Belonging: How do we know who belongs in wilderness?
Tracy Hopkins, MSW, CPDC, Director of Engagement & Belonging at outBack Therapeutic Wilderness
Mike Ferguson, former Executive Director at Sky’s the Limit Fund
About the episode:
In this episode, Tracy Hopkins shares her own experiences of belonging and provides insight on the what to look for in wilderness.
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Hey, everybody, it’s Mike Ferguson, I’m the Executive Director of Sky’s the Limit Fund a, it’s starting to finally feel like the hope of spring has sprung out here in California. I’m hoping it feels a little bit that way where you are. And hey, if you joined us last month for Brenda Zanes’, welcome back. And if you’re here for the first time, hey, we couldn’t be more excited to have you with us. Now, a little bit about sky’s the limit. Our mission here is helping to make wilderness therapy a bit more accessible for youth and families in need. And to date, we’ve helped over 750 families find the support they need, all with your help. About 90% of our funding comes from individual donors. So if you’d like to support our work, you can click the donate button right up here. Or you can text STLF gifts to 41444. And one of the core principles of our organization is providing opportunities for the community to learn a bit more about wilderness therapy, the work that’s done there, and the people involved. So our Speaker Series came out of this basically, you know, we’re all at home right now, although I’m knocking on wood that not for too much longer. But we have a pretty unique opportunity to gather and spend some time with some of the best experts in our field without having to leave our homes. And, and a reminder, should you have any questions during our talks. There’s a box below, just drop them in there. And we’ll make sure that our speaker Tracy Hopkins gets to them. We’re joined today by Tracy and we couldn’t be more excited. Tracy Hopkins is holds a Master of Social Work. She’s the director of business development and the inclusion and belonging specialist for Outback Wilderness Therapy, as well as the founder of dare to rise an organization focused on supporting people on their journey to thrive. Tracy is authentically one of the most genuine and caring folks I have ever met. And in this field, I feel really lucky to have her generally do some work with with folks that are struggling. And really just to have her presence here with us today. I couldn’t be more happy. So Tracy. Welcome. Thanks, Tracy Hopkins for joining us.
Hi, everyone. This is so so weird. I’m saying hello to everyone. But I don’t see everyone.
It’s it’s interesting, right?
Yeah, normally, well, not normally. Here’s what I will invite folks to kind of envision while we spend the next, you know, so many minutes together, if you will, with me along with me just imagine that we are all gathered in our living rooms, and enter kitchens, right? Like I feel like kitchen is where a lot of folks will gravitate into and have all kinds of conversations over drinks over food. And so this is just going to be a casual conversation amongst me and however many of you are out there in one of the biggest living rooms I’ve ever seen. So if you could do that, for me, that would be great. A little bit about myself. My name is Tracy Hopkins and my pronouns are she her hers. I am biracial, multicultural cisgender woman who is the daughter of an immigrant and a mother to an amazing multiracial about to turn 13 year old kid. It’s important for me to share my identities because I think that it their significance to the those identities as we continue to have this conversation. One of the things that I want to make sure that I do that I’ve started to do as a practice, and I’m continuing to learn is being able to share with you that I am calling in today from Asheville, North Carolina. And I wanted to acknowledge that this is also the land that is traditional ancestral and stolen land of the Eastern Band Cherokees. Again, this is my I’m on my ongoing journey and I recognize the importance of really being able to lift up the voices of those who, you know, whose land that that we are basically occupying currently, it’s also significant because of the topic that I am going to be talking about, which is, you know, ultimately how do we know who belongs in wilderness? And I thought that one of the most appropriate things to do is start out by talking to you about how I got into wilderness. There are this is one of my favorite stories to share with folks I remember going through college, my undergrad years, and I had no idea I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, right. And so I was the the epitome of the, you know, changed my major several times. Very last until someone told me about the recreation department. And within it, specifically the person that introduced me to the recreation department, she was focusing on hotel and tourism. And it was something that I was I had interest in. And so I started taking courses. With that being said, I was also the person who held multiple jobs, to put myself through college, and indefinitely relied on some student loans. And if you all know what that is, that process is like, you have to have a certain amount of credits in order to qualify for a student loan each semester. And so there was one particular semester where the classes that I absolutely needed weren’t being offered. And so I needed something to fill and make it a full course. And so someone told me about a an outdoor backpacking course, that would only meet a few times, and then you would be able to then go out into the woods to go backpacking for about a week. And all I saw was, I get three full credits for about a little over a week’s worth of work, and I was sold. What I didn’t realize, though, is once we got into the van, and started making our way into the wilderness, I started feeling all the things I had never been camping before. I had never just I had never experienced anything like this. And so all the anxieties, and the insecurities that came with that started just overwhelming and flooding my entire body. And so I had made this plan that once we got there, right, and we set up camp, that if I, if I, if I still felt the way that I felt by morning that I would ask to, to be removed to to leave because I was that anxious, and I was that overwhelmed. And I went to school in Southern Illinois. And so those of you who are especially out in the west, and they’re not mountains, they’re definitely rolling and hills in Southern Illinois and in Shawnee National Forest. But we had one of the the largest snow storms that in that first night that we were camping. And so I woke up the next morning to my classmates literally digging the snow away from the entrance of the tent just so we could get out. And that was the point at which I was going to I didn’t even need to tell them to take me back I was ready to run out of there and leave. So much to my surprise however, when they unzipped the tent, for me to fly out of there. Yeah, it changed my life. I had never seen such a pristine setting. I had never witnessed such beauty. I had all the anxiety and all the insecurities seemed to wash away from me. And I was so grateful and joyful and getting to experience something that I would have never been able to witness had I not been in the wilderness. And so that was pretty much all it took for me to you know, once we finished up the once we finished up the course I think I beelined it to the to the counseling office, the counselor’s office and switched my emphasis from hotel and tourism to outdoor recreation. And so I do I do believe like, as a kid growing up having never really experienced what the wilderness and the power of wilderness held. I experienced it for for the first time. You know, in my in my early 20s 1920 years of age, and it changed my trajectory. And then I would say, you know, another significant piece that I want to share with you all about my journey in wilderness would be oh, you know what, I’m going to pause myself for a second. I forgot to invite y’all at any point in my conversation in my talk, if you have questions and want to engage because I can’t see you on the other side of the couch. Just go ahead and put your questions in to the chat and then We’ll be able to communicate that way. Okay, so, now I’m super excited about wilderness. And there was a program called touch of nature Environmental