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Inclusion in the Outdoors: Wide open spaces for all

Kyle Armstrong

Kyle Armstrong

Do you feel welcomed in the Fox Cities? When I ask this question, many of my interview subjects—all of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) identities—frown and say “no.” These answers point to why we in the Fox Cities—former sundown towns built on Menominee ancestral land—have work to do. And while much attention has been given to the work that must be done on equity in governance and policing, less has been given to the parallel work needed in the outdoors.

Dudley Edmondson

Two years ago, the Community Foundation sponsored a talk by Dudley Edmondson, a noted Black outdoorsman, author, and activist, who spoke about the many factors that limit Black and Brown Americans’ interactions with the outdoors.

In addition to facing socio-economic disparities caused by centuries of systematic racism, members of marginalized groups say being outdoors means being exposed to the various forms of bigotry present in our communities, leading many to feel on-edge. While Edmondson’s talk focused on racial factors, LGBT+ folks are no exception, especially with rates of violence against transgender people soaring to four times the average for cisgender people.

Dudley’s presentation sparked a conversation. Now, with funding from the Community Foundation, The Brigade has set out to find what these phenomena look like in the Fox Cities and what can be done to help our neighbors feel welcomed and included in the outdoors. My research, organized as a six-month AmeriCorps service project, includes interviews, surveys, and focus groups aimed at listening to BIPOC and LGBT+ people.

What I have heard so far tells me that these issues are not remote, isolated to large cities. People right here in our Fox Cities are missing out on the cultural connections, soul-rejuvenating joy, and numerous health benefits of being outdoors. Hmong people are still dealing with the racist fallout of the Chai Vang incident and Covid-19; Hispanic people lack resources in their native language and are scolded for speaking Spanish in public; Black people worry about having police called on them for something as innocent as barbecuing; and gay couples fear harassment for holding hands.

Please take and spread the word about my survey so we can learn more about these experiences, advance this conversation, and find solutions. The survey is anonymous, will be open through the end of May, and should take less than 10 minutes to complete. Participants are eligible for a “thank you” drawing for up to $50. Results of my research will be summarized and published in a report due out in August.

I recently asked a local Latinx leader how she felt when I reached out to talk about outdoor inclusion.

“I wanted to talk,” she said. “Because what I say will stay in your head, and I hope something is going to happen. I don’t know when, but something is going to happen”

I, likewise, hope that what I say will stay in your head, so that together we can make something happen. 

The Inclusion in the Outdoors Initiative is supported by a $6,700 grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation. We’re featuring a series of articles from local authors celebrating our diversity in the Fox Valley. Kyle Armstrong is an AmeriCorps member and former Fulbright Taiwan grantee from Neenah. More information about the Inclusion in the Outdoors initiative is available here.  

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