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Going to the Mountaintop

Everyone should be able to safely enjoy the outdoors – but that will only happen when we listen to the voices of those who have felt unsafe, unseen or unrepresented. In recognition of Black History Month, L.L.Bean Partner and travel blogger Joshua Walker wrote this essay sharing how the month’s meaning has changed for him over the years, and honoring the work of the civil rights warriors who devoted their lives to social justice and equality – indoors and out.

Back in the day, we didn’t have the luxury of being outdoor activists. My ancestors were busy trying to stay alive while merely existing with the most basic freedoms we are all finally awarded. Black History Month hits different the older I get. It hits harder. It hits deeper. When you are forced to reckon with just the thought of what people had to endure, the phrase “because of them, we can,” takes a different meaning for me.

In the true spirit of American History, Black history has been largely fabricated or erased all together. After all, “Black History” – according to our country historians – can be condensed to the shortest month of the year. That was intentional and must never be forgotten. When I say “it hits deeper,” I feel I have to do my part in order to preserve the legacy of Black excellence displayed for the sake of honoring their memory, but also showing those who don’t know just how empty our country would be without the Black contribution. As a travel blogger whose mission is to encourage BIPOC to take up space in travel and outdoors, sometimes I feel like my mission is fraught.

Historically and currently, BIPOC involvement in outdoor activities is a privilege that not everyone gets a chance to experience. As I stated at the start of this article, Black people have not always had the luxury of wanting to see more Black people out on the trails. We have, throughout history and today, been fighting to stay alive. After being brought on slave ships and forced into slavery, the woods became a place my ancestors tried so hard to reach, even though near certain death was just beyond the brush – causing the trees to simultaneously to not only represent hope, but fear as well.

Fast forward a few hundred years and not much has changed. Lynchings were widespread occurrences that often happened in the woods, under the dark cover of night, up until the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. No, we didn’t care that we couldn’t go camping. We just wanted to survive. Because of that, we are still playing catch-up to experiencing all that has always been just outside of our grasp.

I often read a lot of Black literature and speeches around Black History Month, to continue to learn and share my readings with others. As I reflected on Martin Luther King’s speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” I listened with more refined ears, more activated ears.

“And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.”

Before anyone misunderstands his words, clearly Dr. King was not talking about hiking in this speech – but nature is present in everything. When I look out over the valley at the summit of any mountain, I see unlimited possibilities. I feel mighty and accomplished. To me, that feels like freedom. A freedom that my ancestors never got to experience. A freedom that I only have because of them and because of them, I will. This Black History Month I am reflecting on those civil rights warriors that chose to devote their life to social justice and equality. I am inspired, I am empowered, and I know that I am on the right path.

Happy Black History Month!

Joshua Walkeris the travel blogger behind the website “Josh, You Trippin” and podcast “Josh You Trippin: A Black Guy’s Travel Podcast.” Through his writing and speaking, Josh gives an authentic and transparent look into his experiences while traveling. Learn more at joshyoutrippin.com, subscribe to the “Josh You Trippin” podcast, or follow Josh on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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