Center, in Carbondale, Illinois, that had a high adventure programming, that a lot of the folks that I went to school with were working at. And so I applied, got a job there. And I was able to, again, there’s gonna be a theme, right? Lots of anxiety, lots of insecurities. I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew that I was hungry for more. And so I was met with this amazing human being by the name of Rosie O’Connor. She was the direct supervisor for all the folks who are working for the high adventure programming. And I think I’m five foot two, I think she was all of like, five foot even if that right. And she was she was highly skilled, competent, strong, funny, just all the things, I thought that she was amazing. And one of the things that I didn’t realize, would be so significant for me throughout my years in this field was that was my experience of her as my supervisor. She was willing to spend time training me she was willing to create space for me to just practice my hard skills. She also took time to get to know me as I call it, a whole person. It wasn’t just about work. She, she wanted to know about my family, my upbringing. She wanted to know about my insecurities. She wanted to know me as a human being. And so every time I came into work,
I felt seen, I felt heard, and I felt understood. She pushed and challenged me to grow and saw my potential. Especially when I wasn’t able to, I think, my early 20s Especially, I had no idea what sense of self meant, I had worked really hard to figure out how to navigate specific spaces. And I worked really hard to fit in. And it really wasn’t until later in life, that I understood the importance and the significance of what it means to have a sense of belonging, because I’ve worked so hard, throughout my lifetime to figure out how to fit in and assimilate and fly under the radar. And so that was, again, my very first job in in the woods or in the outdoors. And she ended up moving out west, which is yet another significant piece to the story. I think that that her leaving, and being under a different leadership really showcase the difference between you know, as I mentioned earlier, being able to be seen, be heard, be understood, and having that drastically change. I experienced things like going from being able to manage high ropes course, days and or rock climbing days to you know, being the person that assisted other people, and are not necessarily always getting scheduled. And so again, it kind of it definitely left a mark. And if you all know anything, whether whether it’s yourself, going through that process, or you’re watching your kids go through this process of just really figuring out who you are, and trying to fit in. Sometimes it’s a lot easier not to rock the boat and just keep it moving. And so from there, I worked all over, I was hungry. Like I said, I was passionate about being in the woods, and creating opportunities for other people to experience even a glimpse of what I got to experience. And so, you know, this was the day these were the days of, you know, no zooms, no video chats. These were the days where I think cell phones were just coming out. And so the reason why I mentioned those pieces, you know, social media did not exist. And the reason why I’ve mentioned all of this is because when I was calling or in search of jobs in the field of outdoors, it was either through email and or picking up a phone and calling someone and in the rare occasion you know that that that old school you know, send a mail you No copy of your resume printed out that kind of deal. And so it wasn’t long before I started to notice a specific way in which I was greeted each time I walked into whatever office or space for my face to face interview. Folks were always surprised to see me. And, and they would, you know, they would share it, it was very visible, as soon as I introduced myself, and they would say things like, Oh, I just didn’t picture you to look the way you do. Or, gosh, I had I had some other image in my head. And I would always ask, like, what did you think, you know, what was the image? And it would be some variation, the answer would be some variation of I thought you were going to be a bubbly blonde woman. And so, again, I’m not I’m not saying that you, you can only be white to have blonde hair. And what what the implication was that these folks were expecting a young, blond headed white woman to come in. And they were very surprised to see not only my brown skin, but that the resume the skill sets that were on my resume in the field of outdoors, belong to someone that looked like me. And so again, it was a tone setter, it was a tone setter. And it reminded me of that age old concept of do what I need to do to fit in, fly under the radar, this is your passion, this is what you want to do. And so, so assimilate, and I don’t, I did not consciously say that to myself, then I just know that in my 43 years of age, I recognize that that’s, that’s just something that I did. I was often the only person of color in these spaces. I was often one of a handful of women in these spaces. And, again, no one was in the spaces telling me that I didn’t belong. And what I would say is there wasn’t much in the culture, and the way of being that confirmed that I belonged, if that makes sense to folks. You know, even even in the world of outdoors, again, I don’t know who might be in the audience. But I remember working in different spaces. And on your off time, you get to explore, you get to do the things and you get to, you know, get on pro deals and buy all the fancy gear so that you can go out and that just wasn’t my story. I was still at times working multiple jobs and making sure that I was sending money back to my mom whenever I could to support her and support, you know, the things that were happening because my dad had passed away. And so again, there weren’t any overt messages about how I didn’t belong there. It was just, it was just one of those things. Again, I will know I just said this. There weren’t a lot of things in particular that that confirmed for me that I did belong there. And what I will say is that that kind of moved me into the North Carolina outrebound school. I moved here in 2003. With my then partner, he actually got a job to be an instructor at outrebound. And I at that point, had had said that I was done, I was done being the only one or one of a few. And that I was going to get a real job is what I said, and a job that was outside of the field of outdoors. Because if anyone in the audience knows, you know, there there is a there’s a level of exhaustion and loneliness and I don’t know the correct phrase or the right phrase, like a level of like second guessing yourself that comes with being the only one in in in space after space after space. You know, I think about when you’re the only one oftentimes, you know, I was asked to speak about experiences on behalf of all folks who may share my identities. And, you know, part of my background, you know, my father’s black My my mother’s Korean. I got tired of saying it that way. So when people ask me about my identity, I made one up called corfac. You get the Kayo are from Korean and a CK from black. And then you get a Korok. But again, like, just yet, my experience was I lived over I grew up born and raised in Korea until I was about 10. moved over to the United States, I grew up in a very small town of 9000, folks in Southern Illinois, I happen to you know, live on a dead end street. And, you know, as I grew up, like I loved listening to the carpenters, right. And so if, if people were asking me to explain to them what the black experience was, or what the experience was, I could not speak to that I can tell them what my experience was. So there is there’s a level of exhaustion that comes with it. And those of you who are familiar with microaggressions, you know, they’re there, or may not be familiar with it, the everyday subtle, sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional behaviors and interactions that really communicate some of the biases, that that might be held towards historically marginalized groups. Being someone when you’re the only one, right where you’re trying so hard to fit in, and you’re trying to fly under the radar, day in and day out, when you’re experiencing certain levels of micro aggressions, it ends up taking a toll. And so I shared that because I was genuinely going to leave the field of outdoors.
