Four years ago, Teresa Baker, tired of seeing so few people of color while she visited Yosemite National Park, decided to launch the African American National Parks Event. She created a Facebook page, sent out some emails encouraging people to visit their local national parks on the first weekend in June, and, just like that, a tradition was born.
Baker headed to the Presidio in San Francisco to honor the Buffalo Soldiers—the African-American army troops who served in California parks as some of the country’s first national park rangers—that weekend in 2013. She received some 250 emails, photos, and Facebook posts from people around the country sending selfies from their parks. “It is amazing how people respond to having a complete stranger send them an invitation to get out in their parks,” says Baker, an outdoor activist and organizer living in the Bay Area.
She started AANPE not only to support the parks, but to demonstrate the willingness of communities of color to “support campaigns that purposely reach out to engage and welcome us in outdoor spaces,” reads the African American Nature & Parks Experience Facebook page, where the event details are promoted. It goes on to say, “The conservation movement in this country is hurting for additional audiences as we fight the challenges ahead.”
The response to AANPE has only grown. Last year 2,000 people, and groups, shared photos and messages from national parks through social media using the hashtag #AANPE. Baker is pleased with the response, but she’s quietly hoping that this year she can spend the AANPE day alone.
“I love being around people, but my takeaway from being in nature is the serenity of it all.”