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Kim Moore Bailey can trace her path to becoming a leader in the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoor space all the way back to her childhood—to a single cookie, in fact.
As far back as she can remember, Bailey never felt welcome when recreating outdoors. As a child growing up Black in America, Bailey noticed that she was looked at and treated differently than her white counterparts everywhere from campgrounds to beaches. It was only in her own backyard that she was able to embrace the nature-loving girl that she was.
One day, while sitting in the yard eating a cookie her mother had given her, Bailey had an experience that would change her forever.
“I dropped the cookie on the ground, and without scolding, my mother simply told me to watch,” said Bailey. “The cookie crumbs brought the patio to life. It was at that moment that I lost interest in the swing set, or the playhouse. I was far more interested in the natural part of our backyard.”
These memories inspired Bailey to create the Oakland-based nonprofit Justice Outside, which seeks to provide experiences of joy for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the outdoors. Justice Outside is dedicated to removing the barriers of entry for BIPOC by advancing racial justice and equity in outdoor recreation through strategic programs, grant making, and field leadership.
We caught up with Bailey to learn about how her organization strengthens meaningful relationships for BIPOC in the United States—both with each other and with the natural world. An edited version of our conversation is below.
How does the idea of cultural competence—or the ability to understand and appreciate individuals from different cultures—impact restorative justice in the outdoor space?
I can understand how you would think that the outdoor community has a race problem. That perception is really born from the fact that, for far too long, the problem has been affecting solely people of color in the outdoors. There’s this narrative that we have to get more folks of color into these places within the outdoor community—into the right jobs, activities, and leadership positions on boards. But in order to repair and restore their relationships with people of color, white people have to be willing to step back and truly let people of color lead in the ways that are most relevant and reflective of their lived experience.
This idea of “cultural competence” suggests that we’ll eventually get to a level at which we’ll know everything about everyone. This mindset, we find, can do more harm than good in the outdoor space. We would like to frame our work not in the idea of cultural competence, but rather cultural relevance, or even cultural humility. These latter two concepts really invite people to come from a place of curiosity. Cultural humility is to sit, listen, and learn. Showing up with these mental models in place can go such a long way in repairing relationships between white people in white-dominated fields and the people of color who’ve been there all along but have been ignored, who’ve been made to feel invisible, or even excluded from the field altogether.
What’s the first step toward advancing racial justice alongside environmental justice in the outdoor industry?
First, we must dismantle the racist practices and policies that are preventing people of color from becoming leaders in environmental decisions. We must work to end the harmful idea that outdoor activities are the domain of the white and the privileged, and that people of color need to be taught to participate in and given access to these activities. We have to work to end the pervasive underfunding of the environmental programs and organizations that are led by people of color.
At Justice Outside, we are proud to be partnering with both The North Face and evo. Both of these companies bring this understanding that environmental justice is racial justice. They have both demonstrated their commitment to elevating the stories of people of color in the outdoors and redirecting financial support to BIPOC-led organizations. This is key in helping address the disproportionate amount of dollars the outdoor industry has historically directed to white-led organizations. There are beacons of hope out there in changing this pattern.
Has it been hard to keep a strong sense of optimism when working in the outdoor industry, given some of the challenges it presents?
I would say there is always a sense of hope, for sure. Every day there is a new story I hear—somebody who was introduced to swimming, hiking, or backpacking as a kid and now wants to start a program to bring that activity to their community. Paying it forward is what keeps me optimistic. In spite of all of the reasons why that light should have gone out, in spite of all the barriers these individuals may have faced, they stand up saying, “I want to do this. I want to make a difference.” I love the fact that Justice Outside is in a position to support that spirit. I remain optimistic because the work allows me to remain optimistic.
What does the next generation of outdoor leaders need to know about successful coalition building?
I’m so inspired by our next generation of outdoor leaders. Young people as a collective are already doing more than their predecessors to build coalitions and create and sustain movement. Youth-led organizations like The Power Shift Network, The Future Coalition, Zero Hour, and one of our own grantees, Uplift Climate, are organizing, advocating, and politically advancing climate initiatives across the country.
Even though they’re still being hampered or stifled by a majority of white, male, older political leaders, they’re still marching, they’re still leading, they’re still demanding. So honestly, I would say the real question is, what do we need to be learning from our young leaders so we don’t get left behind? I’m learning from them. I’m humbled by them. I’m inspired by them.
Can you explain Justice Outside’s Explore-A-Thon, and tell us how it creates a more connected outdoor community?
We take an intersectional approach to the outdoors and we believe that together, we can create a more connected outdoor community enriched by our diverse perspectives and experiences. We just wrapped up our second summer Explore-A-Thon, which is our small but growing attempt to engage more members of the outdoor community in exploring issues around race, the history of the land on which we recreate, and policies that have had the unfortunate impact of excluding certain groups.
The event invites people to explore who they are, where they are, and post their stories to the Explore-A-Thon community. It’s our way of connecting the outdoor community in an intimate yet broad way.
You’re also an avid yoga practitioner. What insights into this work have you gained from your yoga practice?
There’s a mindfulness that comes for me with my yoga practice. It’s not often that I give myself permission to quiet my mind. When I do arrive on my mat, I have 60 to 90 minutes in which I can give myself that permission to quiet my mind and allow myself to be grounded. The two biggest insights that have come from my yoga practice have involved community and inner strength. I didn’t realize how important my yoga community was until I had to do yoga via Zoom during the pandemic. It didn’t give me the same feeling of connectedness or joy. That was a good reminder: It’s all about the community. This led to the second realization, that I’m stronger than I think I am, because I got through it.