Kori and I - she took me outside to see an owl standing his ground against the ravens
As you may remember, 2 weeks ago I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for 2017 SHIFT Festival (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow), a program of The Center for Jackson Hole. This year’s theme explored, “The Business Case for Public Lands.” I bet you wonder what that even means. Well, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs each year. That is probably more money than you expected. But another component to the festival was addressing diversity in world of outdoor recreation. In their words, “Lack of diversity is our Achilles heel. 85% of Americans live in urban areas. America is slated to become a minority-majority country by 2040. America’s hunting and angling communities, which have long carried the country’s conservation work on their backs via the ca. $750M in taxes they pay each year for conservation, are overwhelmingly Caucasian. If the efforts to protect America’s lands, waters and wildlife continue to be led by Caucasians as they have been historically, it will not be enough to secure their health and well-being.”
My purpose in attending was to expand my vision of what can happen with the life of the documentary, Everyone But Two, to see where I can place it to make a difference beyond its life as a film. I also thought that there would be like-minded individuals that are already making a difference by creating platforms and access to the outdoors for people who have not always been represented, which I could learn from and garner support. Several of the conference sessions were specifically focused on those that are successfully making efforts to change the narrative either through organizations, outreach, or social media, all of whom are not just talking the talk, but they are actively walking the walk. The panelists, who I encourage you to take time to check out, included: Shelma Jun, Founder, Flash Foxy, Maricela Rosales, Los Angeles Coordinator, Latino Outdoors, Mikhail Martin, Co-Founder, Brothers of Climbing, Lance Pinn, Founder and President, Brooklyn Boulders, James Mills, journalist, Miho Aida, If She Can Do It You Can Too, Jenny Bruso, Founder, UnlikelyHikers, Ambreen Tariq, Founder, Brownpeoplecamping, and Kaylé Barnes, Founder, TheGreatOutchea, Danielle Williams, Founder, Melaninbasecamp, Aisha Weinhold, Founder, No Man’s Land Film Festival, Len Necefer, Founder, NativesOutdoors, Justin Forrest Parks, First Ascent Climbing and Fitness.
But interestingly enough, with all these heavy hitter panelist, including Jonathan Jarvis, the former Director of the National Park Service, who opened the with a keynote address entitled, “A Unified Vision for the Future of Conservation,” someone else stole the show for me on this trip. One day, after a long day exploring Grand Teton National Park, I decided to browse the shops in the town square. I happened to glance in one window that had unique merchandise and a bit of an international, hippie flair. But when I looked a second longer, I noticed the young woman behind the register. She was young and African American. Outside of the conference, I had not seen anyone that resembled me; let alone working in Jackson Hole. Of course, I was curious and went in. I did in fact browse, but I knew I wanted to speak with her. There was a reason I did and I could tell right away. We introduced ourselves. He name is Kori. I told her that I was there for the conference and what it was about, and that I am working on a documentary about my grandparents. She tells me that she loves the parks, frequents them often, and even recently came back from a trip to Glacier National Park. We talked, and talked, and the minutes quickly turned into an hour. It was strange to leave an entire conference of people that traveled mostly from far and wide to have someone, in the flesh, in this area, that is the poster child of what it means to have diversity in the outdoors. Immediately, I was trying to figure out if there was a way that I could get her in there. Or something. She would thrive completely in many of the organizations and programs that several of the attendees represented. I could envision looking up in a few years and she would be in charge of some amazing, purposeful animal conservation movement. Her spirit was light, and I was genuinely excited about having met her acquaintance. This is the moment that I should have filmed, or at least recorded with audio, and I regretted not doing either. But she left such an impression on me, that I knew I would be in touch, and this would not be our last time communicating. I would love to make the trip back to Jackson Hole, to properly interview and document her enthusiasm for the outdoors.
Ironically, as she was telling me the story about her recent travel to Glacier National Park, she gave it with a warning. I mentioned that my parents are considering traveling there next year, and I was thinking about tagging along to film for the documentary since my grandparents have also traveled there. It was with much heartache on my part that she told me that she and her friend came to face to face with the ugliness that is racism, and were practically driven out of the state out of concern for their safety. As much as I can’t say that I extremely surprised, this still broke my heart, for her and for the many people that have been victims of any form of discrimination and hatred. In the state of Montana, my grandparents also came face to face with their only known overt acts of racism during all their years of travel. This is always the big question from anyone who hears their story and is very aware of the history of race in America. Many assume that my grandparents were victims of several heinous acts against them, when in fact, it was quite the opposite, noting that they only had 2 incidents, both of which happened in Montana on two different trips. My grandfather stated that on one trip, they arrived at a gas station to refuel their truck, and the gas attendant chose not to come out to assist them. The second incident was when people inside of a van with a Boy Scout of America bumper sticker, yelled “Nigger” out of the window.
This speaks volumes to me about what has and has not changed about society and the importance of this documentary, and meeting people like Kori and those that I met at the SHIFT conference. We cannot let other people tell us where we can and can not go. It is not their right, nor has it ever been anyone’s right. We all have a right to this land and moving about it freely. I thank all that continue the tireless work to spread this message. And I look forward to doing more of my part in this movement.