How These Black Founders of Hiking Collectives Are Creating A Sense of Belonging On The Trails

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The outdoors are intrinsically for everyone. However, finding a sense of belonging on the trails can be challenging for many. Colour Outside, Colour The Trails, and Abundant Life Adventure Club are challenging this narrative.

These three Black led hiking organizations are exploring everywhere from the Smoky Mountains of Nashville, Tennessee to the snowy peaks of Salt Lake City, Utah. While charting these trails they are changing the face of the outdoor industry. 

We spoke to the founders of these three Black hiking collectives to learn what prompted their start, the role authenticity plays in sustaining a thriving community, and what creating a sense of belonging within the outdoor industry looks like to them.

Nailah Blades, Founder of Color Outside, Salt Lake City, Utah

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HOKA: When did you come to realize that you needed to create your own hiking collective? 

Nailah Blades: I started Color Outside at the end of 2016. My family and I moved from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Utah. This was a huge cultural shift. I had just become a new mother, my daughter was just a little over the age of one, so I was trying to navigate motherhood. I also had a business that I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to continue. I just felt like I had a lot of upheavals. Once I started exploring the outdoors I felt so much more at peace. 

I felt like I was rediscovering parts of myself. I felt like I could make a lot of the decisions I was trying to make a lot easier, and I just felt like other people, other women, particularly other Black women needed to experience the outdoors as well. I started Color Outside because it was the community that I needed. I wanted to explore the outdoors, and I wanted to do it with other Black women and women of color.

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HOKA: What was the process of starting your own hiking collective? 

Blades:I started with a meetup group. I sent out a note about a hiking event, and put that out into the world, and I was shocked. I thought that only two or three women would join the group initially, but I had over 100 women join which was shocking. 

About eight women showed up to the first event, and we hiked to this spot called The Living Room Trailhead, it was just so much fun to be out there with women who looked like me, had similar experiences finding their footing and their community.

HOKA: What role does authenticity play in creating this thriving community that you have? 

Blades: I think authenticity is huge and I think especially for Black women. We know when something just doesn’t feel right to us. I think that’s one of the bigger draws to Color Outside. We are a community who is striving to get outdoors, fight for joy, and take up space. 

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HOKA: What is one of the most memorable hikes that you’ve ever been on? 

Blades: I think one of the most memorable hikes that I’ve done with the group is the first hike that we ever did at the retreat in Heber Valley, Utah, it was in September, and it was totally beautiful. It snowed that weekend which we weren’t anticipating. I made sure I had all of this extra gear for people. 

We hiked around the hill, we slid, and no one was complaining about anything. It was just one of those moments where things didn’t go the way they were planned, but it worked out the way it was supposed to. Hiking around in the snow might not be something that I would do in my everyday life, but the women were open to doing it and embraced a spirit of adventure.

HOKA: What does creating a sense of belonging on the trails and in the hiking industry look like for you? 

Blades:When you belong, you feel it in your bones. We all deserve to take up space in the outdoors and feel like we’re meant to be there. I’m striving to create a sense of belonging with Color Outside, whether that’s coming out and hiking with us as a group or scrolling through our social posts, and that encourages you to say, yeah I belong there. I deserve to get outside and do what I want to do. 

Judith Kasiama, Founder of Colour The Trails, Chapters Across Canada 

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HOKA: When did you come to realize that you needed to create your own hiking collective? 

Kasiama: In 2016, I decided to create my own hiking collective with friends, but it quickly grew. There were a lot of interested hikers, but they didn’t have a community that looked like them. Colour The Trails developed from the desire to connect with my community and create a safe space to go hiking. 

HOKA: What was the process of starting your own hiking collective? 

Kasiama: The initial start was just posting on Facebook. Some people weren’t necessarily super into hiking, but they were curious about it. There was a lot of word of mouth, a lot of Facebook posts, and then with time Colour, The Trails started to grow more of a presence.

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HOKA: What role does authenticity play in creating this thriving community that you have? 

Kasiama: Authenticity is important. I didn’t start Colour The Trails to be recognized by the industry or by brands, I started it because I love hiking. There’s the fear of racism and hiking is a very white space, even if there are other people of color doing it. It’s important to me to make sure those who are curious about the outdoors know that it’s accessible to them. 

It’s not about the publicity for me. It’s more about the fun of exploration and the fun of bringing people along because when I take people on hikes and they begin to see all of the beauty they are like wow this is something out of National Geographic. You can go use your own body and have a beautiful peaceful time in nature. I just want to share that experience and it has nothing to do with being recognized. I think that’s what remaining authentic means to me.

HOKA: What is one of the most memorable hikes that you’ve ever been on? 

Kasiama: This past summer at the Canadian Rockies. It was a two-day hike for one of them and then the other one was four days of trekking. So the four-day tracking one was a very long hike and it was in Mount Goodsir in British Columbia and it’s just one of the most beautiful trails that I’ve done. 

