining 17 coals on top of the lid. If cooking at home, simply cover your Dutch oven, and stick it in your preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes until the noodles are tender and cooked through and the cheese has melted.

    SERVE: Take the Dutch oven off the heat. Carefully remove the lid and set aside. Cut the lasagna into 4 wedges, plate, and enjoy!

Looking for something a bit lighter for backcountry adventures? Check out this recipe for backpackers. You’ll need a saucepan and heavy-duty tin foil for this easy camp food recipe.

IMG_9539

Leader: China Walker

Network: Washington, DC

 

Caramel Apple Cake 

  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple
  • 1 cup of mixed vanilla cake batter or plain pancake batter   

Cook butter and sugar on low, until a caramel is made. Then, add slices of Granny Smith apples on top of the caramel. Next, add vanilla cake batter (or plain pancake batter left over from breakfast). The next trick is to try to cook on low and not on directly on fire, as this will scorch the bottom of the cake. (We put the pan on embers, and then surrounded the pan and lid with the sticks/embers. )

Here are must haves from our volunteer Outdoor Afro Area leaders for easy backpacking meals:

-Minute rice + pouch of salmon

-Ramen + fresh carrots and broccoli + Field Roast vegan sausage + parsley

-Frozen cooked chicken + pesto + frozen bell peppers and onions (defrosts while you hike so you can just heat and eat)

If you are looking for ways to make sure you stay fueled in the backcountry, check out this recipe from our friends at REI for jerky. No dehydrator required! 

 

Homemade Jerky 

  • 2.5 lbs thinly-sliced meat (lean meat works best)
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • ½ tbsp. onion powder
  • ½ tbsp. black pepper
  • ½ tbsp. liquid smoke
  • 1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • ½ cups water
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • Toothpicks 

In a large bowl, combine garlic, jalapeño pepper, onion powder, black pepper, liquid smoke, red pepper flakes, honey, water, and soy sauce

Add meat to marinade, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees.

Line the bottom shelf of the oven with baking sheets and aluminum foil.

Place marinated meat in the oven to dry for 2-4 hours. (Lay directly on the oven shelf or hang from the shelf using toothpicks.)

Part of planning a camp menu is doing your best to make sure that nothing goes to waste. When a camper brought an extra dozen donuts to breakfast, volunteer Outdoor Afro leader Beky Branagan knew exactly what to do with the leftovers. Introducing the easiest camp dessert ever made: the Bull’s Eye! If you aren’t counting calories, this is a fun way to get rid of all of that leftover holiday candy.

Former Leader: Beky Branagan

Network: Raleigh-Durham, NC

Bull’s Eye

Take 1 donut, place a marshmallow in the hole, and add as much or as little candy, nuts, chocolate, or bananas or other types of fruit as you’d like! 

Wrap with foil & bake!

No matter what is on the menu for your next camping trip, we encourage you to challenge yourself! You can explore with different tools like Dutch ovens or backpacking camp stoves as well as with recipes that stretch your abilities a bit.    

The Good Fight for our Humanity, Mother Earth and our Uni-verse

The Good Fight for our Humanity, Mother Earth and our Uni-verse – Taishya Adams

My earliest childhood memories always involve trees. Big trees. Trees that were three stories tall and imaginably transformed into homes with my family and friends in the trees around me, my community. The outdoors can mean many things to many people. To me, its as expansive as playing golf with my grandpa as a kid to climbing Kilimanjaro last year. It’s connection, it’s adventure, its responsibility. As an Outdoor Afro leader in Colorado, I build on their 10-year legacy of reconnecting black people to the outdoors and our role as leaders in it. I believe that human relationships are at the center of our work towards justice, the foundation each of us can build upon. I will always remember hearing a 6-year-old Outdoor Afro participant yell “believe in yourself” to his grandmother as she carefully scrambled up Red Rocks in Boulder, Colorado. This moment of intergenerational connection was healing for many of us and as COVID-19 has disrupted life as we know it, these connections become even more crucial. Our outdoor community has been transformed into a thriving virtual one where members now meet others across state lines and time zone. Creating a space for healing through sessions on meditation and nature journaling. In addition to connection with each other, Outdoor Afro raises the awareness of our members about the environmental issues impacting their families and communities. Empowering more Black people to become informed and engaged in recognizing the need to protect wildlife and their habitats, promote more equitable access to green spaces in their own communities are a critical part of a healthy human ecosystem.