And my partner at the time, got the job at North Carolina or bound school, and I remember going to pick him up from his new hire expedition training. And, and I again, was very pleasantly surprised, because when I went there, it was just before dinner, and there is a tradition to do a child circle and everybody standing in this big circle and linked up and we get to kind of give thanks and thoughts about the day. And I just remember noticing that there were more women than I had ever seen in any of the spaces that I had been before prior to coming to N Cobbs, North Carolina or bound school. And specifically, I noticed that there were two other women of color. And there was again, the ability to see myself reflected, and hearing some of the things that they were sharing in the circle, the way in which they embraced me engaged with me, Sami heard me and understood me. I decided that, you know, maybe I wouldn’t throw away my my outdoor gear just quite yet. And so I came into North Carolina outrebound school wanting to do that. Where do I want to go from here, here’s what here’s, here’s what I will share. Um, there were things again, within that experience that I absolutely loved. Like I said, I had never seen as many women, there was a big push for diversity, equity, inclusion and programming, there was something called the Unity project that I was totally in love with, and working with kids within the high schools and taking them out into the field and, and going through diversity curriculum with them. And so, it felt great and you know, long story short it When, when, when you are when you belong within an industry that, again, I feel like I happen to stumble into Outward Bound during a specific time where they happen to have two women of color standing before me, because otherwise, you know, when I started thinking about like, how do we know how do we know who belongs in wilderness? Currently, the way in which folks may know has a lot to do with me, do I see myself reflected in these spaces? Are my traditions are my is my culture? Are there aspects of me that shows up in the spaces? And I would say that, you know, in the last so many years, I have definitely seen more Have a push an engagement and a desire to to change the perspective and and have more folks of color show up on brochures and magazines and within the literature just to just to invoke that sense of reflection. And I am not quite sure if, if we as an industry, those of us who are in the wilderness have a full grasp of what it means to genuinely like what it means to create a sense of belonging, right. And so I think about that quite a bit, I think about the fact that we are all wired for that specific need, whether we realize it or not, we all crave that sense of belonging, we want to feel connected, we want to feel accepted, I always want to take a big exhale, because that’s what I feel happens whenever I’m in a space where I truly feel like I am in I’m being embraced for who I am, without having to hide certain parts of me, right, like the difference with belonging versus fitting in, fitting in, I was trying to do whatever I could not to stand out and acclimate to whatever the dominant culture was doing, and engaged in whereas, I think, a sense of belonging for me, I talk about it, as in being able to have all versions of myself show up into the space, and be wholeheartedly and fully accepted. And that has a lot to do with I think, you know, the the connections that happen between folks, where there is a deep sense of support, deep sense of compassion, and one of the foundational pieces would be trust. Knowing that when I say something, if I do something, you know, if I make a mistake, if I’m messy, that that that will not be the thing that ends the connection between myself and folks, right like that, that folks will, my relationship and my connection to folks will not be impacted by the mistakes and or misunderstandings that might occur. And that again, that the that the pieces of me that make me whole are all genuinely accepted and embraced by those folks. And so that’s the understanding or the definition of belonging that that I am working with. And so when I think about that, and I recognize again, you know, the anxiety and the insecurities that come with not having that sense of belonging is something that I feel like is a universal experience. And when I talk about it as it relates to racial equity or racism, or systemic oppression, I think I think about it on that system’s level or on a grander scale. Because at the end of the day, how do we know who belongs, like, who is telling us right now are communicating to us through both verbal and nonverbal ways, who gets to be in wilderness. And I would say that the folks who get to do that, for the most part are folks who don’t look like me. And so, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s no judgement when I say that, if I want I say that with the reality of the reality of the fact that like, if I design something without, sorry, if I design something, through my perspective, my lived experiences, and those of others who looked like me and had similar experiences as me, the product that I create, will inevitably be for people like me. And so, so currently, in our world of wilderness, whether you’re talking about wilderness therapy, or the field of outdoors, predominantly, I’m seeing images of white men, at times white women and, and there’s the language. What’s being put out there doesn’t necessarily capture or say to me that this is a space in which I belong. This is not a space in which I should go. Yeah, I can pause if there’s a question or anything like that, that that is, is coming.
There’s, there are a couple of questions coming in. But they’re, they’re things that I have a hunch you’re probably going to cover here in the next little. So if we don’t, I will bring them in. But I think, okay, okay, we’re good. We’re good. Yeah.
