Introducing Hike4Life

Outdoor Afro is pleased to partner with so many great folks and orgs, such as Hike4Life.  After so many months of communicating via social media,  Jerel Ferguson, Hike4Life founder was able to generously share a guest blog on Outdoor Afro, and his inspiration to connect more people to nature. Enjoy!
Welcome To Hike4Life
My name is Jerel Ferguson from Boston Massachusetts and I am Executive Director of Hike4Life.  I am a passionate outdoors-man.  I love nature and Hiking.  I enjoy outdoor sports. I’m a conservationist (a tree hugger) naturalist, environmentalist and a Father to 3 wonderful sons.
Growing up in the city amongst the fortresses of brick and stone, I really didn’t have much exposure to nature.  The only wildlife I had known growing up were the neighborhood squirrels, pigeons, stray cats and dogs and occasionally rats. Now, while all of this may sound demeaning, it has made me appreciate the wildlife that I discover now as an adult even more.
Hike4Life began in May 2010 when I along with a friend co-founded the idea for this great organization.  We basically said, “Let’s get a bunch of our people together and go on hiking trips.”  This wasn’t an easy thing to do in our early stages.  We agreed to use technology: Facebook, Twitter and even a start up website, all in the same day, to get our intentions out into the world fast, free and no start-up waste.
Getting Black people to try something ‘new’ was challenging and still is.  I at the time of our inception had been hiking about 3-4 years before, so to me it was normal. But, to other people of color it was taboo.
“Black people don’t hike!”
This was preached, screamed, hollered, text, emailed, written, phoned and I even think I saw a plane flying with a banner that said those words.  I was beside myself when I first heard it, and then I had to think.  Why don’t Black people hike?  It never dawned on me until it was put in my head that it was to a degree true.

There could be historical-reasoning.  Black men and women were forced to escape from slavery through the woods and wilds of Slave Era America.  Whether it was encountering wild animals or slave catchers dogs, we could never find solace or peace in the woods.  Saying that there may be an ingrained fear in our DNA of the wilderness isn’t really an overstatement, it could be that an inter-generational phobia could have been passed from generation to generation due to the experiences of our ancestors.

On my many trips to the outdoors, I was the only one.  I would never see people that looked like me out on the trails.  In light of that realization I accepted the challenge and vowed to break that urban myth and get people that looked like me, up and out!
We did some national research, to find out if there were other groups like ours and to my dismay, we didn’t find any, until we found Outdoor Afro!  I was amazed to see how many Black people there were out there sharing their love of the outdoors with the rest of the world.  I saw so many happy faces of people that looked like me in environments that I would only see Caucasians or Asians, it was as if I was given a new freedom to do what I wanted to do and not be afraid to do it!  I was certainly inspired and even more excited to make Hike4Life a success, so we went to work.

We already had a group of friends that liked hiking so it was easy to get them out with us. We began to look for community organizations that would be interested in adding outdoor activities to their programs.  Taking a grassroots approach, reaching into places we weren’t expected to be, we were fortunate to find a great group of people with the Young Professionals Network of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.*
So, being young professionals ourselves it was a no-brainer to work with this progressive group of our peers and to involve them with our brand new program.

*YPN is a group of young Black professionals (21-40 yrs old) who engage in leadership development, economic empowerment, and community service. Their mission is “to provide a forum for African – Americans and other professionals of color to focus their energies on community service, social consciousness, political involvement, and youth mentoring’. 
Get up. Get out. Go Hiking!
Hiking is a fun and inexpensive way to improve overall fitness as well as a spiritually and mentally rewarding experience. Studies show that African Americans are at a greater risk of being diagnosed with diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure (hypertension) more than any other race and our numbers are on the rise.  The health benefits of hiking and other outdoor sports are various and many. From casual nature walking to intense hiking trails with numerous elevations, hiking is both mental and physical, and has the ability to reduce chronic health risks one step at a time.

While Hike4Life is inclusive to all, our primary mission is to engage the African-American community and other minorities in hiking and outdoor sports. The objective is to dismiss the idea that these activities are designed for non-African-Americans. We feel that it is very important for people of color, to re-establish our connection to the outdoors and to nature.

Hiking is not meant to be an activity that is geared for experienced hikers only, we also guide hikes for children, family hikes and even senior walks in the woods to challenge just about all age levels of and fitness.  Hiking is for all, a physically and spiritually refreshing journey open to the average person who does not routinely exercise.
I hike, to take a break, a break from the norms of society, from the noise and from worldly responsibility.  A backpack on my back, a trickle of sweat down my bearded cheek and even a welcomed mosquito bite, lets me know that I am alive and well, living and learning to tell of my adventures in the outdoors.

“Hiking has health benefits beyond those of walking around the neighborhood” (Roseboom)

Starting this organization has been a wonderful and amazing experience.  I’ve made new friends and have explored places I never thought I would see.  I’ve lived in Greater Boston all my life and I love the many green spaces it offers.
Hike4Life is part of my passion.  The other part is taking care of the people in my community.  We’re hurting in more ways than one.  We’re at the bottom of the top and the top of the bottom.  In health and wealth we’re at the bottom and unhealthy and poor we’re at the top, that alone is enough to get anyone to get up and get out and do something positive with themselves.

My commitment is to my health and well being and the health and well being of people everywhere.  Particularly African-Americans.  Our lack of natural exposure or “Nature Deficiency” is what drives me to do what we do.  We’re dedicated to our families, our communities and to our people.

The Future
Because of our love of the outdoors and fitness, we’ve incorporated Kickball and Dodge Ball, Zumba, Yoga and soon Double Dutch into our programs.  We’ve partnered with the Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Moves for Health, 1 Million Pound Challenge, the Boston Collaborative for Food & Fitness and Operation Fit Mom, which focuses on personal training for busy moms and families.  Life Coaches, massage therapists, nutritionists and engaged community leaders that share our passion for health, wellness, fitness, group activities and environmental awareness within the African-American community.
There’s a lot of wilderness out there in the middle of this great country, Let’s Get up. Get Out. And Go Hike it!!!
Thank you for reading!
Jerel Ferguson
Executive Director
Hike4Life (New England)