Neighborhood group goals to deliver Black Michiganders collectively by outside recreation

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Ian Solomon, 24, has been an avid outdoor sports enthusiast for the past six years, but being black, he’s never really seen anyone outside who resembled him.

This lack of representation eventually became the inspiration for Amplify Outside, a group Solomon founded with the goal of “liberating the community through outdoor recreation.”

“I just developed this relationship with nature,” he said. “And I’m just someone who likes to share things with people.”

Ron Olson, director of parks and recreation at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said location is a key factor in the diversity represented in the state parks — the department doesn’t track how often certain population groups take advantage of the state’s outdoor recreation , but he did see that it varies from place to place.

“There’s a lot more engagement that we want to try and make things as relevant as possible,” Olson said. “The system welcomes everyone.”

Detroit native Solomon first fell in love with the outdoors after his family moved from the city to West Bloomfield during his senior year of high school.

“All of a sudden I’m surrounded by trees, lakes and things like that that I never really thought of or knew were there before,” Solomon said.

Solomon said that he thinks a major barrier to why black people don’t typically explore the great outdoors is that some believe outdoor recreation is strictly for white people. something he said is not true.

“They’re just the people who have direct access to it,” Solomon said.

Solomon’s new adventure with Amplify Outside began on Twitter when he saw people take notice after he started sharing his experiences camping, hiking and exploring trails in Michigan.

“I was really surprised at how many people reached out to me and responded,” Solomon said. “I didn’t expect people to care so much.”

The unexpected but welcome responses led him to create an Amplify Outside TikTok account, where he breaks down the how, where, what, and cost of the outdoor excursions he’s taken to various locations across the state takes to.

“It seems like that’s the cornerstone of gatherings — that people would feel more comfortable seeing more people like that out here,” Solomon said.

The attention reinforced Solomon’s belief that there are legitimate barriers preventing black residents from taking trips to Michigan’s outdoor recreation sites.

Due to data needs, Solomon shared a Google poll with Amplify Outside’s social media accounts, asking Black Michiganders to rate their outdoor experiences.

The poll generated over 200 responses, and Solomon said the results showed that access, representation, and economic barriers are some of the biggest disincentives keeping more black people from exploring the great outdoors.

64% of respondents also indicated that racism plays a role in their willingness to explore Michigan’s wilderness.

“It’s important to have more people out there and to show and represent that we’re out there — and you can meet another black person on a trail — is important,” Solomon said.

Solomon hopes to use these survey responses as support to expand the group in the future and to guide the group as it continues to grow.

“Data is power when it comes to organizing communities,” Solomon said. “It just goes to show how excited people are to get outside and how badly we need to break down those barriers.”

Olson said that to help communities of color explore Michigan’s outdoor recreational spaces, one of the DNR’s goals is to provide a variety of offerings that help people find what makes them fun.

“One of the ideas is to work toward what we could be doing and then take action to make what we’re doing as relevant as possible to different populations,” Olson said. “It’s something we want to keep working on. And the other thing is trying to further diversify our staffing so that when people come into the park there are people who look like them.”

This summer, Solomon plans to work on building a team around organizing and fundraising for his efforts. He also wants to organize group trips to various locations around the country. First up in May is an outdoor “sound bath” public event to be held on Detroit’s Belle Isle.

“Michigan is an extremely black state overall, there are so many black communities,” Solomon said. “We see this as an opportunity not only to get people outside, but to connect the black communities in Michigan.”

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