African American Women Hit the Trails Focused on Health and Well-Being
By Annette Walker and Kim Griffin, Florida, U.S.A. Vibe Tribe Adventure Guide
Colorado ranks high nationally with people who love the outdoors. The state has 12 national parks, 41 state parks, 13 national forests and grasslands, and 58 “14ers”, peaks that rise more than 14,000 feet, of which Pikes Peak is the best known. Denver, situated 5,280 feet above sea level, is called the Mile High City and is well-served with parks.
Colorado attracts thousands for skiing and other winter sports.
Studies have found that African Americans make up no more than 6 percent of visitors to national parks, but African Americans, women in particular, have begun to embrace and create adventures with nature over the past few years in Colorado. They are regularly exploring the thousands of miles of Colorado’s hiking trails, as well as exploring the panorama of outdoor activities.
Jessica Newton is from a military family, has lived in various locations and attended Montessori schools. “Both the military and the schools I attended emphasized outdoor activities,” she said. “Usually I was in all-white situations.”
After her family returned to Denver, she began hiking, and found that she was the lone Black person on the trails.
In 2017, Newton founded Vibe Tribe Adventures (VTA), a global outdoor and adventure organization, to encourage more people of color to explore the great outdoors with the premise to provide a safe space for women to feel comfortable and inspired. “Our activities are based on conservation, environmental education, health, and wellness. By increasing awareness about the lack of inclusion surrounding leisure, recreation, and adventure, we help fill gaps in the outdoor community. Through providing inclusive, authentic imagery where people of color are featured, we implore the underrepresented to take notice and take action,” said Newton.
VTA has developed four cornerstone programs: Black Girls Hike, which encourages Black women to live healthy lifestyles and explore nature; Urban Trekker, a youth development program for children ages 11 to 18; Black 14er, an advanced survival program that helps train individuals who want to take their outdoor experiences to a professional level; and Adventure Guides, which provides leadership training.
Under Newton’s leadership, the organization achieved nonprofit, 501(c) 3 status in 2020, opening the door for additional opportunities to raise awareness and funds for the organization.
“In addition to the physical activities, we provide options for well-being by working with our healthy lifestyle partners to offer fitness coaching, nutrition counseling, and weekly, guided meditations. Through building a team of guides from different backgrounds and with different experience levels, we empower individuals to feel like they belong, even out in the vast wilderness. Although trying to go it alone is possible, it can also be difficult. This is where we promote safety and even a sense of sisterhood on many of our excursions,” she said.
In the midst of all the hard work, Newton said self-care is of primary importance. “It allows us to be our best selves in managing our obligations and challenges. There are many facets involved, including carving out the time, space, and energy to nourish one’s self to continue to thrive. Although versions of self-care vary from one person to the next, finding and even creating what works for each individual can be rewarding and enriching,” she said.
Through VTA’s community engagement, hiking, climbing, water sports, and other outdoor activities are becoming more mainstream among Black and ethnic communities. “However we are not finished yet,” Newton said. “The legacy of Vibe Tribe Adventures is to continuously be a resource for those seeking to partner with us around the globe. We want to reach as many people as we can to help show the possibilities.”
“Being in nature is part of who we are naturally. There is a sense of calm it instills, in addition to finding camaraderie with like-minded people who enjoy exploring, adventuring, or simply enjoying a quiet and reflective stroll. Despite what is going on in the world, it is important to be able to let things go for a time and find peace. As John Muir stated, ‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul,’” she concluded.
Editor’s note: Individuals and organizations can show their appreciation and support with donations and memberships, as well as participation in events, to keep programs operating. To learn more about Vibe Tribe Adventures and its work in communities throughout the U.S.A. and other countries, visit www.vibetribeadventures.org, Facebook @thevibetribeadventures, and Instagram @vibe.tribe.adventures.