I am still trying to wrap my mind around all that I saw and experienced in Atlanta these past few days at the Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors Conference. To distill everything into a few lines would be impossible. Because several Outdoor Afro readers were unable to make the event, over the next few days I’ll share my experiences at the conference in words, photos, and video in three parts to convey highlights of this momentous event. Special thanks to Dudley Edmondson for partnering with me on this blog series.
Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors
Arriving in ATL, connecting with room mate Chelsea Griffie, and registering in the hospitality suite at the Airport Hilton was a breeze. I marveled at the fact that this was the first conference of its kind, and amazingly produced in a mere five months! During the opening ceremonies, I milled about the conference area among the scores of colorful faces, represented agencies and organizations, and thought, “This is what it’s all about: Everyone at the table.”
The opening ceremony and reception was moderated by the lovely Julia Yarbough, an Emmy Award winning journalist from Florida, who has recently turned the corner from a successful career in broadcasting to devote her life to adventuring.
After planning and communicating with Audrey Peterman for the past several months by phone and email, meeting her in person for the first time was a blast. I don’t care how many photos or interviews you see of this woman, meeting her is to experience infectious enthusiasm and social charm that easily connects and motivates people.
Together with her husband Frank, who shamelessly adores her, Audrey has formed friendships and partnerships with people from all over the country that made this conference possible. But the two remain humble. In their opening comments of the evening, Frank and Audrey kept reminding the group that they are mere reflections of those in the room and took the time to acknowledge the small army of people who helped plan the conference. They encouraged attendees to take what is learned from the conference back to our constituencies to make a difference.
I also had the chance to meet and be interviewed by the social media savvy Queen Quet, Chieftess and Head of State of the Gullah Geeche Nation, who mesmerized the opening ceremony crowd with her melodic singing, dancing, and invocation of Gullah heritage and history of its lands and people.
David Vela, Southeast Regional Director of the National Parks gave a warm welcome address. And we were all excited to meet the Roberts Family, a stunning Florida couple and their five children who were chronicled in a video called “Into the Wild”, which shows the family camping their very first time in the Florida Everglades! We were all inspired by how this African-American family was positively transformed and have become camping advocates as a result of their experience — proof positive of what is possible for more families of color.
I also got to meet author and photographer Dudley Edmondson in person for the first time, even though we have been digitally collaborating with each other for months!
Dudley and fellow blogger James Mills of the Joy Trip Project, captured much of the conference and interviews on film and the three of us brainstormed ideas about how best to use our respective tools to authentically connect to broader audiences.
Local environmental pioneers, such as Girl Scout Leader Evonne Blythers and Angelou Ezielo of Greening Youth Foundation were a treat to meet finally– these women are each doing a stellar job in the Atlanta area with youth. Falconer Darryl Perkins and his fiance were also on the scene and Darryl was my official “partner in Tweet” (#BREAKCB) for the event!
Overall, the first day felt more like a family reunion than a conference because of the common bonds between the conference participants and organizers, many of whom had never met in person. At the end of the day, no matter what we looked like, or what organization we represented, it was clear we were all there to rally around the purpose of diverse participation in America’s Great Outdoors, and the first evening of the conference ended on a note of high energy and anticipation for the next day’s agenda.
Stay tuned for Part II, Day 2