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Donate: Expensive gear can be an obstacle for BIPOC who want to camp

(Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash)

Olympia’s Mo Jackson grew up camping and hiking with their dad, but they know that not all people of color have that same access to the outdoors. Mo recently started a fundraiser called BIPOC Camping Kits to get camping gear into the hands of Black Indigenous People of Color who can’t afford it.

“We realized there was a lack of BIPOC getting out and camping and using our national parks,” Jackson said. “I was trying to think of what I could do on a very small level in order to change that, and one of the biggest barriers to getting people out is the gear because it’s really expensive. What got me interested in this, a few years ago, was there was a study, a paper that came out, called ‘People of Color and Their Constraints To National Park Visits.’ The biggest thing was accessibility to transportation and accessibility for gear.”

Jackson started out helping three people, using their own savings to buy a few REI camping kits and then setting up a GoFundMe to try and raise $650 to pay themselves back. But word got out, and now more than 400 people have applied for camping kits. As of this recording, they’ve raised more than $34,000 in just one week.

“In order to fund all of those requests, we’d need over $100,000,” Jackson said. “That being said, we’re hoping to get some deals gong with maybe REI or some other outdoor company where we can get discounted prices on the gear.”

The basic camping kit includes a four-person tent, two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, and a cooler.

“But we’re letting people pick and choose what they need,” Jackson said. “If they need a camping stove, or we have folks who have reached out with physical disabilities where they need a cot or something higher so they can move from their chair to bedtime easier than being on the ground.”

Jackson says their family has often been the only Black family they’ll see at a campground or on a trail.

“Because of things like advertising and branding,” Jackson said. “You see a bunch of happy, young white girls on these posters, like, ‘Yeah! Get outside!’ So it doesn’t look accessible to us, it doesn’t feel comfortable a lot of the time.”

I also spoke with Elsye “Chardonnay” Walker, the first African American woman to complete the Triple Crown of American thru-hiking.

“The Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada, and it’s around 2,660 miles. After that, I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Then I hiked the Continental Divide Trail, which goes right up the middle of the country from Mexico to Canada, and that one is about 3,000 miles,” Walker explained.

Find the best places to hike as Washington parks reopen

Walker says if you really want to do something, you get out and find a way to do it.

“Not having the sponsors and a lot of funds made me look at different ways of doing it, which I think a lot of people ignore,” Walker said. “I’m sure you can go with all the fancy gear, but there’s also other ways of doing it. I hiked in a skirt for most of the three years that I was hiking, that I spent $3 on at a thrift store. I think a lot of times people look at things and they see it as this big overwhelming thing, and sometimes you have to break it down into these little bits. If it’s something you want to do, if you really want to do it, you have to find a way and not put all the excuses and the obstacles in your own way. You gotta get out of your own way sometimes. If you just ask people, sometimes they’ll help you, they’ll donate when you have this dream. That’s what happened for me.”

Olympia’s Ale Abreu is a recipient of a BIPOC camping kit.

“I grew up in the city, I’m originally from Los Angeles,” Abreu said. “For me, nature was always something I really longed for. Then I moved up here, to Washington, for college and it was my first time ever being in a forest, so that was a pretty amazing, life changing experience.”

Abreu has camped and hiked, but always relied on friends to provide the gear. With the stresses of the quarantine and the social justice movement dominating the news, they are desperate to get out into nature.

“Bringing it back to just the truth of life, which is to be enjoyed,” Abreu said. “To remember the simple pleasures and just to connect with the movement of the sun and the stars, and experience fresh air, and be in a place where it’s not all screen time and Zoom calls.”

Jackson hopes to expand the fundraiser into a proper non-profit. They also hope to make some instructional videos featuring a diverse cast of experts, to show people camping basics like how to set up a tent, how to use a camp stove, and to take some of the stigma and fear out of being outdoors.

Click here to donate.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

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