The first time I took a solo trip, it was to Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. As a single Black woman, travelling alone was never something I prioritized for myself. When I turned 30, I decided I would try a short solo trip. I just had to figure out where to go and what to do. Choosing an excursion to the Channel Islands was an easy decision. Although the outdoors has historically not been a welcoming space for people like me, the ocean has always been my safe space. Growing up in the Virgin Islands, some of my earliest memories include swimming long before I even knew how to walk. And as a marine scientist, I was comfortable being in water and very used to being the only Black person in certain spaces. I was aware of the Channel Islands and had been in awe of the natural history and geology. As an avid kayaker, I was excited at the opportunity to try sea cave kayaking at Santa Cruz Island.
As a volunteer leader with Outdoor Afro in Seattle and now Miami, one of my personal missions has been to help other Black youth and families reconnect to the ocean and to the legacy of the Black Americans who stewarded it. Founded in 2009, Outdoor Afro is a national organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. Many of my events have focused on getting Black people to the water, through low-stake activities like low-tide beach walks and sailing, and more advanced activities like kayaking, standup paddleboarding, and whitewater rafting. For some of these participants, it is often their first time experiencing these activities in what feels like a safe space—surrounded by other Outdoor Afros—where they can build their confidence around and comfort level with the ocean. To encourage and support more Black people in water-based activities, Outdoor Afro created the Swimmership program that provides swim scholarships for Black youth and their caregivers to promote embracing water and swimming as a life-saving skill. More than 200 people have received ”swimmerships” (swim scholarships) to begin new relationships with water.
While it has always been difficult for Black people to find safe spaces in the outdoors, particularly near water due to systemic racism and segregation, places like the national marine sanctuaries have the opportunity to help change this narrative by continuing to emphasize the ocean’s connection to us all. It’s important to amplify the voices in the Black community who have found solace in these places, but it’s also just as important to provide activities to reach these audiences while encouraging other users to prioritize access, quality, and belonging
Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not-for-profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With more than 100 leaders in 33 states and 56 cities around the country, we connect thousands of people to nature-based experiences and are changing the face of who can help protect our waterways and wildlife. So come out in nature with us, or be a partner to help us grow our work so that we can help lead the way for outdoor recreation, nature, and stewardship. Learn more at outdoorafro.com