Okay, great. So, so yeah, I think I think the other piece that I want to quickly put in here, when I talk about sense of belonging, and who gets to say it, I, I’d be remiss not to mention is it is it fair to say the irony of of who is determining who, who essentially belongs, given the historical piece of indigenous people, and black folks, and the connection that that these communities have with nature and with the Earth, right? Especially, you know, indigenous people, the way in which they are, view the wilderness and view nature as part of an ecosystem part of one another. Right? It’s, it’s, it’s being protectors of Mother Nature. And it was through colonization, that they were forced from the spaces and into reservations and, and, and whatnot. And so I do I think about the, the irony of who now sits at the seat of determining who, who gets to be in wilderness or who was there first, right. I also think about the enslavement, that that was experienced by African Americans. And the way in which our country was founded on the backbones of black folks who were out in the wilderness, tending and building and creating and nurturing and nourishing. And so I bring all of this up, because I would love for folks to, you know, go not that I’m giving you a homework, but but yeah, I’m giving you homework, to be able to go and perhaps ask those questions of like, well, how is it that it came to be that being outdoors is something that I’ve heard this? I think I’ve I’ve even had family members say this, that only white people do, right? Like, this is something that only white folks do, when in fact, you know, the, the originators, the folks who are deeply connected to the wilderness and this land are black and brown people. And so, in that, you know, I think about the process of historical context is, is critical. I think about, again, the the pieces of of our history, when a lot of lynchings occurred, when we think about folks fleeing from their homes and leaving their families to chase freedom, right, and where they had to go through and what could happen in those spaces. And so there are things that can dissuade folks who look like me from thinking about entering the wilderness. I also think that again, it’s a it’s a narrative that can be passed down, not just to white communities. It’s a narrative that gets passed down, and I would say sometimes internalize within black and brown communities, that that’s just not a space for us. There’s a safety component here. And it’s just not something that we do. You know, I read somewhere, there was a parent who was talking about, you know, all the things that they did when they came to the United States. And all the work that they did, the last thing that they wanted to know is that their kid whom they fought, you know, to have this great life now wanted to go out into the woods and sleep on the ground, right? Like, it’s just not something that not all families are thinking about. And the other piece that I will share about that is it’s not something that um, it might not be prioritized. I would say, I’m going out into the wilderness because again, I think about like my lived experiences and what was prior organized, what was prioritized was making sure that my family was good. And the idea of spending, you know, especially in an outward bound course, 21 plus days out in the field with no communication with family, thinking about, you know, all of those different components that just do not match up with, with what I experienced with my family life, you know, these are things that again, it’s like, well, how do I fit into this mold, when I have these responsibilities when this is the way that I normally function within my community? And so, so yeah, those are those are, I don’t know, if I was clear on my homework. My homework is, I just want to invite people to maybe relearn, and in some cases, unlearn some of the things that have been taught to us. And what I mean by that is historically, within the system or institution of education, I think that we, I have learned a certain part of the story that I never got the full story. Because, again, those in positions of power, we’re telling the story from their perspective, through their lived experiences, which I wouldn’t even say minimize, I would say at times erased. The stories that were also true for black and brown people. Yeah. All right. What do we got?
Oh, okay. Let me let me post there were, there’s a question here that came in, that says, How do I help my child who is black feel like you’ll be safe in a wilderness program? And how will he feel like he belongs? Get a similar question that came in about a biracial family? Concern send their young adult into a wilderness treatment program? So just to continue this? What would you tell them to prepare them and set their expectations?
Yeah, so it’s so interesting, I have questions for my question. Right, like? And before I ask those questions, you know, the first thing that pops up for me is, maybe, maybe, maybe before you are talking to your kid, right, helping him feel safe in the in the wilderness program, I would say, when you talk to people at wilderness programs, ask, ask about not just how many staff of color they might have? Or how many students of color they might have asked them, you know about things like, do they have a diversity, equity inclusion? policy procedure? What are the things that folks are doing at the leadership level, to work on their individual work to really like, critically evaluate themselves and the culture and working? How are they actively working on implicit biases? What are the trainings that are happening in programs as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion? And how often are they happening? Right. Other questions I would ask is, how much how much of the trainings are in house versus bringing in outside voices, individuals of color into the organization to provide training? I think these are critical questions for parents to be asking wilderness programs or any program that you’re thinking about sending your black and brown children into, because it will inform you of just where they are. In their process, what they know what they don’t know. And and yeah, so I think I think that would be the first piece. I think, I think asking for references is also a helpful asking to talk to parents of kids of color who have gone through the programs so that you can connect with them. Yeah, and I would, I would, yeah, there’s so I could I could talk for days about this, right. So there’s that and then and then you’re you’re asking also like how do I help my child who is black feel that he will be safe in wilderness programs? I think by having those conversations with the program in advance and asking those questions, you can then go back and talk with your your kid about all of those components, what you’ve learned who to connect with. Part of the reason why I’m the Business Development Director at my program, and part of the reason why I ended up also, adding the inclusion and belonging specialists was just for the moments like this, knowing that there is a point of contact, right? Because I’ll be honest with you in our line of work, racial trauma is not necessarily identified as part of the ongoing work that needs to be addressed for our black and brown children. And oftentimes, especially for black boys, they are misdiagnosed, with being oppositional being defiant, and at times, they will even slap on conduct disorder. As opposed to taking a look at Gosh, this might be something that is traumatizing. This might be fight flight, freeze fawn reaction. For for this student, what is it like for, again, being the only one coming into this space, working really hard to fit in, rather and assimilate rather than standing out. And so there are all of these components that could be at play, and being able to have parents know, being able to have students know that there’s a point of contact that, again, I’m not saying that I will understand all experiences. I do know, this is what I will tell you, part of the reason why I stayed at North Carolina or bound school as an instructor, even when I was so done, sleeping out on the ground, was I remember, I remember the kids when they got off the van, and the one or two kids of color, it didn’t matter that I I might not know, you know, their hometown or their lived experiences. When they saw me and they saw the melanin in my skin. There is there is you see the shift in energy, I felt the shift in energy. And there’s a sense of like, okay, I’m nervous, and I’m anxious. I’ve never done this, or, you know, I’m with a whole bunch of folks that I don’t know, what are they going to think of me? What are the stereotypes that they might have of me. And it was just that moment of knowing that I was going to be there that they got to exhale. So yeah, I would say that.
