Hiking – Not a Black “Thing”? Think Again!

November 15, 2012  |  

If the monotony of going to the gym bores you like it bores me, you have to think outside the box. The gym is my least favorite place and for a long time I thought that was the only place to go to get fit. Until recently, I learned that exercise is not some monolithic activity.

The entire world is your gym…literally. There is a movement taking place where organizations are aiming to connect the health and wellness of African-Americans with the great outdoors. Outdoor Afro is one that boasts “we are a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing – and more!”

Another great organization called Hike 4 Life (H4L), introduced me to hiking at the tender age of 34 and I fell in love with it! It was a total body workout. Jerel Ferguson of Boston, MA, H4L’s founder, has one thing to say: hiking IS a black thing!

Read more on what he has to say to MommyNoire readers:

How did you come up with the idea to start a hiking organization?

I was introduced to hiking about 10 years ago. I’d taken my son when he was younger out of the city and into the woods on day trips; I wouldn’t necessarily call it official hiking – but we climbed the hills and did the best we could. I introduced a friend of mine to hiking and she loved it. We sat brainstorming one day and said, “we should do something like this for the black community” and Hike4Life was born.

Before my first hike with your team, I never thought of the health component. Was that always a focus for you and H4L?

Yes! Our focus was to improve the health and wellness of people of color and to focus on the fact that Hiking wasn’t entitled to only white Americans – but to all of us.

What are the benefits of hiking?

The benefit for me is peace, quiet and a good workout. Other hikers have expressed different benefits: the clean air to clearing their minds, to spiritual connections to weight loss and more. Stress relief, reduced hypertension and a re-balance of a natural state of being are also benefits. Hiking is a great way to exercise and strengthen your physical and mental core.

Was it hard to convince people of color to embark on an activity that we have traditionally been unaware of or left out of?

It’s very hard. We had to work to break down the stigma that Black people don’t hike when there are many people of color that enjoy hiking on a regular basis and have been doing so for years. Most of us grew up in the cities with no direct access to nature, the woods or wildlife – so we became a “nature-deficient” people. The hardest parts are convincing some that hiking is just as much ours – as it is anyone else’s. Once they’re introduced to hiking, some of them can’t get enough. A lot of people of color never knew that hiking could be so much fun and that areas to hike aren’t as far as many thought. Sometimes a local park or a reservation can take you away from the city for hours at a time.

Is there a hiking “lifestyle” such as certifications, memberships etc?

Yes. There is a Hiker lifestyle, which usually encompasses individuals that practically live in the wilderness, those that disappear on week-long hiking trips or “back-packers” as they are known. There is a lot that goes into being a successful hiker. I personally accelerated my outdoor training through classes taken at the Appalachian Mountain Club and became a certified hiking instructor for youths and adults. I also have training in first aid, Wilderness first aid, CPR AED and Auto-inject EpiPen Administration. Having these qualifications really make our adventures’ much safer and it gives me the confidence to be a group leader. Memberships are great but, it has to be in your heart if you really want to do it and be a good participant in arranged events.

Where are you located?

We are based in Dorchester, MA, an inner-city region of Boston.

What was your biggest hike?

Our biggest hikes are our annual trip to Franconia, New Hampshire to climb Mt. Cannon, which is 4,400 feet of pure Earth. This year, we had our biggest group (15) that made the journey with us. The hike back down, which is 10 times harder, made for a wonderful experience!

What are your future plans?

One of our future plans is to take a group of enthusiastic and engaged men and women to the Grand Canyon or to Costa Rica for some of the world’s best hiking. We are working on getting a grant writer in place to help us with funding. We continue to build on relationships with other like-minded community organizations that will help us enact on our agenda to improve the health and wellness of not only inner-city communities but, the entire country. We also would love to host a Let’s Move event and have our First Lady, Michelle Obama, pay us a visit. (www.letsmove.gov)

It sounds like I hear some national expansion in the near future?

Yes! We are slowly but steadily building our national network of friends and interested groups that believe in what we do and in our mission. So far we’ve reached New Jersey, Georgia and have good friends in Oakland, CA. Wherever there is a national park, a natural green-space or an unexplored park that is under-utilized by the African American community, we will be there. We’re going to target schools and community centers, sports leagues and conservationist groups, recruiting men and women who believe in what we do, how we do it and why we do it. As we grow, we may even spread out globally.

How can people get involved?

It’s simple, Get Up. Get Out. Go Hiking! Connect with us via facebook or become a free member on our website to receive updates about current and future events. If anyone would like to venture out on your own, please check with local state park officials to check trail conditions. Also, never go alone and bring lots of water.

How can our readers keep up-to-date with Hike4Life?

We believe in utilizing Social Media to help keep us connected to the community and abroad and to keep a digital account of our group and our events. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get our message out there. We can be found on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/hikeforlife or twitter at: @hike4urlife and our newly revised website http://www.hike4life.org.

Words By: Angela Childs

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