Author: Karl Galloway
Diquan Edmonds is an outdoor professional, who currently works as the Education and Outreach Manager for the Triangle Land Conservancy. He’s from south Jersey (and still misses the pizza), but after nearly a decade in the Triangle, North Carolina is home. A career outside probably seemed like a foregone conclusion to his friends and family. As a child Diquan was always exploring the outdoors, catching frogs and getting lost, earning him the summer camp nickname “nature boy.” He loved Discovery Channel and Animal Planet and idolized Steve Irwin. However, it took him until his junior year in a Sports Management program at NC State to recognize that he could make a career in the outdoors; he ultimately embraced his innate love for nature and decided to pursue a graduate degree in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, also at NC State. There, his research focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors.
The outdoors can seem like a white space, from what we might glean from outdoor magazines, popular cinema, and most tourism literature. And it’s true that many outdoor spaces are made exclusive by the lingo, gear requirements, and time; but choosing which stories to tell is also a big part of the equation. Diquan built on this, relating how some of the first park rangers were Black, Buffalo Soldiers in Yosemite doing the work of conservation, and reflecting on indigenous people as the original stewards of this land. In fact, just a minor shift away from the white lens reveals different narratives of conservation altogether.
In terms of the Black American experience and its relationship to the outdoors, slavery has to enter the conversation. Diquan spoke about the outdoors as a place of horror for enslaved Africans, the site of forced labor, torture, and in continuation, terrorism under Jim Crow laws. However, he reminded me, that these same spaces also offered sanctuary, and escape. The underground railroad and the work of people like Harriet Tubman all took place largely outside, often using natural markers for guidance. As Diquan said, even the “simple solitude that the outside might have provided an enslaved person during a rest from forced labor is powerful, and bears recognition.” Diquan summarized: “ it seems that it’s ingrained in us that these people aren’t connected to the outdoors when it’s really the opposite.” A historic connection to the land is part of everyday work at TLC. Of the conservancy’s 8 preserves, 2 were once plantation land. Diquan pondered this, saying that it “is a unique experience to be able to connect to such well-documented history and just picturing how the land has changed and things that might have been happening 200 years ago.”
Diquan’s research has been largely qualitative, which means his data comes from conversations and interviews, rather than pure statistics. It’s a sensitive approach, more laborious and time-consuming than the alternative, but it allows the researcher to explore thoughts and feelings in a way that’s necessary for such a multi-faceted topic. Beyond the historical and social context related to the outside, it is also really important, according to Diquan, that we all reconsider what outdoor recreation means. It’s not all backcountry slogging, navigating rushing rivers, or the hardcore activities that might immediately come to mind; participants in his research named cookouts and picnics as outdoor activities as well. If he were to continue this research (with unlimited resources) he would expand it to include community-resource mapping, drilling down what agencies offer, and then comparing usage of those resources to the lived experience of communities of color. This case study approach could help streamline resources, and maybe investigate how dominant narratives are played out in under-served communities.
Building a more inclusive society is better for all of us, and moral and social imperatives quickly blend with economics.
Diquan said, “the demographics of our country are changing, and if things don’t change, we might be heading to a spot where if these community resources don’t have the infrastructure or are not communicating effectively with community members, than we run the risk of declining support for outdoor spaces. The support is there, but we need to provide knowledge and support to community members on how to use those spaces.” He makes it clear that a one-size-fits-all solution will not resolve these issues. “For example, the Black community in Durham does look different than the Black community in Raleigh. I think the approach could be similar but a blanket solution isn’t the right way to go.”
Diquan has found a lot of joy in his career. He loves hiking, camping, and hammocking, and gets a lot of peace from being outside. “Oftentimes if I go on a hike to clear my mind, I’ll come home with all the answers.” Regarding his job, he loves “stoking a connection to nature with people.” It’s gratifying to him to see new faces at Triangle Land Conservancy events, and to watch people become involved and passionate about conservation. Some of his favorite haunts are the Eno River and Horton Grove Nature Preserve, which is neighbors with Historic Stagville. This weekend, take some time to explore these preserves and enjoy some outdoor activities, which could be as simple as sitting under a tree and having lunch.