Awesome. All right. So I’m like trying to find a light question. There aren’t many light questions. So one of the one thing that came up a couple of times any advice you have already raised your own biracial son and making sure he feels like he belongs everywhere? Who wants to be? I would tie that in with? There’s a there’s a question also, really about making? Sure. Well, we’ll get we’ll get to that one. Let’s tackle this one first.
Yeah, I think part of the thing my experience has been is that talking about race is such a, it has been made to be a taboo topic. You know, something that I say often is I do believe that systems of oppression and and, and racism and white supremacy culture is really smart in their evolution and becoming very covert. Yeah, and so so this whole piece of talking about race, and talking about politics and talking about religion, I do find it very interesting that some critical pieces that need to be talked about and acknowledge, have now been put into categories of things you don’t ever talk about, because it’s inappropriate, right. And so, so I share that because there is there is an a discomfort that comes with talking about race. And one of the factors, I believe, that contributes to that is that we don’t acknowledge it. And for those of us who are in mental health, like one of the key things we talk about is being able to acknowledge what the issues are, what the struggles are, so that we can, you know, we can not allow it to just kind of build up into this big thing, and that it doesn’t live within us and then we can finally figure out how to move forward and so I feel that in raising in raising my kid my kid is I will say he’s multiracial I am, you know, Korean and Black and his father is white. So sometimes I say he’s a little cool. Rakesh, you can even help, you know, sweep the nation with that one. So, I think is the kids know more and pick up more than than we think that they do, right. I still remember he went to preschool and came home. And he would talk about his friends. And he would share when he talked about one particular student, who was, you know, the only black kid in school in his class, he would refer to him as the black kid, just like everyone else did. He never said the white kid. Right? That’s, that’s going to be like a whole nother story of like, how whiteness goes unmarked. And it becomes the sense of what is normal, right? I’m gonna go on a little bit of a rabbit hole. Like, when we read books, when kids read books, and there are characters throughout the the storyline. It’s not until somebody who’s not white is entered into the storyline, that they are then identified as being bipoc, Black indigenous, or, and or person of color. And so the whole time you’re reading stories, no one’s saying this white kid or this white person. It’s, it goes unmarked, so So Okay, back to the other piece. So I remember just asking him, you know, why, why He said those things. And it got him thinking, I don’t know why. That’s what you know, that’s what everyone else does. And so this is what I do. And so early on, I talked to him about. I talked to him about those, the differences in all of us as humans. I shared, you know, my dad passed in 2005. So he never got to meet my son. But I make it a point to talk to him and show pictures of my family. I talked to him, you know, my mother who’s Korean lives with us. So he is very much immersed in Korean culture. And so it’s important, I think, in raising our kids to talk about those things. I think it’s equally if not more important for white families, with white kids to have these conversations. I recently watched a documentary called Reflections of change. And there was a moment where, you know, this this woman of color was sharing, like the conversations about race, within homes of folks of color is not a it’s not a choice. It’s something that we talk about, because we need to talk about it. It impacts our daily lives, it impacts our workspace, it is something that we it’s incorporated into conversation. And so I think the more white families with white kids, white adults with white family members are also having those conversations, it’s going to be it’s going to be great. I also want to highlight that last part of that question of like, making sure he feels like he belongs everywhere he wants to be I think it’s gonna be really important to not only talk about the realities of what it’s like to navigate the world, as a black and brown person. And it’s, it’s, it’s even more critical to also showcase the joy and the excellence and the brilliance and the amazing things and accomplishments. Because again, much like, much like the storyline goes for this topic about who belongs in wilderness and the narratives and the images and the perspectives that get amplified don’t necessarily reflect people who look like me. I would say that that’s the case in education and health care in all of these institutions. And so it’s a little bit more work on our end. And I think it’s important for us to look for those stories to make sure that we collect those stories, and not just the whitewashed version of, of Dr. Martin Luther King, or the age old storylines of the few black and brown people that get amplified, but folks who are currently really just thriving in whatever aspects that they are in? Yeah.
And then, let’s say sort of, on a, on a similar note, as white parents of a black child, how do my husband and I make sure he truly belongs even within our own family. And I know, in my experience working in wilderness to a lot of the students of color that I had were adopted students. Right. So talking about that experience. I’d love to hear a little bit about that.