As an educator, trainer, organizer, collaborator, and leader, I stand firmly at the intersection of education, health, and the environment, to help create a more humane world and sustainable planet. My service journey began with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School program in the mid-1990s.  Marion Wright Edelman spoke about servant-leadership and believed that in order to be a successful leader, you must learn how to serve.  Outdoor Afro also has provided me with opportunities to expand my own civic engagement. In 2019, I was appointed by Colorado Governor Polis to serve on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission. As the first black women to serve on the Commission, I believe it is critical to create more culturally and linguistically responsive policies, protocols, and practices. We must unpack our own bias and privilege to collectively address issues of access and representation head on while increasing opportunities for meaningful participation. Giving agency and voice to Coloradans throughout the state and intentionally centering members who have been historically in the margins has been a priority. In addition, I am eager to strengthen bridges across local, state and federal agencies, organizations, communities, and funders.
In my volunteer civic engagement roles on the Commission for Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) and with Outdoor Afro Colorado, I have been able to leverage experiences and expertise gained in the public education sector to drive meaningful change in the environmental space. I look forward to deepening these connections to fight the good fight for our humanity, Mother Earth and our Uni-verse.

Stereotype or Fact? Black People Don’t Camp

Mother and daughter sitting around the campfire at the annual joint campout with Outdoor Afro Chicago and St. Louis networks.

For black people, feeling welcome and safe in the outdoors isn’t a given. Even without insensitive or ignorant actions from others, everyone feels intimidated about trying something new, especially when none of your friends and families are exploring the outdoors in a recreational way. Outdoor Afro is changing that. The organization creates a space where black people and nature meet. That isn’t to say that others aren’t welcome, including non-black people like best friends, wives and husbands, but the point is to center the African American experience and create a safe place for black people that hasn’t existed on any broad scale before.
That’s why Outdoor Afro offers a variety of outings that meet people where they are. That could be as simple as sitting on the grass in the city and taking in a movie, doing yoga in the park, or hiking at an area forest preserve. It’s a journey and a continuum. Not everyone wants to climb a mountain, but maybe someone will start down a path and then be surprised by how much they enjoyed it and will want to do more.
Other opportunities for Outdoor Afro participants include visiting and learning about significant places. A walking tour through Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood offers a combination of history, art, and culture related to the Great Migration and a window into a historical hotbed of African American culture. Other outdoor activities simply focus on experiencing joy and trying new things. At times the group may address emotional trauma, like police violence, or center the activity around personal and collective healing.

Playing games near the campfire at the annual Camping 101 event where first-time campers learn the basics of sleeping in the outdoors.

Building Individual and Community Connections
Christine Meissner got involved with Outdoor Afro in the fall of 2016 in Chicago, her home city. Her passion for hiking and backpacking started in the Peace Corps, living in Macedonia, a mountainous country for two years. Since coming home, she wanted to do more. She liked the organization’s message of a multi-generational approach, and after participating in a couple of local events, including a two-day camping event across two of the organization’s networks in both Chicago and St. Louis, she was hooked. The community felt safe and she loved that they could enjoy each other’s company while celebrating their culture and history.
When one of the founding network leaders in Chicago stepped down, Outdoor Afro put out a call for leaders, Meissner was one of many who applied, and she was selected. “I jumped in,” she says. “Being a volunteer leader is not an extra burden or responsibility. It’s woven into my everyday life.”
Now in her third year as an Outdoor Afro leader, she can see how she’s changed and grown by attending the organization’s annual training and professional development and through surmounting challenges outdoors. She sees the same changes in the participants that join her, as they return again and again, doing increasingly difficult hikes or getting involved in activities they wouldn’t normally do, like kayaking. She also sees people who join and then start doing the same kinds of things on their own, such as camping, and then they bring more people along.

Participants learning how to start a campfire at the annual Camping 101 event where first-time campers learn the basics of sleeping in the outdoors.

