Myrian Solis Coronel has been an instrumental part of Outdoor Afro ever since CEO and founder, Rue Mapp, shared her vision back in 2009. Myrian has been a supportive friend and partner ensuring introductions and connections were made when Outdoor Afro was just a blog – because she saw the potential. Myrian is currently the chair of the California State Parks Commission, where Rue is also a commissioner.
While much of the world seems intent on dividing us, Myrian draws inspiration from the great outdoors as a means to connect to her authentic self and to bring communities around the world closer together. As a young child, Myrian’s abuela (Spanish for grandmother) took advantage of adventures right outside her back door, which allowed Myrian to see and appreciate the world from very unique perspectives. Myrian smiles today as she reflects on the good times with abuela and shares fond memories from her outdoor experiences, to which she credits her strong desire to form genuine, empathetic relationships.
Myrian grew up in San Diego, specifically the South Bay Area. San Diego is a city by the sea known for its relatively large immigrant population. A couple times a month, Myrian’s abuela would take her to visit Border Field State Park, a place that Myrian calls “magical.” Border Field State Park sits right on the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. They were two worlds that were so close but so far away, divided by the border wall. The magic of Border Field State Park, containing a structure created to divide worlds, was that it became a place where people gathered and told stories about their lives both in Mexico and in the States. In spite of the fence that separated them, this was a place where Myrian was able to experience the richness of her Mexican and American cultures. These outdoor experiences as a child created long-lasting memories and instilled in Myrian a passion for family and community that she holds dear to this day.
What is your favorite outdoor childhood memory?
Two really come to mind.
My first is when my abuela would pick my brother and me up from school and take us to her house. We spent a lot of time with her as children. The townhomes in her community sat on big plots of land. I can remember spending most of my time playing outdoors, running around, hiding in the bushes, playing in dirt, getting muddy, and playing in puddles without a care in the world. I would walk into my abuela’s living room after spending the afternoon playing, covered in dirt and mud, and hear her say, with a humorous worry, “Ay dios mio. ¡Tu mama me va a matar!” (Your mother is going to kill me!). I want my kids to have that childhood. All children should be able to experience that kind of joy without worrying about getting dirty or sick.
Another strong memory is visiting Border Field State Park with my abuela. During our walks in the park, my abuela would share vivid stories of her childhood, her fascination with food, and my abuelo’s love for music. My abuelo loved music so much that we would have conversations in which he responded to our questions with a melody. Abuela would also tell us stories of my mom’s adolescent years. These walks were our special moments. Today, every time I hike Border Field I feel the ocean breeze that hits me as a sign of her whispers or her way of caressing my curly hair.
How does your past influence the decisions you make for the future?
As a child, spending these special days at Border Field Park with my abuela and the community beyond the fence instilled so many values in me that have influenced the woman I am today. It took us three hours to get in and out of the park. The highlight was walking between the dirt trail and sandy beach and listening to abuela’s stories from her childhood and upbringing in Mexico. Abuela would meet strangers and share her stories. This allowed her to meet new people and relive loving memories of her past. When I go to the park now, it reminds me of who she was, what she did, and how, unintentionally, she instilled all these values – love, respect, connection, and empathy – in me. The love of nature. The love of culture. My abuela showed us the joy in connecting with people and storytelling.
Today, connecting with people is where I feel my truest sense. I have the opportunity to do this professionally by leading REI’s national partnership program and uplifting the co-op’s mission and our partners’ incredible work. Through this program, I’m able to connect with organizations offering space and community to people of color who love the outdoors. My goal is to weave in the partnership to various parts of the co-op to disrupt the “normal” image of who’s playing outside.
I also have the opportunity to connect with a larger community in my role as chair for the California State Parks Commission. With 280 parks across the state, including Border Field State Park, we learn about the rich history these places hold, the vast recreation opportunities they offer, and the deep connection people have for parks. I believe my love for parks and commitment to volunteerism led me to this incredible civic duty.
I take tremendous pride in both roles and think it’s because of my emotional and personal connection to open spaces. They’re part of my story.
Why is volunteering in the community important for you?
Volunteerism was always something we did growing up. Whether it was participating in a food drive for the needy, cooking for a neighbor who was going through a rough time, or spending time in an orphanage in Baja playing dolls with the girls, my family always demonstrated a sense of gratitude for what we had while giving to others who might be less fortunate.
Today, this same spirit is what draws me to volunteerism. Whether it’s representing a perspective at a California State Park public meeting that is not present or advocating for more access to our public spaces, my hope is to represent and invite unheard perspectives to the conversations. By bringing people in, we become more inclusive, welcoming, and, as a result, gain perspective. The more people see themselves, their stories, and ideas in our parks, the more connected they’ll feel to the place. If we can feel a sense of pride and ownership for these public places, we can pass this spirit on to the next generation.
What do you see as the most important part of your role?
The most important thing for me is changing the narrative around the traditional form that the industry has labeled as outdoor recreation. Hiking and backpacking are not words usually used by people of color who love the outdoors. When my abuela took us to Border Field State Park, she didn’t say, “Let’s go hiking” – despite the three-mile hike. She would say, “Let’s go to the park” or “Let’s go walk at the park.” The day was also about having fun. It wasn’t about making it to Monument Mesa. It was about the stroll in the park and the stories my abuela would share. If we made it to Monument Mesa, it was a bonus! I want us to continue to challenge the traditional outdoor narrative and change the imagery to reflect the America we truly are.
What is your vision for the future of the outdoor industry?
I want to show multicultural communities that this is an industry filled with incredible job opportunities. If you love the outdoors, you can actually make a living in this space. We have accountants, photographers, HR professionals, legal teams, writers, and IT. You name it, we got it! People should join the industry and influence the traditional thinking model by bringing a fresh perspective and change the face of who is running this industry.
How has the industry changed since you have been involved?
So much has changed in the past 10 years that I’ve been at the co-op. We’ve seen changes in consumer behavior, from social media to our inclusion efforts. Though we’ve made tremendous strides engaging with multicultural customers, we still have opportunity for growth.
At REI, we’ve used research data to cultivate relationships and deliver more relevant engagement strategies for multicultural members. We have invested and uplifted the work of national partners, such as Outdoor Afro, because we have a shared value and commitment to the outdoors. The partnerships are reciprocal, but the biggest winners are the community and the open spaces. By connecting and providing rich experiences in nature, public lands gain advocates, and we become a healthier and more active society.
We also acknowledge that representation matters. It’s hard for people to relate to a brand if they don’t see themselves reflected in the teams or their marketing. REI has become a stronger platform for representing a wider range of narratives. We need to continue this theme and help other content platforms and brands source these incredible stories. The more people see themselves and their stories told, the closer we’ll bring them as fans and consumers.
One of the most impactful things I’ve seen over the course of my journey at REI is Force of Nature. This initiative has disrupted and changed the status quo for women – from career opportunities, to sizing, to representation in marketing and content, and to experiences. I can see how this innovative model can embed other dimensions of identity and build upon our inclusion efforts.
What do you want your legacy to be? Professionally? Personally? Or is there a difference?
One of the things I have been able to do – professionally, as a volunteer, and for fitness – is ensure that everything is interconnected. This also exemplifies an expression of my purpose – to do what I love and what I’m good at, have fun, and make a positive difference for my and future generations.
Myrian loves every aspect of her life and is helping people by making communities brighter, more positive, and more connected. Sometimes we get caught up in the fact that it’s work, but we have to always remember to have fun! It’s nature – and it’s healthy for all – if we’re able to connect as humans, have fun, invite others, and enjoy the work. We’re looking forward to what Myrian does next.