In the mountains of Colorado, Nelson Holland takes us on one of his favorite trails on a beautiful spring day when the snow is melting from the trees. Hiking is his passion and there’s a reason he does it several times a week.
“Calm, peace, serenity, that’s like stillness you get now,” Holland said. “And then the views that will be at the top.”
He says the view is more than worth it.
“It’s become an addiction,” Holland said. “Can’t live without.”
It’s the journey that keeps him coming back.
“I’ve seen moose, eagles, moose, ferrets, badgers, foxes, coyotes,” Holland said. “I mean add a few different species of birds that I can’t even describe at the moment.”
His goal is to make nature more inclusive for black and brown communities. He was not an avid hiker all his life. He grew up in Long Island, New York. It wasn’t until he moved to Colorado in 20-14 that he discovered his love for hiking.
“Part of it is that my parents didn’t do it,” Holland said. “As if they weren’t outdoors that often. So it’s just something that’s alien to me. And since the agency wasn’t there, I didn’t have someone who looked like me doing that. I did it. I don’t know if I could even do it.”
There is a natural gap in the US
Dan Krymkowski, a professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, has studied cultural inequality and the underrepresentation of African Americans in outdoor recreation. He recently published a book about it called The Color of Culture.
“When a space turns out to be a white space, you might not feel welcome, even if there isn’t a specific law prohibiting members of a group from being there,” Krymkowski said.
According to Krymkowski, the reason for this is systemic racism.
“By systemic racism, I mean any inequality between racial groups that stems from current or past discrimination,” Krymkowski said. “Why are there such large income and wealth disparities between African Americans and whites? Well, that has to do with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination.”
He says these outdoor activities are often not free. Skiing is particularly expensive, but even hiking, something you’d think wouldn’t cost a dime, requires purchasing gear like hiking boots and bottled water. You have to go there too.
“Often you have to drive through predominantly white and rural areas,” says Krymkowski. “And African Americans have expressed fear of driving through those areas.”
Krymkowski says another researcher learned something different.
“In many cases, the nature of African Americans is viewed as negative,” Krymkowski said. “It has to do with the circumstances in which they were brought to the United States to work in rural areas, in bondage, and also with their later experiences in the woods, where since the 19th century there have been many, many Lynchings were The 20th Century.”
However, Holland is determined to make nature more inclusive. He has a growing presence on social media. His name is @fatblackandgettinit
“I get some negative comments like body shaming comments and some people don’t like my name and definitely the racists keep coming back to me,” Holland said. “But the overwhelming comments are super positive and uplifting.”
He’s out there to send the message that people of all races, sizes, and abilities can enjoy the great outdoors.
“Mother Nature has become my everything, my best friend, my hiking friend, my therapist,” Holland said. “She’s the cheapest therapist I know.”