Credit: (source: mightycause.com)

Amber Bolden |

“Often times when we talk about public monuments and public lands, Black people tend to be erased. [But] History has shown us that you can’t really tell the history of anything in America without remotely mentioning Black people because – we built this country.”

This was the reflection Rakayla Simpson, Leadership Development Coordinator BLU Educational Foundation offered in a discussion about the organization’s “Let’s Take It Outside” program. 

The BLU Educational Foundation has been a stalwart of educational advancement and civic engagement in San Bernardino for over 20 years and the program is expanding. As a part of BLU’s civic engagement initiative, this program prioritizes raising awareness and encouraging advocacy for the preservation and restoration of public lands.

A Spelman graduate, a proud native of San Bernardino and former BLU Educational Foundation student, Simpson credits BLU with guiding her academic career as well as advancing her professional focus areas.  “When I hear environmentalism and conservation – I don’t see Black people in those spaces,” Simpson shared. Those are the spaces that the “Let’s Take It Outside” initiative works to fill. 

Rakayla Simpson, at Anne Shirrell Park in San Bernardino, CA, is a Spelman graduate, a proud native of San Bernardino and former BLU Foundation member, Simpson credits BLU with guiding her academic career as well as advancing her professional focus areas. (Source: Rakayla Simpson)

History, health and education are the core components of the program, Simpson explained.  She emphasized the initiatives focus on physical activity and outdoor engagement. She also highlighted mental health benefits of access and engagement with open green space.

Research has shown strong connections between spending time in nature and positive health outcomes.  These benefits include reduced stress, sharper cognitive skills, better moods and more. A common theory regarding these positive outcomes is rooted in our shared connection to the outdoors.  The natural environment is an ancestral home for all humans and as such we have an innate drive to connect with nature. Our current built environments have been disconnected from this foundational relationship. 

Simpson highlighted the challenges that Black and Brown communities face in exploring public lands. “Being able to explore public monuments is a luxury.” She also highlighted the necessity in making sure that Black communities are not written out of history and engaging with these spaces is a critical step in assuring that the narrative is inclusive.  Developing solutions that are conscious of the issues facing the Black community such as limited open green spaces and less discretionary time are fundamental.

Despite these challenges, our communities are committed to gaining access to and affirming the right to be in public spaces, connecting with the environment and using these practices as tools to be more centered and more grounded in our daily lives.  

Today emerging movements to re-engage with nature and public spaces are continuing to gain momentum. A growing number of other Black-led outdoor initiatives such as GirlTrek, Outdoor Afro and more are mobilizing Black people to get outside, reclaim our narratives and receive the mental and physical benefits of being outdoors. These programs are necessary components to inclusive community building.  They are uniquely positioned to intersect with the basic health gaps facing our community and undeniable momentum forcing us to reclaim our narratives and build a better and more equitable future.

Join us virtually Monday, June 20 at 4 pm for our Juneteenth EventGetting Grounded: Supporting Community and Encouraging Mental Health through Environmental Connection panel discussion.  

Register here for our Juneteenth: Getting Grounded panel discussion.  

#BLUEdFoundation #OutdoorAfro #GirlTrek

Amber Bolden

Amber Bolden's background includes program development, partnership development, journalism and workforce development. In her previous role, she co-created the CA Fwd Young Leaders Advisory Council and led CA Fwd’s Voices of Shared Prosperity series where she highlighted the diverse narratives of individuals who influence policy across California. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Redlands and a member of the Sankofa Birthworkers Collective of the Inland Empire. Amber is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She is deeply committed to the advancement and implementation of culturally conscious community-based solutions to help amplify the voices of historically marginalized people at the decision-making table.