Posted on December 16, 2020

Brighter Horizons for Men of Color Meeting Outdoors

Bob Timmons, Star Tribune, December 9, 2020

Whether a late-fall snow blows sideways or Lake Superior gales race up the shore, come Sunday mornings, one group of guys here is determined to get outdoors.

Tight-knit, they are men of color from the area who’ve met weekly for about three years. Nature wasn’t part of the equation at first. Instead they’d find a conference room or maybe the lobby of someone’s condo. The meetup has been a sounding board, a time to share creative or family pursuits. But time, too, to vent their outrage and their concerns about social injustices at home or anywhere.

In the past 1½ years, the group has evolved. The setting is outdoors and, members say, they’re reaping the benefits. Their experience has been a healthy boost for mind and body. A major share of the credit goes to one of the members, Dudley Edmondson, who has pushed the group to get into the wild more often.

Edmondson wants that for more Black and brown people, to see them comfortable in places that are predominantly white. Nature is his source of well-being and he believes it can be for others, too. As a Black person and a nature photographer and filmmaker, Edmondson said the fellowship matters on many levels.

“I am an advocate for nature,” he said. “I am an advocate for cultural and ethnic diversity in the out of doors. That for me is the best combination of everything.”


In 1989, Edmondson moved to Duluth, drawn to Minnesota’s natural beauty and the opportunity to document it through a lens. He began working on pocket field guides with Minnesota photographer and author Stan Tekiela. Their work took them to public lands across the United States.

Edmondson was wowed by the landscape in national parks in the West, but also by what they were missing.

“That got me to thinking, how did we get here?” he said. “How did we get to this point where our public lands and our green spaces were just devoid of people of color, and why is that?”

Inspired, Edmondson began to document the lives of people of color who were out there. What was the genesis? Why did they love it as much as he had from a young age? Was it family tradition, like the hunting and fishing legacies that thrive in Minnesota? His book in 2006, “The Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places,” found some answers.


Edmondson also learned what has kept many on the outdoors sidelines: a fear for their safety. The origins of those alarms are culturally complex, he believes, and understandable in the context of systemic racism. He explores the topic in presentations he gives around the U.S. about race and public land.


Some of these fears might be unwarranted, Edmondson acknowledges. Still, there are “less threatening” barriers that are commonplace, he said, giving an example of a person of color who visits a busy national park packed with white people, camping, hiking and watching wildlife.

“That’s 500 chances that something is going to ruin your day, and that level of stress is just too high for most people,” he said. “I’ve been going outside for four decades or more, and I still have that kind of anxiety when I go to places that are chock-full of white people.

“You just never know where it’s going to come from. It’s unsettling, and it’s stressful. It makes you on guard that whole time you are in that space. You may get out of there, and no one stares at you or asks you a stupid question, or calls the police because they think you are breaking into a vehicle that happens to be your own. The possibilities are unlimited.”

National Park visits topped 327 million in 2019. Data collected by National Park Service site surveys a year earlier showed about 5% of visitors are Asian, less than 5% are Latino, and less than 2% are African American. In Minnesota, upward of 10 million people visit state parks and recreation areas each year. A survey by parks managers last done in 2017 found visits by people who identified as races or ethnicities other than white rose from 3.1% in 2012 to 5.1%. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s population of people of color increased by 20% from 2010 to 2016, according to Census Bureau data.


Daniel Oyinloye is a musician and filmmaker in Duluth, who with Edmondson and a few others helped the Sunday gatherings take root.  {snip}


The nation’s record of segregation was about confining Black people to space. All these years later, in northern Minnesota, the Sunday group is a counter to that destructive legacy of segregation, and of confining people of color to certain spaces and dictating where they could and couldn’t eat, drink, travel and congregate.

“Space is very conscious for us,” Oyinloye said. “Oftentimes you are thinking, ‘This is not a space for me.’ Not that it isn’t, but because of the culture of the space, you don’t feel like you fit in. … We have to put ourselves in spaces that we can own.”