In honor of Black History Month, we’re spotlighting Black trailblazers; the adventurers, activists, and environmentalists who have been busy charting their own paths into nature, leading the charge to make nature and rest more inclusive and accessible. Today we’re featuring Teresa Baker, the founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge and organizer of events like The Women’s Outdoor Summit and The African American National Park Event.
Nature has always been my respite, my escape, my cathedral, my weekly dose of what really matters. We get so caught up in the day to day responsibilities, that we begin to think that’s all there is to life, hustling. I decided years ago that I needed to escape that way of thinking. Getting outdoors reminds me of just how little control I really have. Nature doesn’t bend to my needs, she doesn’t care about my titles or status in life, nature exists on her own terms with her own way of being. That is what brings me so much joy, I can simply be myself, no pretentiousness needed. I can walk and think for hours with no outside influence. That’s the awww, of nature.
My respite really is getting out into nature. No expectation of me there. Sauntering about with nothing to consider other than which trail to take, that’s how I mentally escape all the expectations that are thrown my way. Nature is truly the great escape.
(Yosemite and the Big Sur area will always be my first loves of the outdoors. There is so much history wrapped up in Yosemite, I can’t help but feel at peace when I’m there. When I learned the first rangers to patrol the park were Buffalo Soldiers, I immediately thought this is where I belong. I knew I needed to learn about their legacy and share with others the importance of making these outdoor spaces more welcoming to underserved communities. I think the outdoor industry has a huge responsibility in how they share stories of the outdoors, that’s how you make these spaces feel inviting, that’s how you engage. By including people of color in the outdoor narrative, you begin to speak of the whole picture, not just the picture that is all too often on display as the norm. Including people of color in your marketing campaigns – huge. Including people of color on your social media feeds – huge. Making sure people of color are in decision making roles with your company – huge. Having people of color on your boards – huge. Outdoor companies/retailers must prioritize diversity and inclusion. It’s vital.
We are constantly hearing how our environment is under attack, and it is, yet people of color, especially Native American communities across the country, are seldom invited to conversations around how we protect these spaces. We must remember they are the very first stewards of the land, it is embedded in their culture to protect the land, yet they aren’t on conservation boards, they aren’t consulting with outdoor agencies, this must change if we are to preserve recreational use of these outdoor spaces for future generations.
My career has been in real estate for the past 15 years, my passion has been working on projects that bring people together in the outdoors. My career has never brought me satisfaction like my passion does. Working alongside people who share in my passion, that is why I get up everyday. Knowing that the work of change depends on us pushing forward no matter the hurdles.My favorite project hands down has been renaming part of highway 41 into Yosemite National Park, Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Highway. I worked on this project with Robert Hanna and his passion helped bring an idea into being. ( 2018).
We Got US campouts I organize with Jose Gonzalez , where we bring together communities of color from across California for weekend campouts throughout the year. Super fun and welcoming to communities who often feel they are the “only one” in campgrounds when they go it alone. It’s amazing how many people show up for these campouts and how at ease everyone feels when we’re together. This is how we cultivate a feeling of responsibility to the land along with a sense of belonging.
In 2018 I created the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge. The pledge is in place to help outdoor brands, retailers and nonprofits, weave their way through the work of diversity and inclusion. To date there are 176 companies who have signed on. This commitment is not just in signing, but in doing. I’m happy to see the work happening across the outdoor industry, but especially with the companies who have made a public commitment to the work.
(4) I’m inspired by those who came before me, my ancestors who laid a path for me to follow. If not for their sacrifices, doors that are open to me today, may have never been. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, their life journeys are what inspire me to achieve beyond their wildest dreams. Whenever I feel I’m too tired to keep going, I think of who they were and it reminds me of why I am. And I keep pushing.
Common day warriors like Dr. Carolyn Finney and Audrey Peterman, they are my shoulders to lean on. Always answering my calls, giving advice and leading the way. They inspire me and remind me, the journey is long and must be hard-fought. They are why I feel I do not do this work alone. Their voices and actions inspire so many, I’m lucky to call them comrades.
Jose Gonzalez, Scott Briscoe, Robert Hanna, John Griffith, all friends I look to and laugh with when the road gets rough, and it gets rough often. Having friends who I can joke and laugh with about the work, helps a great deal when all I really want to do is scream.
This is what I offer to anyone who is going about the work of change. Know your purpose in life. Too many people are simply wandering through life without knowing who or why they are. That’s important. Try different things until one of those “things” sticks. Do not let others define your work for you, don’t follow the crowds. Your purpose may be ugly and the course may not be well defined, keep working, the path will pretty itself up. Stay focused on the work, not the accolades, not the applause, that will fade and what’s left is you and your journey. Rising to praise is not stability, praise will pass. Know your journey and stay the course. Do not accept NO as the final answer until you’ve fought like hell to move past it. Do not let titles or positions faze you. Chase progress, not titles.
I learned a long time ago that not everyone will like me and I’m okay with that. Respecting others doesn’t mean they will respect you. It’s okay to be different, it’s okay that others do not understand you.
As I journey in this life, the best times I have are when I’m alone. I can think better, act better, be better. In this society we feel like we must attach ourselves to others in order to be complete, that hasn’t been the case for me. And I’m thankful for that. Whichever path in life you take, take it with confidence. And if you decide that’s not the right path, it’s okay to change course and try another, but eventually, something must stick. I wish I’d learned this in my younger days.
Feeling inspired to reconnect with nature? Book your Getaway today.