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Patricia Cameron on connecting people of color with the great outdoors 

DiverseCity

Patricia Cameron, 35, is a vibrant black (wo)man and community activist who skis, backpacks, kayaks, camps, fishes, hikes, climbs and has rarely strayed far from Colorado Springs since moving here in 1995.

Born in the greater Washington, D.C., area, Patricia moved to the Pikes Peak region with her family, led by her career-Army mom. She attended Carmel Middle School, Panorama Middle School and Sierra High School. After graduation, she briefly attended the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, until she felt the itch to return to her roots and transferred to George Washington University back in D.C.

She thought she was home.

But while attending George Washington, she recounts, “I remember it as clear as yesterday. I was lying on my bed, it was a cloudy day, I was looking out the window at a brick wall listening to the radio, when all of a sudden, ‘Cowboy Take Me Away,’ by the Dixie Chicks started playing and it dawned on me — home is actually in Colorado.”

She began the transfer process immediately, packed her things and headed back.

After a stint in Divide, Patricia, a single mom, moved to Manitou Springs, where she’s lived for seven years. “The move was easy, I wanted to live as close to the mountains as I could and still be able to work [and] provide my son every educational opportunity I could,” she says.

Mountain life and the freedom to participate in outdoor sports and recreation is something Patricia feels is precious — so precious that she’s made it her life’s goal to get more people of color (POC) involved and enjoying outdoor activities.

You may have noticed that POC seem less likely to venture into the great outdoors. There’s a number of reasons for that. First, there’s history: Policies that allowed segregation of national parks once limited POC from getting out into the wild. Second, there’s attitudes: the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws that prevented land ownership that have led POC (and black people particularly) to lose their connection to the land.

Then there’s the most obvious barrier: Recreation is a luxury. When you are working long hours just to pay the rent and keep the lights on, park fees, equipment and time off are not in the equation. And since POC weren’t afforded the same historical opportunities to build generational wealth that white Americans were, that’s a disproportionate challenge.
Patricia works to change that narrative. She’s currently a freelance writer for Sensi magazine, penning articles about getting POC outdoors. She’s also networking with UpaDowna, an adventure-based nonprofit in the Springs, and is currently planning to launch her own nonprofit. Patricia’s focus: to alleviate those economic barriers and give POC more opportunities to access outside recreational spaces.

She hopes to offer outdoor program excursions in 2019 that will include equipment libraries, subsidized costs for outdoor recreation and free trainings. But she says it’s just as important to bridge the knowledge gap as the economic one.

“Just like generational wealth is transferred, so is generational knowledge,” she explains. “When I first started camping I had no idea what I was doing. I went out there and got it all wrong.”

In the future, Patricia hopes to purchase land for her outdoor trainings and offer spaces where communities of color can share experiences by learning together.

Patricia’s mission speaks to me. I am a Mountain West native, born and raised in Utah, where our state moniker was “The greatest snow on earth.”

Growing up, everybody but me went skiing — at least that’s what it felt like.

But in some ways I had more access than a lot of POC when it came to the outdoors. My stepdad, a white man, was a big “outdoorsy” guy. For my sisters and I, this meant countless weekends in the mountains, “roughin’ it.” No RVs — just a tent, sleeping bags, fishing poles, Mother Nature, and, of course, marshmallows for s’mores.

We were poor, which meant a lot of outdoor sports and excursions were off-limits — like skiing. However, my stepdad grew up with knowledge of the outdoors, which he passed on to us. The confidence I have to go out into the mountains and explore came from those early experiences and, to this day, it is my favorite mode of exercise.

But there are many kids in our community who feel like they have to watch the scenery and its delights from the sidelines. It doesn’t make sense when we live in a city where outdoor recreation is so accessible.

Patricia’s services are a needed resource. I’m glad she and others like her are trailblazing a path in our outdoor spaces for people of color.

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