“Treat Everyone, Everywhere, Equally.”
There still aren’t many Black people in the outdoor industry and lifestyle. Earl B. Hunter, Jr., is changing that.
Several nonprofits already exist to get more people of color in nature. But Hunter is blazing a different path. He realized that the Black community is an untapped market for the outdoor recreation industry, which he described as “one of the most segregated industries in the world.” So he founded Black Folks Camp Too as a for-profit business focused on educating people of all backgrounds and skill levels about the outdoors.
Black Folks Camp Too isn’t just for Black people, Hunter says. It aims to bring all folks together around the campfire, learning from each other and enjoying the outdoors together.
“My goal is to make this company unnecessary,” says Hunter. “I hope that in ten years, we won’t need to exist.”
Until a few years ago, Hunter had never been camping. He was an executive in the RV industry, traveling across the country for business and often away from his family for months at a time. He was the only Black executive at most of the outdoor industry shows and conferences he attended. He knew how to sell the great outdoors to mostly white audiences at RV shows. But he hadn’t fully experienced the outdoors until his seven-year-old son Dillon asked to go to a national park.
Hunter went all-in. He and his son spent three months visiting 49 campgrounds in 20 states. They learned a lot about camping, public lands, and each other. And they saw exactly one other Black family camping the entire time.
Soon after, Hunter began planning Black Folks Camp Too. In 2019, he officially launched it at the Outdoor Economy Conference in Asheville. Of the 654 people at the conference, four were Black.
“Our job is to share knowledge with current outdoor enthusiasts about the reasons why you haven’t seen many Black folks in the outdoors,” he announced. It wasn’t only because of bugs or snakes. Nor was it just lack of access.
“The main reason is generational fear,” says Hunter. Our ancestors didn’t go in the woods because some horrific things have happened there. Stories of lynchings and hate have been passed down from generation to generation. What we’ve mostly heard is: “‘Don’t you go in those woods. Them white folks goin’ get you.’”
Education is the answer, says Hunter. Black Folks Camp Too works with outdoor businesses and state agencies in the Carolinas to develop materials and campaigns to fill that knowledge gap for everyone.
Black Folks Camp Too is working with historically Black colleges and universities to develop outdoor recreation programs, attracting more Black professionals into industry and park system careers. They are also partnering with outdoor companies like Farm to Feet and Oboz to create DEI—digital education initiatives—to help more folks of all backgrounds experience the outdoors.
Hunter spoke again with Asheville outdoor leaders in January about why Black Folks Camp Too can change the world.
Why aren’t there more Black people in the outdoors?
Generational fear and lack of knowledge and education. Some national and state parks were segregated until the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. To this day, 95% of national park visitors are white. But I am not out to pound on folks. We are all about inviting everyone around the campfire to learn from each other. We’ll find out that we have more sames than differences.
Many Black folks lack the knowledge of how outdoor spaces work. What is a trailhead or a trail blaze? Where do I find sources of water? What equipment do we need? What if I see a bear? Many folks of all races and backgrounds lack this knowledge. We can close that knowledge gap together.
What do we need to do to increase unity in the outdoor community?
Invite more Black folks and people of color to hike, camp, mountain bike, fish, climb, and enjoy the outdoors with anyone and everyone. If you don’t have Black friends, it’s the greatest time in America for you to find some. Black people don’t need permission to go outdoors, but it sure does feel good to be invited by folks who know it better than we do. After all, we all own 640 million acres of public land and pay for it with our tax dollars. But many Black folks never get to see it and enjoy it, nor do their children and grandchildren, because of the things they’ve been told.
Diversifying the outdoors would have massive economic benefits. Why has the outdoor industry been slow to embrace this?
The outdoor industry never really invited Black folks to participate in the lifestyle. The industry never said, “Hey Black folks! We want your money!” They assumed we didn’t go outside or that we did not have the money to purchase outdoor lifestyle products. As a result, the outdoor industry is still around 97% white.
The outdoor industry is leaving money on the table by ignoring Black people as gear-wearing, adventure-seeking prospective customers.
Why should more Black folks go camping?
Black folks haven’t experienced America the way many others have. We haven’t seen the most beautiful areas of this country. We haven’t discovered all the benefits that the outdoors provides.
Here in Western North Carolina, there are hundreds of waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest, but very few Black folks have seen them. If I hadn’t moved to this area, I wouldn’t have been able to watch water flowing through a clean, clear creek, or hug a tree, or see a sky full of stars glowing at night.
Black folks need to see more folks like us experiencing the outdoors. Representation matters. And when we’re out there together as one people—folks of all races can enjoy having amazing conversations, enjoying the outdoors together—we can replace division with unity.
What does the campfire logo mean?
Our logo is a campfire, which we call the Unity Blaze. It means: Treat everyone, everywhere, equally. Your race, age, and gender do not matter. We all have something to say around the campfire.
The campfire is the oldest source of light and heat. It illuminates and brings us together. Tending to a campfire also takes work, but Hunter’s mission is to make it delightful, inclusive, and unifying work that brings everyone together.
Black Folks Camp Too is for everyone. Visit blackfolkscamptoo.com to learn more about the Unity Blaze and ways you can get involved.
Photos courtesy of Black Folks Camp Too / Appalachian Adventures