Be the Change: Alex Bailey and Black Outside

by Sue Ann Kendall

[We realize there has been a gap in blog entries. Don’t worry; next week there will be a lot of catch-up posts. Your blog poster has had some “issues” and been out of town, but they are resolving and she’s coming back to Texas soon.]

This entry originally appeared in another form on the Hermits’ Rest blog.

Today my head’s all full of learning, because I attended the Texas Master Naturalist program’s latest in the Be the Change series, which is a part of our diversity and inclusion initiative. The things I learned completely dovetailed with some of the things I’ve been observing and thinking about in my time in South Carolina, so I’m just processing away.

Where I am not.

I’m one of those “well-meaning white people” who want to help create a more diverse world and be good allies (or co-agitators, as someone said today). I know that some of our good intentions do not go over well, though, so I’m in the learning stage (which today I discovered to be a good thing).

The speaker I listened to today was Alex Bailey, of San Antonio, who founded the Black Outside organization.

Black Outside, Inc has one simple mission: Reconnect Black/ African-American youth to the outdoors through culturally relevant outdoor experiences

Black Outside website

Bailey did a great job of coming across as friendly and funny, even when he was making points that could make listeners uncomfortable. One of my favorite things he reminded us was that, although many of today’s black youth have little camping or wilderness experience, that was not always the case. As he pointed out, Harriet Tubman just didn’t pile all those people into an SUV and drive them to safety. He also reminded us that rural black folks have a rich history of fishing, hunting, and living off the land.

While Bailey talked to us about the importance of observing, learning, and reflecting (see graphic below for his actual words) before trying to bring the outdoors to young people of color, he gave us a lot of insights, including some about swimming. He pointed out that well meaning event organizers often include water activities without letting the families of the black participants know they are coming up. Why is this a problem?

This great graphic comes from work by Barbara J Love, so I figure I can borrow it, too.

Hair. That’s the problem. In my day, that may have been an issue, too, because swimming, afros, and Afro-Sheen didn’t go together well, That’s nothing compared to some of the elaborate hair styles young black people have today. You know, those braids could be ruined under water. And if you do an activity that requires a helmet (in or outside water), well, some styles won’t fit, period. Young people might miss out on fun, just because they hadn’t prepared a water-friendly hair style. (And yes, a lot of black women where I am today are NOT dunking their heads.)

That’s just one example where pausing to learn about cultural differences can lead to better experiences. And that’s one reason why Bailey suggested that, rather than volunteer to teach black kids directly, allies can provide materials or training to black mentors who can then work with the kids, who really benefit from seeing people who look like them in positions of authority about nature and the outdoors. That makes a lot of sense to me!

For sure, this was a very helpful step in my journey toward being a good BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) ally and a better Master Naturalist, and it reminded me how much I still have to learn. I’m quite glad for that!

I highly recommend that all of you, whether you’re a Master Naturalist or not, head over to the Be the Change page on the Texas Master Naturalist website and listen to this presentation. It’s a great way to get an hour of Advanced Training! You will also find a link to Bailey’s interesting TED Talk and other useful information.

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