I just didn’t know how to describe it, there is just this beautiful glacier up there and beautiful blue color lakes by Mount Robson. The funny thing is so many people who have gone through this hike haven’t gotten this view because of the unpredictable weather patterns, but where we went we had two beautiful nights of really warm weather in August and it was just beautiful and then the second part of that was a four-day trek to The Rockies to this area called Rockwall, which is this entire rock facing mountain, which goes for huge kilometers and you spend a night at each different stop, and the first part was very hard because it was very forestry, but then once we got to the actual rock wall facing side and it was just like endless beautiful scenery, and it was almost like Patagonia. I haven’t been to Patagonia yet, but I’ve been doing my research because I’m planning to go to Patagonia.

Then with Colour The Trails just outside of Whisler there is a hike that we did called

Wedgemount Lake and Wedge Mountain. A really big group of us went out and did this very advanced trail. It was just very fun to have an entire crew of Black people, people of color on that hike. 

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HOKA: What does creating a sense of belonging on the trails and in the hiking industry look like for you? 

Kasiama: Ultimately, we’re all looking at social media and advertisement. Imagery and stories shape us as a culture and as well society. Unfortunately, for a long time, all we saw were white men going and climbing mountains trying to conquer Mount Everest, but we never really take a moment to stop and think about how the locals are charting those trails. 

It’s important to recognize that we did exclude a lot of people from the outdoor space. It has to do with history, it cautions a lot of Black people with how they engage themselves in the outdoors. There are so many Canadians from different parts of the world who are refugees and immigrants. A lot of times so our parents aren’t prioritizing taking us out into nature, because as immigrants you are worried about taking care of your kids, paying rent, and all of that. I guess the first generation of us who went out there was like, okay we can have the luxury of enjoying the outdoors

I think that we have to recognize the history and the stories of the past and also work hard at showcasing diverse experiences, so there is no longer just a single story of white men in the outdoors.

Claude and Dr. Kim Walker, Founders of Abundant Life Adventure Club, Nashville, TN 

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HOKA: When did you come to realize that you needed to create your own hiking collective? 

Dr. Kim Walker: It all just formed organically, after we were hiking and discovering the outdoors on our own. We started to invite friends to come with us. Then we created this learn how to hike series that we posted online and invited people intentionally whether we knew them or not, we had a few people come out and we did that about six times. 

We went to the same park and did different trails and we realized that we should really become an organization, try it out and see how it goes.

Claude Walker: Our love for hiking was triggered in 2017 when we went through a major lifestyle change. The major lifestyle change allowed us to be more active, and we became more curious about doing things to keep our bodies well.

HOKA: What was the process of starting your own hiking collective? 

Dr. Kim: We created a flyer on a whim inviting people to come out to our beginner hiking series, learn how to hike, and discover the awesomeness of nature. We put it on each of our personal Facebook profiles and that’s really where it all started. Eight people came out and they loved it. We were just going to do it that one time, but everyone loved it so we did it again. We created a Fall hiking series and we just kept putting it on our personal Facebook pages. People started sharing it with their network, their friends, and after we had those six hikes towards the end of that year. Then we decided to fully commit to it and called ourselves the Abundant Life Adventure Club. 

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HOKA: What role does authenticity play in creating this thriving community that you have? 

Claude: Our community developed organically and I think it developed that way because Kim and I have always been authentic. We’ve always been our true selves. We feel like being your true selves allows people to come and be rejuvenated for the week. I feel like providing that space for people resonates with people.

Dr. Kim: It also helps them to feel more comfortable and helps them to feel more welcome and like they belong with our community, because especially in our area and many areas it’s just a lack of outdoor spaces where Black people feel welcome and like they can be themselves. 

I know for a lot of our members our adventures might be the only place where they aren’t the only Black person. They might be the only Black person, but here we can share our stories, listen to music, and our culture without screening ourselves.

HOKA: What is one of the most memorable hikes that you’ve ever been on? 

Dr. Kim: We went to the Smoky Mountains and did a 10 ½ mile hike. It was straight incline, but some of the things that we saw on the way, it was just like God looking at us. It was beautiful, so we got to the top of the mountain, had lunch,  we really just looked at the view of the mountains all around, and basically thanked God for even being able to do that. It was a very transformative experience for us. 

We said we have to share this experience with our people. We were hiking for 8 hour that day. We did not see another Black person at all, and  we were in the most highly populated park in the country.

Two years later we worked to recreate this experience for our community. We have people of different fitness levels, ages, and experiences on the hike. When you go to places like that on the top of a mountain. It gives you a different perspective on life, which is needed in that moment.

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HOKA: What does creating a sense of belonging on the trails and in the hiking industry look like for you?

Dr. Kim: Creating a sense of belonging means feeling safe and like you are supposed to be there. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel the opposite. They feel unsafe and like they aren’t supposed to be there or they are unsure whether it is okay for them to be there, because no one in the space looks like them. 

When you go they give you an awkward stare or ask, what are you doing here? We still get that, so just being in a community that is excited that you are there, and you aren’t the odd ball out. No one really likes to feel that way, so that’s what we keep in mind even when we created our experiences. 

Claude: I think you have to be intentional when you want to make someone feel welcome, and I think it almost can make someone feel like they are going out of their way to make someone feel welcome, but sometimes it is about going out of your way to make someone feel welcome. It’s more than just monetary things that make someone feel welcome. 

Blog content provided by Priscilla Ward.