Expedition Denali

Expedition Denali will be the first team of African American climbers to ever attempt to summit the tallest peak in America. Does this matter?

CONFESSION: when my friend James Edward Mills first wrote about “The Adventure Gap” between whites and African Americans a few months ago, I cringed a bit. A first glance, the article seemed to point out an utterly self-imposed obstacle. No one was barring American blacks from American National Parks, as far as I knew. If people aren’t participating in outdoor adventure, it’s because they choose not to participate. Just like overweight white guys like me who don’t get out like we used to. The mountains are there. It’s our own damn choice to climb them or not.

I said this was a confession, right?This was not my most nuanced response to an issue.

The Project

Expedition Denali_Erica Wynn

Erica Wynn, 21, team member, New York City

Then yesterday, I got a message from James about the film he’s helping to make. Expedition Denali. It’s about a team of young African American climbers setting out to summit Denali (20,320 ft) this June. And yes, they will be the first blacks up there. Hmmmm.

I went back to the Adventure Gap article. In 2006, with zero fanfare, Sophia Danenberg became the first black to summit Everest. Ever. Asked about its racial significance, she downplayed it completely.

“I climb because I like to climb. And to have my birth bring more significance to it is tough for me. I know that it has significance for other people, but I struggle with it in my head. It’s almost embarrassing.” Hmmmm.

Expedition Denali_training

Expedition Denali team training on Mt. Baker, Washington, in 2012.

So was James making a big deal out of something that wasn’t? Searching for discrimination where there was none? No, he wasn’t. He’s too good a writer for that. What he was doing – and what I believe this film will do – is turning the mirror on himself. Turning the mirror on African Americans to ask – why aren’t we participating? What residual attitudes are contributing to this lack of interest? This great shrug at the great outdoors? And how can African Americans turn the next generation onto something awe inspiring?

Because if – as demographics indicate – whites are soon to lose their majority in America, shouldn’t all of us be encouraging a love of nature in other racial groups? In whose hands will this care-taking be left?

Maybe it was my own thick-headedness. Maybe it was the magic of video, but when James sent around this kickstarter project, asking for a little support for this team – I finally got it. And I’m betting you’ll get it.

This is a worthy project. This is something I’m proud to support. Please take a look. And send these guys a few bucks if you can. Because it serves everyone to spread the love of the outdoors. And if we can help launch the next generation of outdoor ambassadors, why the heck wouldn’t we? Here’s the project.

[iframe width=”100%” height=”800″ src=”http://kck.st/ZFIuEw”]

James Edward Mills writes and creates an outstanding series of podcasts on his site, The Joy Trip Project. I can’t say enough about him. He’s an inspiring adventurer, journalist, and friend to Xpedition.TV.