Yeah, I think part of the things that I, you know, again, I’m speaking from my experience of being in this field for a little over 20 years, I think most of the students that we get who are of color are students who have white families who have been adopted. I think that it before I get to the question, I think that that’s part of the reason why I don’t particularly particularly see a fast enough movement when it comes to systems change within our industry. Because at the end of the day, the target audience, our customers are still white parents. So so that again, I have like all of these side talks that that are popping up just even from this conversation. And so I think as white parents and black child again, I would, I would say, a lot of what I said earlier, right? What, what work, what personal work, are you all doing as parents to understand the historical context and how it still carries on throughout today? Right, like, racism has evolved. And what I mean by that is, it’s not, I think people still think of racism as the overt. K keh, keh, keh. You know, blacks only whites only signed sort of deal. And, you know, it’s evolved into this really smart, sneaky covert way of infiltrating into the fabric of our systems, our education system, our healthcare system, criminal justice system, our housing, all of that. And so, when you think about it, we all have lived and worked and grown up and grew up learning things that again, just weren’t whole. So a we don’t know what we don’t know. And B, with that being said, it, we got to make it our mission to figure out what’s missing. And it’s in that process of figuring out what, what we might not know that one of the harder parts, right, is, is the acknowledgement that, and I’m including myself in this right, because I also internalize things as well. And so how are we individually perpetuating the system? That necess doesn’t necessarily create a sense of belonging for black and brown kids, and adults and people in communities. And so So yeah, as, as white parents, I think, I think it’s more than just, you know, reading books, I think it’s more than just listening to a podcast. I think, you know, oftentimes, a lot of folks will not a lot of folks, people in my circle have picked up, I believe the book is white supremacy and me or me and white supremacy. And there is an accompanying book workbook that goes along with it. And so there are colleagues and friends who have white folks who have picked that book up, got the workbook, and then they meet, you know, every week, every month or whatever, to really kind of explore all of those pieces. And it’s not fun work. It’s not hard work, because I know that as a parent, you love your child, and you want to do everything in your power for them to feel a sense of belonging. And and and that they are loved and cared for and seen and embraced and all of those things. And I think about the process of adolescence really trying to figure out who they are. And, you know, when when kids look up at their parents and don’t necessarily see themselves reflected, and we’re not having dialogue about that, and we’re not having conversations about that. things that you’re learning the things that you are doing, being able to. Yeah, it’s, I think it’s important for for those processes to happen. I would also say, this goes not just for the parents of white parents of black kids, I would say that this is for folks, like, truly take inventory of your community and the spaces in which you navigate. How often are you in situations where you are with people who don’t necessarily look like you don’t think like you haven’t had lived experiences like you? And why is that? And what are the things that you can do about that? Bryan Stevenson, who is amazing. He talks a lot about, you know, one of the things that we really need, along with hope, is this, this sense of proximity. If I connect with you, right, like, just even Mike, right, like, if I connect with Mike, and I, much like what Rosie did, right, I am invested in learning about who he is, as a human, all versions of him and he’s doing that same for me. I can’t help but think the things that we didn’t have to see before the things that we don’t necessarily have to deal with before because it wasn’t impacting me, you know, you directly now become something where Wait, no, Mike, Mike and I are invested in each other. I want to make sure that I’m doing what I can to, to do my own personal work. So that so that we are creating a more just and equitable space for folks and so, so yeah, I think part of it a lot of it has to do with as white parents as white folks being able to do your personal work in identifying what are your own biases? What are what are the ways in which you are contributing to upholding the systemic, you know, systems of oppression. And being able to move past I think the White paralysis, I call it white paralysis that can often come because there’s their shame and there’s guilt. And, and, and it is it is it can be paralyzing. And my hope is that folks will understand like, we have to be able to push past that. So that we can we can get to the point of figuring out how to move forward together.
Awesome. Agreed. Yeah. More white people talk about race, the easier it gets to talk about race. That’s just the reality of, right.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. with one another,
with one another. Exactly. Exactly. So here’s one that came in, what advice would you give your younger self now with the current knowledge that you have, from your years of experience and wisdom?
Oh, my gosh, I would tell my younger self, so many things. If I, if my younger self knew what I know. Now, I often tell people that I would have been on Oprah a long time ago, and I would have been saying all the things and doing all the things, I think, yeah, I get a little teary just even thinking about it. Right. Like I think one of the big things that I would have told I would love to tell my younger self now is that just because, no, that’s not what I would say. Ultimately, I would just reaffirm to her that she’s she’s pretty badass, that she’s beautiful, that she’s brilliant. And that it’s okay to take up space, that that it’s necessary for her to take up space. Yeah, and the biggest thing would be that taking up space also means shining your light. And not to be afraid of doing that, because I think in doing so, you end up giving other people permission who might be feeling and experiencing similar things, you end up giving them permission to do the same. And the more we do that, the more we talk about the things rather than hiding it, hiding behind it or stuffing it away. I think I think we all begin to recognize that these these experiences that I might have thought were just my own experience and nobody else was going through it. It ended up being way more normal than I, I would have known or that I didn’t know when I was younger. So, yeah, I would tell her all those things.
I’m glad I’m I wish we could go back and do that. And I’m happy you have that knowledge now. Yeah, yeah. So have you seen any positive changes in the wilderness industry or the therapeutic industry generally recently with regards to race?
