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Diversity and Representation Outdoors with the YMCA

Interview with Daniel Eugene Naturalist at Point Bonita YMCA 


What are some reasons you believe diversity outdoors and diverse representation amongst staff is important for outdoor programs?

This is very important because people are different. People act, think, and react differently. Having diverse staff, management etc opens the door for people of diverse backgrounds to feel comfortable to even apply for jobs in general. If a new hire understands that the organization is adamant about having diverse staff and management, it provides a little ease as well as hope that you're applying to a job that gives every person an equal opportunity.

As far as programming goes, if I’m a child from a school, coming from a rough neighborhood and I jump off the bus for a week at summer camp in an unknown space, I might be very intimidated that none of the adults look or dress like me. On the other hand, I might be excited to connect because there are adults that look and dress like me.


What are important qualities that you think children gain from outdoor education?

Most importantly, children gain the knowledge of knowing there is something “different out there”. Whether they enjoy it or not, they now understand “hey, there’s something else out there in the world other than my school and neighborhood.” I also think children gain peace of mind from the numerous amounts of activities done in nature. Whether it be a night hike, a solo walk on a trail, or a random animal appearance that creates a peaceful connection. I think they gain strength physically from hiking, also mentally from looking at a hillside thinking “were going to hike up that?” But once they reach the top of the summit and look around they say “that was tough, but I was able to do it.”

What is your favorite sensory activity to do with children?

One of my favorite sensory activities is called “Meet a Tree”. It involves having a partner and a blindfold. Each group chooses a starting point. The partner will blindfold the other, safely guild them from the starting point to a tree/destination. While blindfolded, the participant will use their sense of direction, touch, hearing, and smell. While at the destination, the participant takes in all possible hints of where the destination is located. The partner then safely guides the participant back to the starting point, takes the blindfold off of them, and asks if they're able to retrace their steps to the destination.

How do you make children who aren’t familiar with nature more comfortable?

I usually start off asking if anyone has been in the area before and what things are they excited to see while outdoors. I also teach them how dangerous it can be in the outdoors because it gives them a gauge on how they can keep themselves and each other safe while being outside. I will do a very mellow hike to start off with to see how their behavior is; how fast they can move, how mentally prepared they are to be in an unfamiliar environment. I also will share a nature story of my own, usually something that involves an animal I have seen up close.

What are your dreams of having more diverse representation outdoors?

One of my dreams is that I stop getting the “look of surprise” when the majority sees someone like me hiking alone on a trail. The reality is not everyone gives the look of surprise. Some folks are very nice, some will even start conversation, but most of the time it's this look of shock. When having that expectation, I sometimes dread seeing other people coming towards me on trail like “is this going to be an awkward passing or is it going to be chill?” One of my dreams is that the entire stigma of “who” you see on trails is shifted completely and true diversity in nature is normalized.

How do you think the YMCA of San Francisco can reach those dreams of representation outdoors?

This can be achieved to a degree, by meeting with educators of color who are already doing the work, picking their brains and implementing ideas of diversifying the outdoors. Educators are already in the field daily. Sometimes we see how kids are treated by people who don’t look like them, we hear the comments people make such as “are you going to go hiking in those clothes, shoes, etc”. If change is really to occur we need to listen to those from the communities doing the work day-in and day-out, so you can gain real insight on what it feels like for them to be outdoors.