Promoting Safe and Welcoming Experiences
It’s not only important to inspire connections and leadership in nature among Outdoor Afro participants, it’s also important for the world to expect and welcome African Americans on the trail. This was underscored for Meissner one day as she got ready to lead about a dozen participants on a hike at the Indiana Dunes. Her group was excited to be there, to shed some stress, and enjoy one another while they experienced the glorious world around them. That’s when two people on their return route came off the trail and headed toward them. Rather than offering a simple greeting on the way to the car, the woman seemed affronted and said, “What are you doing here?” Her dogs sniffed the group, upping the sense that this was her territory and their group was somehow trespassing.
This jarring interaction reflects a landslide of traumatic context, history and experiences for black people in American history; the group found themselves ambushed by fear and mistrust, when they’d set out on a mission for joy, some on a hike for the very first time. Meissner took a deep breath and responded. “We’re going hiking, just like you.”
It should go without saying that we all have a right to those universal pleasures and benefits that come when we move our bodies and take in vitamin D. The positive impacts get compounded when we strengthen community bonds. Outdoor Afro outings start with an opening circle that sets the tone where the leader shares the mission of why they are there. At the end, a closing circle gives people the opportunity to talk about what they gained. “Sometimes people share a word, or more, but often what I hear people tell me is that they feel rejuvenated and excited,” says Meissner. She also enjoys finding out who’s a first-timer and seeing that it’s always a balance of repeat participants and new people coming in, making the family bigger.
This process of showing up means that more people can have a safe, welcoming and meaningful experience in the outdoors. Meissner particularly likes seeing people her parents’ age getting out to hike and going on overnight camping trips even when the message they heard growing up was, “Black people don’t camp.” The fact that they are out there makes that statement a stereotype rather than a fact. In fact, black people do camp. And because they are doing it, it sends a strong message to younger people that they can too.

Outdoor Afro Welcomes Ashley Williams, Global Marketing Director of KEEN, to its Board of Directors

Oakland, CA –December 10, 2018– Outdoor Afro, a national non-profit whose mission is to create and inspire Black leadership in nature, just announced its newest board member, Ashley Williams, Senior Director, Global Marketing  KEEN, Inc. (KEEN). KEEN and Williams have been long-standing supporters of Outdoor Afro.
Williams has spent the last two decades in the Sports and Outdoor industry for brands like adidas, Yakima and Amer Sports, with the last four years at KEEN helping to connect the brand with more fans and tell its values led stories. He is a passionate outdoors person and never happier than when on the trail with his family. Williams has served as Senior Global Marketing Director of KEEN since October 2014.
“We are overjoyed to have Ashley join the board,” said CEO of Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp. “His depth of industry knowledge and marketing experience will help us continue to stay innovative and will be extremely valuable as we continue to expand our reach into more industries.”
“I’ve been inspired by the work of Outdoor Afro for many years and proud to join their family” said Williams. “The mission of celebrating and inspiring African American connections and leadership in nature is one that I fully support. To watch how they have grown and continue to stay on the cutting edge of this work is inspirational. I am thrilled to join the Board and look forward to using my experience in helping guide the team in the next phase of their growth.”
Williams will be joining an experienced board with expertise in business, philanthropy, wildlife conservation and public lands stewardship.

KEEN boot in dirt

Image Credit: Outdoor Afro

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About Outdoor Afro: Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature by helping people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet. Outdoor Afro is a national non-profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With nearly 80 leaders in 30 states, Outdoor Afro connects thousands of people to outdoor experiences, who are changing the face of conservation. For more information, visit www.outdoor-afro-2021.k31u286g-liquidwebsites.com.
About KEEN: Driven by a passion for life outside, KEEN is a values-led, independently owned brand from Portland, Oregon, that’s on a mission to create original and versatile products, improve lives, and inspire outside adventure. Founded in 2003, it launched a revolution in the footwear industry with the introduction of the Newport adventure sandal, and has donated more than $17 million to non-profit organizations and causes around the world to promote responsible outdoor recreation, including conservation efforts to protect open spaces. KEEN strives to show the world through its products and its actions that a business for good can actually be good for business. By giving back, reducing impact, and activating communities and individuals to protect the places where we work and play, KEEN puts its values in motion and takes action to leave the world a better place. Learn more at https://www.keenfootwear.com/our-purpose.html

Go RVing Sponsors Family Fest Field Day – Find Your Away!

