julia-yarbough_new_web.jpgWhat would you do if rangers with Everglades National Park invited you to take part in a PBS-sponsored adventure-reality show, and all you had to do was go camping with your family? Outdoors. Overnight. In a tent. Sharing your space with alligators, spiders and many other species which call The Everglades home?

It’s an easy enough proposition for some; a daunting and fearful offer for others. But Homestead residents Shanda and George Roberts, along with three of their five children, accepted the challenge.

The Roberts are African-American, and had never before experienced the peace and serenity along with complete family time that camping affords. Nor had they ever envisioned themselves as “into that camping stuff.”

While they admitted they had fears and reservations about stepping outside of their safety zone, all agreed the experience on the show, “Into the Wild,” gave them a new appreciation for our natural world. They want to go camping again.

The Roberts shared their story during the “Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors” conference, which took place Sept. 23-26 in Atlanta.
The gathering brought together some of the leaders of the environmental and outdoor recreational movements.

I found myself in a sea of people of color, individuals who all have a passion for learning about, conserving, and experiencing the joys that come from appreciating the great outdoors.

They are individuals like Park Ranger Jerry Bransford, who not only leads tours in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky (www.nps.gov/mac /index.htm), but also has family ties to the majestic underground caverns.

Bransford’s great uncle, Louis Bransford, was one of the last men of color to guide in the cave, before Mammoth was taken over by the National Park Service in 1935. By all historical accounts, men of color, whose blood was tied to the cave, were all dismissed; the history of their contributions set aside.

You see, it was Bransford’s ancestors – Matt and Nick Bransford – enslaved Africans in America – who were original guides and stewards of the land way back in 1838! Today, at age 63, Jerry Bransford says his goal is to make sure his family’s history is never lost again.

Another interesting individual at the outdoors event was Hermes Castro. He’s an athlete. Hit by a drunken driver while cycling, he is now a paraplegic. But he still enjoys and advocates for the outdoors. He traveled to Antarctica this spring on a research expedition!

The first African American to sail solo around the world, Capt. Bill Pinkney, shared his adventurous tale of taking on the ocean in a 27,000-mile, 22-month voyage in 1992.  He reminded all of us that yes, black folk do sail!

I connected with Rue Mapp, an African-American woman who leads an outdoor company in California, “where black people and nature meet.”

As conference organizer Frank Peterman reminded all of us, going outdoors and enjoying the sunshine is free. Anyone can do it, and it may be the best medicine for all that ails us.

Editor’s Note: Julia Yarbough, a news anchor at NBC 6, writes periodically on her outdoor and other adventures. To read more of Julia’s columns, log onto SFLTimes.com.