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Proponents push outdoor diversity: “We’re going to change the world”

S’lacio Bankston struggled on the icy pitch, lost his footing and backed off. Later, the 20-year-old refocused and invoked Mohammed Ali to pump himself up: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” Bankston sent the frozen waterfall on his second effort as his friends erupted in cheers. 

If Black climbers are rare, African American ice climbers are especially so, but trying to change that are a group of alpinists featured in “Black Ice,” a new 40-minute Reel Rock film.

Californian Manoah Ainuu helped lead the athletes from Memphis, Tennessee on their first ice climbing experience. A North Face-sponsored athlete with Yosemite credentials on Half Dome and El Capitan, Ainuu gracefully led a pitch up the jagged ice. Then the Compton native and other trip leaders helped the Memphis climbers follow suit with their ice axes and crampons. 

“This is what it’s about, getting people psyched on being outside and connecting with each other through the vehicle of climbing,” said Ainuu.

Despite bone-chilling cold, the group experienced a heartwarming journey of discovery and growth. 

Famed mountaineer Conrad Anker, another California native, assisted the group as its only white member. “This trip is a great opportunity to learn more about people and in the process hopefully become a better person,” said Anker. 

Groups promoting diversity

Throughout the west, groups are trying to make outdoors recreation more inclusive and welcoming. 

Outdoor Afro organizes frequent outings in California, Nevada and beyond. Participants enjoy activities such as paddle boarding in San Francisco Bay, hiking The Narrows of Zion National Park, and slacklining in Las Vegas. Group members celebrated Juneteenth with a push to get 50,000 people outdoors on June 19.

“Outdoor Afro is important because it provides a refuge for Black folks to come together in community and build some Black joy in nature. Nature makes me feel at peace, at home in my body, in my mind and spirit, and just feel free,” said group leader Julius Hampton.

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Vamos Afuera hikers enjoy a lunch on the trail in Yosemite.

Spanish speakers enjoy magical experiences like exploring Yosemite, kayaking on the RussianRiver and spotting bald eagles through the Vamos Afuera (Let’s Go Outside) program of the Sonoma County nonprofit LandPaths. Vamos Afuera leads at least a dozen outings per year for hundreds of Spanish speakers, and LandPaths delivers monthly information to some 10,000 households about the outdoors, provides youth education and runs a summer camp. 

Helping families which have never camped nor visited Yosemite discover those pleasures provides joyful memories for Guadalupe Casco, a bilingual field specialist and trip leader. “We are committed in truly fostering a love of the land for everyone,” she said. 

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More than 3,000 people new to the outdoors are getting inspiration from Bewilder, a new venture by Yvonne Leow of June Lake, California. Bewilder publishes free camping and backpacking trip itineraries along with guidance for how readers can reserve campgrounds, backcountry permits and enjoy their outdoor experiences. Bewilder’s newsletter promotes beginner-friendly outings to places like Angel Island, Mount San Jacinto, Morro Bay and Pinnacles National Park. 

Most of Bewilder’s subscribers are women and people of color, though Leow offers her information and services to anyone for free. “Everyone should have a chance to experience the beauty and freedom of the outdoors,” she said. 

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California State Parks committed $57 million for 125 low-income communities to expand access to outdoor experiences on public lands.

The grant will fund projects including hiking, camping, kayaking and snowboarding for thousands of underserved people in Los Angeles, San Diego, Richmond and other communities. 

“People from all over the world visit California to experience our state’s natural wonders, but too many young Californians grow up without access to these invaluable opportunities,” said California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “This grant investment will change that by expanding equity and access so thousands of youth and families can enjoy the immense natural beauty of California.”


Young climbers learn the ropes from the Gateway Mountain Center.

Gateway Mountain Center began a new effort to introduce the outdoors to under-resourced youth in the South Lake Tahoe area, with a focus on engagement with the Latinx community. Youth, Ecology and Adventure (YEA!) Camps exposed kids to camping, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and more at no cost thanks to community donations. 

Based in Truckee and Donner Summit, Gateway Mountain Center offers enviro-literacy and outdoor adventure experiences to school groups. Gateway also runs a robust nature-based therapeutic program for youth in their region suffering from serious emotional disturbance, complex trauma and substance use disorder.  Before Covid, the different programs supported around 2,000 young people per year. 

“Every kid can benefit by having their hearts and minds opened to the natural world,” said Peter Mayfield, the center’s founder and executive director. 

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Three years after Scouting BSA began admitting girls into its troops, more than 1,000 girls nationwide have earned the program’s highest rank of Eagle Scout. Boy Scouts of America began allowing gay youth in 2013, lifted its ban on gay adult leaders in 2015 and changed its name to Scouting BSA in 2018. The group endorsed Black Lives Matter and introduced a diversity and inclusion merit badge, required for Eagle Scouts, in 2020. 

“All Californians outdoors” is the vision of California Outdoor Engagement Coalition, an association of businesses, advocacy groups, land agencies, and other groups which share that goal. Participants share information about job openings, funding opportunities, workshops and other events. “We serve as an umbrella that can help bring people together,” said organizer Jenny Mulholland-Beahrs. Visit to find out more. 

Rounding out this far-from-complete list, the Black Folks Camp Too company and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics aim to promote inclusion with a unity blaze patch and message. The symbol represents community, welcome and equality. 

Earl Hunter, who founded Black Folks Camp Too, hopes to encourage more African Americans to enjoy outdoor recreation and find employment in the industry. “Enthusiasts want to see more diversity in the outdoors,” Hunter said. “We’re going to change the world.”

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