Outdoor Afro and GoRVing – Perfect Together

On September 29, 2018, one of our good friends, Go RVing sponsored a Family Fest Field Day at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, MD., for the DC Outdoor Afros and their families.
The day started with a yoga session among the trees with Khepera Wellness Yoga leading the session. It was a picture-perfect day with mild temps and not a drop of rain in sight. Then it was time for a delicious lunch followed by some field games – limbo, balloon toss, a giant Connect Four, corn hole and more!
Go RVing brought a family friendly motorhome made by Winnebago to tour. This RV was fantastic with room to sleep seven, a full kitchen and bath and even an outdoor kitchen with a flat screen TV – perfect for tailgating. Thanks to Christy Hamilton & Jim Boyle from the Go RVing team for providing us with details about the RV and why there’s a RV for everyone. With all the different sizes and styles, there’s an RV that’s just right for an epic road trip with the family, a weekend away with your friends or a tailgate in the park.
Find Your Away at www.GoRVing.com

Yoga in the Park

An Interconnected Life – A Profile of Myrian Solis Coronel of REI

Myrian and her son, Lucca, doing what they love best – playing and laughing.

Myrian Solis Coronel has been an instrumental part of Outdoor Afro ever since CEO and founder, Rue Mapp, shared her vision back in 2009. Myrian has been a supportive friend and partner ensuring introductions and connections were made when Outdoor Afro was just a blog – because she saw the potential. Myrian is currently the chair of the California State Parks Commission, where Rue is also a commissioner. 

While much of the world seems intent on dividing us, Myrian draws inspiration from the great outdoors as a means to connect to her authentic self and to bring communities around the world closer together. As a young child, Myrian’s abuela (Spanish for grandmother) took advantage of adventures right outside her back door, which allowed Myrian to see and appreciate the world from very unique perspectives. Myrian smiles today as she reflects on the good times with abuela and shares fond memories from her outdoor experiences, to which she credits her strong desire to form genuine, empathetic relationships.

Myrian grew up in San Diego, specifically the South Bay Area. San Diego is a city by the sea known for its relatively large immigrant population. A couple times a month, Myrian’s abuela would take her to visit Border Field State Park, a place that Myrian calls “magical.” Border Field State Park sits right on the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. They were two worlds that were so close but so far away, divided by the border wall. The magic of Border Field State Park, containing a structure created to divide worlds, was that it became a place where people gathered and told stories about their lives both in Mexico and in the States. In spite of the fence that separated them, this was a place where Myrian was able to experience the richness of her Mexican and American cultures. These outdoor experiences as a child created long-lasting memories and instilled in Myrian a passion for family and community that she holds dear to this day.

Myrian and her husband love traveling and exploring new parts of the world. Colombia, was a perfect trip combining her appreciation of big cities – Bogota and her love for warm beaches, Cartagena.

What is your favorite outdoor childhood memory?
Two really come to mind.

My first is when my abuela would pick my brother and me up from school and take us to her house. We spent a lot of time with her as children. The townhomes in her community sat on big plots of land. I can remember spending most of my time playing outdoors, running around, hiding in the bushes, playing in dirt, getting muddy, and playing in puddles without a care in the world. I would walk into my abuela’s living room after spending the afternoon playing, covered in dirt and mud, and hear her say, with a humorous worry, “Ay dios mio. ¡Tu mama me va a matar!” (Your mother is going to kill me!). I want my kids to have that childhood. All children should be able to experience that kind of joy without worrying about getting dirty or sick.

Another strong memory is visiting Border Field State Park with my abuela. During our walks in the park, my abuela would share vivid stories of her childhood, her fascination with food, and my abuelo’s love for music. My abuelo loved music so much that we would have conversations in which he responded to our questions with a melody. Abuela would also tell us stories of my mom’s adolescent years. These walks were our special moments. Today, every time I hike Border Field I feel the ocean breeze that hits me as a sign of her whispers or her way of caressing my curly hair.

From Buenos Aires to the Mighty Mount Tronador and the Black Glacier in Bariloche (Patagonia, Argentina), Myrian blends her love for music, food, nature and big metro cities in her globetrotting.

How does your past influence the decisions you make for the future?
As a child, spending these special days at Border Field Park with my abuela and the community beyond the fence instilled so many values in me that have influenced the woman I am today. It took us three hours to get in and out of the park. The highlight was walking between the dirt trail and sandy beach and listening to abuela’s stories from her childhood and upbringing in Mexico. Abuela would meet strangers and share her stories. This allowed her to meet new people and relive loving memories of her past. When I go to the park now, it reminds me of who she was, what she did, and how, unintentionally, she instilled all these values – love, respect, connection, and empathy – in me. The love of nature. The love of culture. My abuela showed us the joy in connecting with people and storytelling.

