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Black Outside: Transformative Outdoor Leadership Program Connects Youth to Nature

2024 Catalyst Fund Awardee
Alex Bailey
Catalyst Fund
United States

Black youth are consistently underrepresented in media for outdoor programs, have few Black role models to teach them the joys of camping, rock climbing, fishing, etc, and are regularly confronted by past and present realities of exclusion in public spaces like state parks. Although healing for many, America’s outdoor space can represent trauma and inequity for Black communities and other marginalized groups. To “recolor” the outdoors, society must acknowledge and integrate the Black experience. Forming a relationship with the outdoors and learning leadership skills alongside your peers is an American rite of passage, and one that more Black youth should have access to. Connection to nature can be awe-inspiring and full of possibility, and that’s why Black Outside was founded by former Teach for America educator Alex Bailey.

Through radical imagination, honoring the land and people before us, and a belief in the power and wisdom of youth, we are helping to cultivate a more diverse outdoors and a deeper connection to the earth.

Alex Bailey, Founder, Black Outside

Black Outside centers cultural identity at the forefront of outdoor recreation and education in Texas. Black Outside creates leadership positions for youth in outdoor spaces and engages them through camps, excursions, and fellowships that focus on healing, mind-body connections, leadership development, community building, and reconnection to the land.

The organization was founded in 2019 and has since served over 500 youth. It is one of only two Black-founded outdoor education organizations in the state, and the only one focusing on Black youth.

The program’s impact is reflected in their 90% retention rate. They have also resurrected Camp Founder Girls, America’s first summer overnight camp for Black girls, with 160 participants and 60 staff registered in 2023, and a strong counselor-in-training program. Collectively, participants have spent 16,000 hours outdoors. These programs play an integral role in helping Black youth see themselves in outdoor spaces. Notably, 85% of participants claimed an increased sense of belonging to the outdoors following program completion.

youth served since 2019
collective hours spent outdoors in 2022-2023
of participants felt an increased sense of belonging

Alex Bailey’s goal is to “recolor” the outdoors. He does this through the creation of environments in which Black youth intentionally experience their powerful histories and exercise their imaginations.

They stargaze, go fishing, and hike with a deep appreciation for their ancestors and cultures. These experiences reconnect youth to themselves and often initiates new curiosities about their identities and experiences. This introspection is supported by Black Outside’s programs, which seek to guide youth in envisioning a new life for themselves given all of their formative experiences. The Charles Roundtree Bloom Project is particularly powerful, guiding youth impacted by incarceration to envision new possibilities through self-exploration, self-discovery, self-expression, and healing in the outdoors. Brothers with the Land and Camp Founder Girls position these same youth as outdoor leaders and develop their leadership capacities through community building. Black Outside is facilitating a resurgence of Black leadership outdoors, resulting in a natural environment that supports belonging, rather than otherness.

When I'm out there, I see how the outdoors can really transform a young person's life. The outdoors is a place of challenge and shows you how resilient you are.

Alex Bailey, Founder, Black Outside

Alex-Bailey-Headshot_SQUARE-1.jpg#asset:3638Alex Bailey is the Executive Director and Founder of Black Outside. His belief in the transformative power of the outdoors motivated his career path when experiences as a Teach for America educator and instructional coach exposed him to gaps in outdoor programming for youth of color. Alex has since dedicated his work to addressing these gaps and has overseen outdoor programming that increases female outdoor participation, creates spaces for communal healing for youth impacted by incarceration, and connects youth to nature by helping them envision new possibilities for themselves in an effort to reimagine outdoor spaces.

Alex Bailey and Black Outside participants

Black Outside campers

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