Ah, wow. Gosh, yes. Interesting question. So, yes. Here’s, here’s what I’m going to tell you. And for those who know, me, you, you know, that I pretty transparent and, and, and I also recognize that I am an employee of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. And so what I’m about to say, and I’m in business development, right, and so what I’m about to say, might come across as a marketing club, plug. And And my hope is that you all hear me when I say that it is not positive changes in the wilderness industry as a whole. Of course, there are some positive changes. I’m not quite sure. I’m not quite sure if on that systemic, larger scale, that that the small amount of positive changes are have been impactful. And the reason why I share that is, there have been times for myself included, for me included, where I even though I love my work, even though I love being in wilderness, and I built I belong in this industry. I was afraid that I was going to be chewed up and spat out. Okay, so there’s that. It is no coincidence that I came into Outback when I did. I had gone through my own journey of really reassessing and looking at doing Shadow Work. Looking at my inner critic, trying to understand why I thought the way that I thought, why I saw the world the way that I did. And I got to a place of getting better at identifying myself worse and feeling way more comfortable in my skin. And then the other part is like being able to show up with all versions of me, right. And then the key to that, for me was figuring out whose opinions truly mattered. And it was right around that time that I ended up connecting with McKay Devereaux at Outback. And when I started to learn more about the programming. And what it was about, it was very much in line with my own personal values. And so that’s why I entered into the space. When I think about the positive changes in wilderness there’s a reason why I stay at Outback Outback by no means is perfect, we have a long way to go. And that’s just the truth. That’s just the reality. And I get to personally witness the actions of my co co workers who are doing their individual work, I see it on their social media platform, I see it in their presentations, I see it in conversations that we are having, they are coming to me to process things that they have already worked, tried to work through as opposed to ask me the person of color to tell them what to do. And so, yeah, the I feel, I feel a deep sense of belonging within my my little bubble of Outback and I am I am filled with hope, knowing that what we have put in motion is then going to trickle into every aspect of our programming and and then you know, to our to our students. So gosh, positive changes in wilderness industry I here’s what I will say more people are having conversations about this. There are spaces in which I’m You know, diversity, equity and inclusion have been themes. And trainers are invited presenters are invited. And I have had some not so great conversations with people about this topic. And I’ve had some really amazing conversations. Maybe not in that moment, but so many months later, years later when they have reflected. Yeah, so it’s, it’s happening, I don’t want to dismiss that the changes are not happening. What I will say is this. I use this analogy, once before, when I was a field instructor for our band, one of the things that they talked about is, if there’s a student who is keeping the slower pace, you know, one of the things is you put that individual at the front of the line, so that they can set the pace, right. And so you’re not leaving someone behind folks aren’t, you know, the kids aren’t feeling resentful, because they have to always, you know, stop and wait for the kid. And it creates a different dynamic when you do that. And so I think about that analogy, what I think about the changes within the industry of, of wilderness, and wilderness therapy, as it relates to racial equity is that we, who are impacted are still at the end of the line, and the change isn’t happening as fast as I think it should, right. And kids and staff are being continued to be impacted. Folks may not be aware of it. Because, again, we’ve learned to assimilate and fit in and figure things out. And I think that with those incremental positive changes, I think that it can happen quicker. Yeah.
Yeah, I mean, I just the volume of conversations has gone from zero to some, which alone is a, that’s progress. I think, at least we’re, we’re getting there. Or we’re getting, we’re getting to a place of action, at least I think. So. So here’s one that came in how are or can wilderness programs recruit more applicants of color?
Yeah, I think I think that’s, for me, there’s multiple sides, probably the two things is, I think that you can’t think about recruitment without thinking about retention. Right. So recruitment, I would say, you know, take a look at what your current practices are, where are you advertising? Where are you going to connect with people? Are you going into spaces to connect? Right? So it goes back to that proximity piece to, if you if we don’t take the time to understand the beautiful cultural differences of humans, and then apply that when we interact with people? I think I think that, you know, we can miss opportunities for creating that, that invitation to engage. So yeah, I think when it comes to especially wilderness programs, this makes me think of something that I don’t think that I touched on, which is, there is a misconception that we are not out there. And I think that, you know, again, that has a lot to do with like very narratives and who owns the businesses and the entities that kind of showcase the images of who is out in the woods. And so I think I think for me, one of the things that I would say is like we are definitely a out there. I would like to encourage folks to kind of move away from box thinking of what you believe. Being outdoors and being in wilderness looks like because it might be different for someone of color, who has a different cultural background and experience and how we experience the woods. The wilderness, the mountains may look very different from how someone who doesn’t look like us experiences it right. So there’s that so I would say going back to that, assess where your, what your practices are now are, you know, are you going to spaces that typically are frequented by white people and only white people? Are you taking a look at some of the application questions like, Are you? Are you aware? Or perhaps maybe taking a look at it and hiring someone with a Dei, you know, consulting background to really help assess whether or not some of the questions right because the languaging is yet another way for us to know whether we belong or not. And so you might not even realize that the questions or the statements that you put out in, in an application could be a hindrance for for folks. I think the other piece is, I want to highlight some of these organizations. One of the big things for me is if you if you just even get on and Google diversify outdoors, it is a coalition of of organizations and athletes and bloggers, individuals of of color, that are coming together as a collective, and in it are places like melanin Basecamp, outdoor Afro brown people camping, brown girls climbing, color outside, sending in color, native outdoors, native women’s wilderness, brothers of climbing crew, the brown ascenders, the black outdoors, the venture out project, brown folks fishing and the list goes on. I think that I think that the you know, again, I’ve worked it outward bound. And so like the places that were kind of coveted or deemed as like the, I don’t know, the icons, or the places to look for are places like Knowles, places like North Carolina are our Outward Bound, wilderness Education Association. And yet, there’s a whole whole sector of black and brown people creating opportunities for black and brown folks to be able to go out and experience the, the outdoors. And so So I would say check out diversify outdoors, and and really kind of take a look at who they are. And perhaps even engage them and connect with them. The other piece I want to share is there’s an organization called PGM. One, they are the people of the global majority in the outdoors, nature and environment. Right after the death of George Floyd was when I was able to experience my first bipoc. And when I say bipoc, I’m sorry, I kept saying it earlier. It’s black, indigenous, and then people of color. It was my first bipoc affinity group that that I got to join. And when I tell you that I was I was just scrolling on pages and pages of people who were black or brown on the screen who worked in the field of outdoors. It was it was I had tears because again, we’re out there. I think for us in wilderness therapy, you know, the question is, we’ll want why? Why don’t we see more folks of color in our sector. So yeah, I would say do an assessment, hire someone who can help you see your blind spots. Check out where you’re advertising. And then the other piece I was talking about was, Oh, check out diversify outdoors. And then the other piece I was talking about is you can put all your efforts into recruitment, and have them come into your organization. And when they don’t stay, you might scratch your head of like we did all this work and we brought them in and this is whatever. So this is why I talk about retention going hand in hand with recruitment. We have to also bring some I’m a huge proponent. This is what Outback is doing. We bring bring brought in outside consultants to come in and really help us evaluate and assess, take a look at our practices our language, help us create a strategic goal. Because again, in doing all of this and implementing it and making it a part of our culture, it’s just the way that it is it’s not it’s not Tracy running a dei committee. And then when I leave all you know, everything goes away. It is now being built into the infrastructure of the organization. And so, you know, that takes a lot of time and energy. And so you have to be committed to that. And if you want to create a long standing retention with your recruitment efforts, it’s necessary. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Happy to share the list of programs and things like that. I’ll send it over to you, Mike. Gold, disseminate that? Yeah,
we’ll get it out to everybody. Yes, that’d be great diversify out there. I mean, all those organizations are awesome. Yeah. So here’s a question that came in. What advice would you give to my white child who grew up in a very culturally diverse community and says he doesn’t even notice color?
