How Justice Outside is Working Towards Equity Outdoors
July is BIPOC Mental Health Month. To mark the occasion, OARS is partnering with Justice Outside, an Oakland-based organization that’s advancing racial justice and equity in the outdoor and environmental movement. Justice Outside envisions a just world where Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color experience safety, health, and abundant joy through meaningful relationships with one another and the outdoors. We know that participating in outdoor programming offers those who have been most impacted by racial injustice a powerful source of healing and growth, and has exponential benefits.
For every person who rafts with OARS on California’s South Fork of the American River Sunday through Friday in July, OARS will donate $5 to Justice Outside.
“Justice Outside is a leading organization, getting young people from underrepresented communities outside,” says Steve Markle (he/him), vice president of sales and marketing for OARS. “It’s a priority for us to create a more inclusive environment at OARS and in the greater outdoor community, and by supporting Justice Outside we’re proud to help make the outdoors more safe and accessible for all.”
In addition to offering grants, Justice Outside has three programs: the Outdoor Educators Institute (OEI), Rising Leaders Fellowship (RLF) and the Cultural Relevancy Series (CRS). These free programs have positive impacts on their participants’ mental and physical health and also work to dismantle issues of race and gender in the outdoor industry, says Lau Hernandez (they/them), program coordinator for OEI.
Lau helps the organization operate their free three-month professional development programs for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ young adults who are interested in careers or leadership opportunities in the outdoors or outdoor industry. An alumni of the program, Lau now guides the groups on activities ranging from standup paddleboarding to backpacking. They say the program made a big difference in opening up the outdoors to them.
“OEI was a huge part in helping me figure out what I wanted to do,” they say. “As I did OEI, I found my values aligned in the sense of using the outdoors as a healing space because that’s what the outdoors did for me.”
It wasn’t always easy, though. Lau had some traumatic experiences outdoors. Their first time backpacking was miserable, and they didn’t feel safe. They didn’t like having to rely on others for their wellbeing. Making sure everyone is comfortable with the experience and can participate on their terms is crucial to opening up the outdoors to everyone and making a positive impact on mental health, they say.
“I feel like a big barrier to access has to do with safety, whether that’s not having the right gear or not having anyone else in the community to go with,” Lau says. “It’s a space everyone deserves to be in and everyone should feel safe in.”
During OEI’s programs, Lau tries to build community within the group. The cohorts participate in outdoor activities like surfing, hiking and camping, but also get certifications in wilderness first aid and leadership.
“Being able to do that in a community where you feel comfortable and strong with one another makes people feel a little less alone and that it’s not just them that are experiencing these things,” Lau says. “After the program, you have a community of people that you know you can rely on to go outdoors with.”
The Rising Leaders Fellowship offers early- and mid-career professionals in the environmental field training to address issues of equity or cultural relevancy within their organizations. The project-based cohorts include participants who have protected marshlands, mentored youth affected by incarceration, and lead a variety of nature experiences.
The Cultural Relevancy Series is a training series for outdoor professionals that focuses on social and environmental justice, and helps the industry practice racial equity, inclusion, and cultural relevancy.
“Justice Outside has given me a toolkit to recognize and address my own unconscious biases, disrupt instances of injustice, and learn effective advocacy and allyship” one participant says of the training. “I am eternally grateful for the impact Justice Outside has had on me as a professional, and more so, a fellow human working towards a more equitable world.”
To learn more about Justice Outside or to support their work through a donation, visit their website here.
Photos: Justice Outside/Facebook; Lau Hernandez