The great outdoors should be accessible to everyone, but some minority groups feel unwelcome in those spaces because they don't see themselves reflected in the outdoor industry and media.
WeGotNext is working to change this by amplifying individual stories of adventure and activism from communities that have been underrepresented in outdoor, conservation and environmental spaces.
We sat down with Scott Briscoe, the founder of WeGotNext, to talk about the work they’re doing to help promote diversity in the outdoors through storytelling.
Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit more about WeGotNext?
WeGotNext scales stories from underrepresented communities in outdoor spaces. We do this through WeGotNext Ambassadors and their Ambassadorship, which runs in three-year terms. In the first year of the Ambassadorship, each ambassador will plan a project or expedition. In the second year, they will implement their projects. The final year will consist of the Ambassadors setting out on tour to share their stories with audiences that see themselves represented in the ambassadors and their stories. In addition, the third year will be overlapped with the first year of the upcoming cohort, implementing the “leadership sharing” into our programming.
What was the inspiration for the project and how did you get started?
I identify as a bi-racial, cis-male. My mother is Latina and my father, African American. Outside of family, most of my life has been immersed in white dominant culture. I rarely saw others who looked like me in the spaces I loved to be in, from professional, social, adventure, and recreation. As a result, regardless of the beautiful relationships built, I often felt like I didn't belong. This was and still is a familiar feeling shared amongst many underrepresented communities and individuals that participate outdoors today. I want to contribute to a culture where communities feel more connected to being outside, and a feeling of belonging elevates our experiences and love for the outdoors.
I worked with Patagonia for many years. While I was there, they failed to make any fierce commitments towards creating a more equitable culture in outdoor spaces. However, in my time there, I found community, a deep understanding of conservation/environmental work, and connectedness to being an "intersectional environmentalist" and activist. My work with Patagonia was highly influential in the founding of WeGotNext.
"An incredible thing about this cohort is the passion and joy found in being outdoors!"
Tell us about your ambassadors. How do they differ from each other and what common themes are present in their stories?
Oooof!!! Where to start!? An incredible thing about this cohort is the passion and joy found in being outdoors! Regardless of and in addition to their identities, being outside and participating in nature is something that each of them radically engages in. I say "radically" because the lack of representation, expenses, access/ability, traumatic experiences (current and intergenerational) are all some of the barriers that have to be overcome for them to be outside. For me, anyone met with resistance to delight in outdoor experiences is radical. On another note, they have all found their love for the outdoors in different ways. Whether as a form of mental health, inspiration found in Mexican ranchers or inspired through science . . . they each have been drawn to fall in love and protect outdoor spaces in different ways, AND there is a beautiful theme of community interwoven in each of their stories.
What outdoor experiences did you have that shaped your philosophy with the project?
As a member of Expedition Denali (the first African American team to climb Denali), I had the opportunity to be in an "extreme" outdoor environment with a team that looked like me, shared similar experiences outdoors as me and also, was different from me. We were in an outdoor space that white cis men had dominated, and we were changing the face of the outdoors. The climb was only a single part of our project. The following year (and ongoing), each team member had committed to presenting the expedition. From schools in Ferguson, MO, to The Obama Administration White House and environmental film festivals, the film An American Ascent showed a team of African Americans climbing America's tallest peak. It was the experience of being on that team and then presenting to predominantly Black audiences, audiences that had never seen themselves in places like Denali and creating for them an opportunity to "see themselves in a way that others may not, simply because they've never seen it before" - V.P. Kamala Harris. To this day, I hear stories about how that project inspired someone to find their local park, to take an outdoor wilderness course, or to step into conservation or environmental work. The impact that Expedition Denali had on me and continues to have on others helped to inspire the programming of WeGotNext.
How do these stories help create a more inclusive outdoor community?
While stories from underrepresented communities are only part of a much bigger picture in the work of inclusion and equity, they help offer a sense of community and belonging. They offer new narratives of what it means to be someone who loves the outdoors and it is these new stories that will create a culture outdoors that is inclusive. In turn, a more inclusive outdoor community will help to build broader coalitions to protect the spaces we all love.