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Diversity & Belonging in Nature

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Who Can and Should Have Access to the Outdoors?

Laura Marti – July 28, 2021

This summer, through social media, Brownicity has been highlighting creative and innovative people who are changing the faces we see outdoors, where for a long time Black and Brown people have been underrepresented. To lay a foundation for understanding why they are underrepresented outdoors, Carolyn Finney stands out as a powerful voice. 

We’ve pulled together a few resources and highlighted a few things about her story that give you a chance to learn from her as she helps us to understand how nature and the environment in America became racialized.

Carolyn Finney pursued an acting career for 11 years and, toward the end of that time, she started backpacking around the world. Five years of traveling throughout Asia, East Africa, and living in a small village in Nepal changed the course of her life. Motivated by these experiences, she returned to school after a 15 year absence to complete a BA and MA in international development and a PhD in geography at Clark University. Along with public speaking, writing, media engagements, consulting, and teaching, she served for eight years on the US National Parks Advisory Board.

“Everything is geographical,” she says. “People’s relationship with place, people’s relationship to the environment, people’s relationships to one another. And that’s how I came to focus more on the environment itself. I was looking at issues like the power of privilege, difference, and identity, and how those factors interact with the landscape. You must consider the environment. That’s where it all comes together.”

While a teacher, geographer, and “accidental environmentalist,” Dr. Carolyn Finney considers herself a storyteller above all else, as she discussed with Central Park Conservancy. Her acclaimed book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors examines the stories that so often go unheard when it comes to America’s legacy of racial violence and its effect on experiencing nature. That sense of belonging is a theme in her research, whether it was exclusion from the creation of park spaces, violence experienced in these natural areas, or laws and policies that barred African-Americans’ entry into them.

“We know that there are Black and Brown people finding joy in the outdoors…but we’ve been living in this world that prioritizes white subjectivity. We each have a story about who we are. It’s about how we hold the complexity of who we are as individuals, as a country. It makes space for nuance and for joy,”Dr. Finney says.

There’s so much more to learn from Dr. Finney, so we hope you’ll join us in taking time to explore her work!

READ more of her interview: 5 Questions with Dr. Carolyn Finney on the Great Outdoors, Racism, and Finding Joy Through Storytelling

LISTEN to her TEDx Talk “Whose Story Counts” where she shares several moving stories of people she talked with all over the country, as well as a childhood experience that left her feeling like she didn’t belong in the countryside setting where her parents worked their entire lives.

CHECK out her book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

VISIT her website, carolynfinney.com/

Be sure to check out facebook, instagram, and twitter where we’re highlighting creative and innovative people who are changing the faces we see outdoors.


Laura Martí is Content Creator and Resource Curator for Brownicity. Trained as a microbiologist and currently a wife and mother of four, she has been on an antiracism journey since the death of Trayvon Martin. She shares from her own learning with the goal of educating others and lifting up the dignity of every person.