Interview with Dennis Dabney
By Debbie Simon
We all know nature is open and available to anyone who wants to enjoy its healing aspects, but statistically speaking people of color are much less likely to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. In a 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report found that only 9 percent of outdoor participants in 2020 were black, a level that change little in the past 7 years. According to the survey, most black people considered themselves only casual participants of outdoor activities. Only 7% of black people surveyed enjoyed car, backyard backpacking and RV Camping.
In this interview with Dennis Dabney, an outdoors person, who happens to be black, shares his experience of his love of the outdoors and why it’s important to get more people of color out into nature
What got you started with fishing and backpacking?
My dad took me fishing in Southeast Virginia growing up. I discovered backpacking in the Boy Scouts.
Do you see many POC camping while you are out?
My family and I spent summers on camping trips when I was young with a national RV group called the Good Sams (short for good Samaritan). I backpacked and tent camped with the Boy Scouts when I was older. There were other black families in our RV club. There were also predominantly black scout troops on all of my trips.
Have you experienced any racism in this arena?
I can't say that I have. Oddly, I get a lot of "we don't do that" from my own people.
What do you love about the outdoors?
The solitude, fresh air, and the natural beauty (mountains, forest, lakes, oceans). I especially enjoy the sense of accomplishment after scaling a peak or a productive day on the water kayak fishing or snowboarding. It's a bit of a cliche, but truly getting away from it all does make a difference. Some of my best ideas have come from time spent outdoors.
How can we get more POC enjoying nature?
I feel very strongly about POC not believing their own stereotypes! I was very fortunate to have parents and institutions that introduced me to the outdoor lifestyle very early in life. I encourage POC to look at activities with an open mind and not worry about what other people will say. There are clubs and meet-ups for POC to try out activities in a "safe space."
I found that my lifetime of experiences in the outdoors has provided balance, spiritual renewal and is a source of strength. I also know that the memories and adventures are a great conversation starter with colleagues and acquaintances.