For people of color who didn’t grow up with access to the outdoors, the call of the wild can sound like more of an echo. And usually, that echo originated from adventurers who don’t look anything like them.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t find our place outdoors — and find ourselves in the process. With that in mind, Danielle Williams created Melanin Base Camp, an online space for the BIPOC community to share its stories and sound the call to action for those who want to take their adventures outside.
“I think we all definitely deserve to have access to safe, accessible, local green spaces,” says Danielle. “I think that’s really important.”
Strong Roots In Adventure
Growing up as a self-described “bookish kid” who spent a lot of time reading “really bad 1980s sci-fi,” Danielle always found happiness in any outdoor activity. “We did a lot of outdoorsy things growing up,” she recalls. “I was really into running, which is not, like, a novel sport. But I had never heard of the word ‘hiking’ until much later in life. We definitely did a lot of walking as a family. We just didn’t use that word.” And that affinity for the outdoors followed her through her 10-year military career.
Even though her day job saw her backpacking and parachuting, it wasn’t until she experienced skydiving in her off-hours that she found the joy in it. On those adventures, she could access a side of the outdoors that encompassed a new kind of freedom. “I had to parachute for work, but this was a different type of parachuting. On those weekends, I just got to be myself, and I was skydiving for fun.”
As her time in the military came to a close, Danielle remained motivated to try new and adventurous activities. But she found that there was really no one in the outdoor scene who looked like her. As a woman in the military, feeling isolated wasn’t new to her. But she was ready to change that.
“Towards the end of my military career, I was just trying to look around for these activities and find other people who look like me,” she says. “So I joined social media, and it was really hard to find people because there was no common hashtag.”
Even after searching spaces predominantly occupied by people of color, she felt there wasn’t a way to get her outdoor adventure fix that didn’t come with a luxury price tag.
“So that led me to create Melanin Base Camp,” Danielle says. “I wanted to create an outdoor blog for people of color.”
Building A Thriving Outdoor Community
What started as an Instagram account in 2016 became a blog the next year. And when the #DiversifyOutdoors hashtag hit 100K tags, Danielle knew she’d found the right audience. Since then, Melanin Base Camp has grown to house 10 writers, from the U.S. and abroad. Whether working as full-time physicians or community activists, the unifying feature is that they’re all people of color who love to get outdoors.
Danielle admits that, from the beginning, there were still opportunities for the blog to find its own way, rather than mirroring the experiences of white men. “Initially, I was like ‘Okay, we have to write about really epic tales about climbing and hiking and skydiving!’ But we don’t do that shit anymore,” she says with a laugh. “It became ‘What if we tried to bring our communities into the outdoors in a way that’s relevant and meaningful, and let our own cultural practices dictate what we do?’”
At its heart, the vision of Melanin Base Camp — and its sister hashtag #DiversifyOutdoors — is creating a space of inclusion. “We wanted to tell stories about different people in the community, whether they’re mountain biking for the very first time or walking in their own neighborhood.” The stories shared in the Melanin Base Camp community are ones that Danielle hopes are as diverse as the community itself. “Part of our learning curve has been ‘How can we create content that’s relevant to Black and Brown communities and Asian communities? How can we stretch ourselves a little bit and learn more about disability?’”
This dedication to progress is paying off. The blog keeps growing and incorporating new voices and more diverse experiences. “We’re trying to move towards a model that has more of an emphasis on inclusion — how we are creating environments where people of color and other marginalized communities are not just present but can also thrive. Where we’re not just tolerated, we are celebrated.”
For people who are trying a novel sport for the first time, Danielle enthusiastically encourages them to join the community. “You’re not the only one!” she says. “We’re here for you! Come find us; we want to connect.”
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Nike Play New.