Rockford apparel company sponsors trip to increase diversity in camping

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Anyone who spends time under the sky will see trees dance in the wind, smell the pine in the air and feel the sun on their skin, but what they may not have come across are Black people who camp.

“We were able to introduce a lifestyle that most minorities, again, never see,” said camper Duane Lewis. “The experience is overwhelming, but it’s overwhelmingly beautiful.”

Lewis and the other campers of color would’ve, at one point, been considered an anomaly.

Now, they are part of a growing trend of minorities who lose themselves in nature, calling their voyage to national parks out west Wild Big Camp.

“We come from the inner city where the highest thing we see is a skyscraper. We go out west and the skyscrapers we see here have nothing on the mountains,” said Lewis.

The content Lewis and his fellow hikers captured on their journey ran deeper than the valleys they crossed. They shared the footage online to show their blackness also belongs.

“Being able to represent like that is huge. I just want everybody to see they can do it as well,” said camper Malik Wilcox.

The campers’ push to see more Black and brown people pitch tents in the wild is personal.

“When I would go camping with my family, it was just the white, you know, the Caucasian side of my family. We would go to campgrounds and you wouldn’t see anybody that looked like me out there,” said Wilcox.

The National Park Service’s most recent 10-year survey showed that more than 400 of America’s national parks remain overwhelmingly white. Just 23% of visitors to the parks were people of color — 77% were white.

Rockford-based outdoor apparel company, Merrell is trying to change the narrative.

“We are on a mission to make the outdoors more inclusive for everyone,” said Lauren King, senior marketing manager at Merrell.

Merrell leadership said they sponsored Big Camp because of its significance. They said they not only outfitted the hikers with their merchandise but also post pictures of them sporting the gear on Instagram as a way to promote equitable representation.

“That’s what we’re really trying to do is use our platform to inspire people to get out there, to viewing our content and walking into our stores and seeing people that look like them,” said King.

The campers aren’t just blazing a trail, they’re creating a path for other minorities to smell pines in the air, feel the sun on their skin and see themselves in the woods.

“I think the big thing is to spark the movement,” said Lewis. “We want to make camping look cool enough for you to go tell your friends to go camping, too.”

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