Yeah, yeah. I Yes. So colorblindness, not noticing color. Again, for me, I’m just like, I recognize the intention behind that. And, you know, my off the cuff advice would be like, Well, why wouldn’t you want to notice their color, and being able to talk about how it’s, you know, being able to reframe that of like, we want to notice these pieces of us that make us different? Because it’s beautiful. And it’s wonderful. And then being able to go into a conversation of, well, what else did you know, I know, you don’t notice the color. And here’s why it’s important to notice a human being. And what are some other things, let’s talk about all the things you notice about kids. And again, I don’t know how young this child is I in my head, I envisioned a younger child. And so it might be different if if they are a bit older. But ultimately, the same kind of concept. I think sometimes I do I do this too, as a parent, sometimes they think that I need to have the answer. And then I need to, I need to make sure that I give my child the answer. And sometimes the best conversations I’ve had with my kid as it relates to race, was me just being like, Hmm, well, what made you say that? Or what? Where did you get that? Or why do you think that, and it opens up a dialog. So so that wouldn’t be my other advice. Just be curious and allow yourself to be like, I don’t really know. And, and that’s the other piece that I want to give parents, like I bestow upon you this this, you know, power or permission of like, being able to tell your kid like I I struggle with, you know, that statement or that question, and I’m not quite sure why. But it sits a little funny in my stomach. Maybe we can talk about it. Let’s research it. Let’s do this together. I think I think it’s a great thing to model for our kids. When we say, I don’t know why I don’t like what you just said or I don’t know, what makes this feel uncomfortable. Would you be willing to explore that together? Yeah. Yeah.
Awesome. Well, I got one more quick one. And then we’re getting to our end here. So there’s about 10 minutes left, there’s any other questions in the audience, any burning desires or anything like that, but when this one popped up any books, podcasts, any other resources you’d recommend on the topic of being a person of color in the wilderness industry? And I would open that question up to any resources you would you would recommend for our audience to?
Yeah, you know, I wish I wish I had it in front of me, I actually have a document that I’ve shared before. And so you know, there are there are things like podcasts like, code switch 1619. Again, I think I think me and white supremacy is one. I think so you want to talk about race? Like I again, I’m happy to take the resource list that I have and provide that. Yeah, yeah.
That would be great. There were a couple of questions about resources. So I thought so and I know the the other piece that we that we can talk about Tracy, I know Dare to Rise has an event, a virtual event coming up this weekend. I would love to hear a little bit more about the work you’re doing there and what that is,
yeah, thanks for that. It is called chase the story revolution. And it’s interesting, right? Like, if, if you picked up on a lot of what I was saying today, it’s about leaning in with curiosity and really being able to pick up on the nonverbals and, and the things that might go missed or dismiss, right? I have often found myself in situations where I’ve listened to a great speaker, and they’re talking about, you know, their life’s accomplishment and whatnot. And it’s very inspirational. Yet it’s in those moments where they’re talking about the messiness, the, the not so pretty parts the the non 30 minute sitcom ending parts of their life, where I felt the most connected. And it made me think about, Gosh, I wonder, you know, if I had the opportunity to ask certain questions, if I had the chance to know a little bit more about this thing that I don’t even know if anybody else noticed, right, it opens up a whole channel of conversation that I don’t think that I would have ever found out about had I not chase that story. And in the process of chasing stories, two things have happened for me. One is, I had the I had the honor and the privilege of recognizing that the person in front of me that I might have assumed didn’t have anything that I could relate to. Turns out there are experiences and emotions and thoughts that were very similar and resonated to me. And so being able to chase the story, I think it opens up the doorways to find that level of connection through the beautiful differences that we might have. The second part is, I think, in the process of chasing somebody else’s story. And starting to see more of myself reflected in those stories, it actually gave me the permission to myself to chase my own story and look at the parts of me that I might not have wanted to look at. And so this Saturday, April 10, oh, gosh, that’s two days. We’re doing an all day virtual event. And there are six speakers lined up. I call them the story chaser firepit brands, and they have been gracious enough to share, like their messy, real life raw experiences that don’t have a cookie cutter ending that don’t have a 30 minute sitcom ending, and allow for the inner story chasers of our audience members to really come out and be able to ask those questions. So yeah, I call it a revolution. Because if we all in spite of what the world is telling us who we ought to be, and how we ought to show up, decide that we are enough, and we can stand in our own skin comfortably. I think that that in and of itself is the revolution.
Absolutely, as far as one of my favorite phrases that I that I’ve heard is just be present, not perfect. That’s all that matters is be there, and as long as you’re there, and we can be human together and figure it out. So well, Tracy, thank you so much. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before we close here? No, just
thank you. Thank you for having me. Yeah, I just appreciate it. i Yeah, it was just it was a interesting experience to talking at myself. And just appreciate all the folks who attended and the questions that were shared. And I’ll send you all the resources to send out to the participants.
Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Tracy for spending so much time with us and sharing so much of you and being here with us like actually here and sharing that experience. So to everybody out there. Thank you for joining us. We hope to see you may 6 for Will White speaking about wilderness, where did it come from and where is it going? Just a reminder that this talk has been recorded, so you’ll get a link shortly. Have a great rest of your day. Thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll see you all soon. Take care
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