Today, connecting with people is where I feel my truest sense. I have the opportunity to do this professionally by leading REI’s national partnership program and uplifting the co-op’s mission and our partners’ incredible work. Through this program, I’m able to connect with organizations offering space and community to people of color who love the outdoors. My goal is to weave in the partnership to various parts of the co-op to disrupt the “normal” image of who’s playing outside.

I also have the opportunity to connect with a larger community in my role as chair for the California State Parks Commission. With 280 parks across the state, including Border Field State Park, we learn about the rich history these places hold, the vast recreation opportunities they offer, and the deep connection people have for parks. I believe my love for parks and commitment to volunteerism led me to this incredible civic duty.

I take tremendous pride in both roles and think it’s because of my emotional and personal connection to open spaces. They’re part of my story.

Why is volunteering in the community important for you?
Volunteerism was always something we did growing up. Whether it was participating in a food drive for the needy, cooking for a neighbor who was going through a rough time, or spending time in an orphanage in Baja playing dolls with the girls, my family always demonstrated a sense of gratitude for what we had while giving to others who might be less fortunate.
Today, this same spirit is what draws me to volunteerism. Whether it’s representing a perspective at a California State Park public meeting that is not present or advocating for more access to our public spaces, my hope is to represent and invite unheard perspectives to the conversations. By bringing people in, we become more inclusive, welcoming, and, as a result, gain perspective. The more people see themselves, their stories, and ideas in our parks, the more connected they’ll feel to the place. If we can feel a sense of pride and ownership for these public places, we can pass this spirit on to the next generation.
 

Myrian, her son Lucca and daughter, Luciana, explore around an urban garden in San Diego learning how food is grown and harvested.

What do you see as the most important part of your role?
The most important thing for me is changing the narrative around the traditional form that the industry has labeled as outdoor recreation. Hiking and backpacking are not words usually used by people of color who love the outdoors. When my abuela took us to Border Field State Park, she didn’t say, “Let’s go hiking” – despite the three-mile hike. She would say, “Let’s go to the park” or “Let’s go walk at the park.” The day was also about having fun. It wasn’t about making it to Monument Mesa. It was about the stroll in the park and the stories my abuela would share. If we made it to Monument Mesa, it was a bonus! I want us to continue to challenge the traditional outdoor narrative and change the imagery to reflect the America we truly are.

What is your vision for the future of the outdoor industry?
I want to show multicultural communities that this is an industry filled with incredible job opportunities. If you love the outdoors, you can actually make a living in this space. We have accountants, photographers, HR professionals, legal teams, writers, and IT. You name it, we got it! People should join the industry and influence the traditional thinking model by bringing a fresh perspective and change the face of who is running this industry.

How has the industry changed since you have been involved?
So much has changed in the past 10 years that I’ve been at the co-op. We’ve seen changes in consumer behavior, from social media to our inclusion efforts. Though we’ve made tremendous strides engaging with multicultural customers, we still have opportunity for growth.

At REI, we’ve used research data to cultivate relationships and deliver more relevant engagement strategies for multicultural members. We have invested and uplifted the work of national partners, such as Outdoor Afro, because we have a shared value and commitment to the outdoors. The partnerships are reciprocal, but the biggest winners are the community and the open spaces. By connecting and providing rich experiences in nature, public lands gain advocates, and we become a healthier and more active society.

We also acknowledge that representation matters. It’s hard for people to relate to a brand if they don’t see themselves reflected in the teams or their marketing. REI has become a stronger platform for representing a wider range of narratives. We need to continue this theme and help other content platforms and brands source these incredible stories. The more people see themselves and their stories told, the closer we’ll bring them as fans and consumers.

One of the most impactful things I’ve seen over the course of my journey at REI is Force of Nature. This initiative has disrupted and changed the status quo for women – from career opportunities, to sizing, to representation in marketing and content, and to experiences. I can see how this innovative model can embed other dimensions of identity and build upon our inclusion efforts.

What do you want your legacy to be? Professionally? Personally? Or is there a difference?
One of the things I have been able to do – professionally, as a volunteer, and for fitness – is ensure that everything is interconnected. This also exemplifies an expression of my purpose – to do what I love and what I’m good at, have fun, and make a positive difference for my and future generations.

Myrian loves every aspect of her life and is helping people by making communities brighter, more positive, and more connected. Sometimes we get caught up in the fact that it’s work, but we have to always remember to have fun! It’s nature – and it’s healthy for all – if we’re able to connect as humans, have fun, invite others, and enjoy the work. We’re looking forward to what Myrian does next.