It sure has been a great week to love the outdoors and be African American! Last Friday and today, as I tuned in to Oprah and Gayle to see their adventure in Yosemite National Park, I was completely enamored. Beyond the expected funny quips and comical equipment mishaps, I experienced (as if for the first time) a magical moment: moving images of people who looked like me enjoying a National Park.
The show theme was prompted by Outdoor Afro friend Shelton Johnson by a letter he wrote a couple of years ago inviting Oprah to visit. Shelton knew back then that just a tiny sprinkle of Oprah’s fairy dust could bring the National Parks into focus for Americans, particularly for African Americans, in a new and innovative way.
While I have been in the business of making the visual connection between African Americans and the outdoors, the moment I saw Gayle and Oprah with Shelton and Half-Dome in the horizon, I switched seamlessly from purveyor to customer. The beauty of Oprah and Gayle in that stunning natural space helped me visualize myself there.
And apparently I was not alone in my inspiration. Just after the show, my friend’s 78-year-old father phoned to say that he would like to visit Yosemite with her, and they have made a pact to go in 2011.
But the positive impact this show could have on families with young children is important. Those of us in the outdoor recreation field know that parents, especially mothers, are gatekeepers of outdoor experiences for their families. Therefore, in order for outdoor engagement to become a sustained activity for a new community, there needs to be a lot of support to address barriers such as fears and perceptions, equipment, and repeated, positive visual articulation of what it can look like. See this REI ad as a great model.
So Oprah getting out there camping as an African-American woman is significant, in that it demonstrates possibility. Her televised camping experience is the break-through moment that the field has been waiting for, and has needed in order for the outdoors to become relevant to a wider audience.
It is Outdoor Afro’s hope that the buzz that has come from her effort will not only open up new dialog and inspire new audiences, but also convert this new interest into real outdoor engagement and stewardship.
Did you watch the second half of the show today? What did you think?
Visit the Outdoor Afro Community to find people in your area to join in the outdoors!