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No Barriers Podcast Episode 111: A KWEEN of Social Justice – Parker McMullen Bushman



Erik is joined by guest co-host, Jill Royster, to speak with local Coloradan, social justice activist, business owner, and educator, Parker McMullen Bushman. Parker is a true No Barriers Pioneer in her efforts to dismantle social barriers and bring about equity and inclusion in conservation and outdoor recreation.

Parker (she/her) aka KWEEN WERK is an outspoken social media diva who focuses on environmental justice and social justice matters. Parker tackles these complex, interconnected issues by addressing them through head-on activism and education. She is the founder of a DEI Consulting Firm called Ecoinclusive, the creator of KWEEN WERK, and the co-founder of Inclusive Journeys.

As a leader at the intersection of culture and justice, Parker believes in using social media as a tool for social change. As a woman, as a Black person, as a curvy hiker, as a mother, as a Black business owner, she stands at the intersection of multiple identities. Her work shines a light on racism, ageism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism; and aims to also give people tools for change.

KWEEN Werk is dedicated to disrupting the narrative that only white able-bodied people care about the environment and participate in outdoor recreation activities. KWEEN stands for Keep Widening Environmental Engagement Narratives.

Special thanks to the Winnebago Industries Foundation for their support of this podcast and their advocacy for accessibility in outdoor spaces.

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Episode Transcript

Today's episode is brought to you by the Winnebago Industries Foundation and is part of a series highlighting pioneers in outdoor and adventure accessibility.

Parker: It seemed like these problems were way too big for us to ever solve. But I had to come to the realization that I may not see it change in my lifetime. And so if that's the case, then it's my job to just do the best that I can while I have this time, because I'm just one leg of this multi-person relay race. And if I can run my leg as fast as I can, as hard as I can, maybe we will get there a little bit faster.

Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the grand canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a No Barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Jill: Parker McMullen Bushman is an outspoken social media diva that focuses on environmental justice and social justice issues. Parker has a particular passion for equity and inclusion in conservation and outdoor recreation. Her activism developed from her personal experiences facing the unequal representation of people of color and environmental organizations. As a woman, as a Black person, as a curvy hiker, as a mother, as a Black business owner, she stands at the intersection of multiple identities. For education efforts her initiatives shine a light on racism, age-ism, sexism, heterosexism and ableism, but also gives people tools for change. Keep listening to hear Parker talk about KWEEN Werk and her new exciting project, Inclusive Journeys, and how to get involved.

Erik: Welcome everyone to the No Barriers podcast. I have my new cohost

Jill : on, Hey Jill.

Jill: Hi, Erik.

Erik: And Parker, we're so excited to have you on the podcast. This is really exciting. You're a local Denver, I too. So I'm from Golden so we're next door neighbors. Yeah. And it's exciting to have you on. And so I'm going to start out with a blind question. So I can't see you, but I have heard through the grapevine that you wear really beautiful clothing. Colorful clothing and a really cool head wrap that's really beautiful. So fill in the picture for us blind folks, which is probably 0.001% of our community by the way.

Parker: Happily. So I am a Black woman, I am a woman of size, I've got some curves on me. I like to wear big colorful glasses and I've got lots of different variations of glasses. I wear colorful head wraps that serve a dual purpose of kind of showing a little bit of my personality, but also protecting my natural hairstyle, which is dreadlocks or locks. I wear earrings and lipstick and-

Erik: Yeah, bright lipstick too.

Parker: Yeah, bright lipstick. And I'm in outdoor spaces as all of those things, which is sometimes an interesting juxtaposition.

Jill: Parker, I have to say one of my favorite... I checked out of course all of your Instagram stories. And I am now officially following, but your red lip on the red rocks may be last out loud... Right? Red lips on the red rocks.

Parker: Yes. Well, sometimes you've got to match nature's energy, right? You go out there and nature is this big, beautiful thing. And I like matching nature's energy when I get out on the trail.

Erik: Yeah. And you're a KA KWEEN Werk, I love that. So I just being blind thought it was Q-U-E-E-N. And then I looked and I went, oh, it's an acronym. Hold on, I'm going to remember it. Keep Widening Environmental Engagement Narratives, right?

Parker: Yeah.

Erik: So that's a really cool acronym. And you're a real pioneer in social justice and environmental justice. So my first question is where do those overlap? Or if they do overlap, where do they intersect? Because it seems like social justice and environmental justice would have a bunch of overlap. And that's why you mention both of them in one sentence.

Parker: Yeah, and it's interesting. So my background, I am a natural resources professional. I've had a 24 year career in environmental education, outdoor recreation fields. And I've had the opportunity to work all over the United States. The basic tenet of environmental justice is that no one should have to bear an uneven brunt of negative environmental impacts. That shouldn't go to one group or another. But there's been a lot of research that has shown that people who are most highly impacted by pollutants and bad environmental things that are happening are often communities of color. And that's where the Environmental Justice Movement came from. So it's kind of its own all spurt of environmentalism as a whole. When we talk about having people make changes in their daily lives that are better fit or helpful for the environment, that's kind of a top level desire, like saving the planet, leaving the planet better for generations that come after us.

Parker: If we look at a set up like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is a triangle set up that says at the top is self-actualization, that's wanting to leave the world better for generations after. And there's all of these things that come before it at the very bottom is physiological needs, air, water, survival needs. Then you have your safety needs. Then you have your emotional wellbeing needs. Then you have your esteem needs. And only at the very top is that saving the planet. If we put that on top of social justice issues, right? People are never going to have the bandwidth, the ability to think about how do we save the planet if they are starving? If they are-

Erik: Yeah. You're in like, "How do I save myself?" It's hard to think about the planet. Exactly. It's almost like social justice might blind you to this bigger idea, the self actualization.

Parker: Yeah. You can't get there, right? We've had people holding up signs and protests this past year that say, "I can't breathe," right? And which is that play off of what folks have said when they've died in these situations. But it also, to me has a double meaning because one being able to breathe is like the sheaf survival thing. And if you're saying you can't breathe, they're saying that you don't have what you need, essential to your life to survive, right? I can't breathe. And doubly tied in with environmental justice and social justice is we said environmental justice was those unequal impacts. When we look at pollution that's being caused and that it happens a lot in Black and Brown communities, we also see that Black and Brown communities end up with negative health impacts like asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, right?

Parker: And so if Black and Brown communities are at a higher instance for getting those diseases, right? That is a direct link to me, the fact that Erik Garner, where that first statement came from, who died in an altercation with police, they listed one of his contributing factors to his death as his asthma, which there's been studies where he was living in New York has some of the highest rates of asthma in the United States because of environmental factors. So there's this double whammy of how does the environment affect Black and Brown communities, right? At higher negative rates and then how are they also affected by systemic issues and social justice issues and systems of oppression.

Erik: There's so many pieces to it. You know what I mean? I feel like right now, as you speak, it's making my mind kind of go crazy because there's so many implications and so many sources and you know what I mean? So many reasons back and forth how everything affects everything else.

Jill: So Erik, I am going to say, I think you wrapped it up nicely Parker, and one of your... Again, going back to your Instagram, you said, "Do you love the planet? Do you hate racism? And do you want to stamp out oppression? Dismantle oppression in outdoor spaces." So I love that. And you state that your work is a direct byproduct of your own personal experiences facing inequality. So I'd love to hear you talk more about that too, because obviously there's the evidence-based work that you do professionally, but obviously there is a very personal connection to this as well.

Parker: Yeah. My identity when I come into these spaces, I can't leave it at the door and we often want to leave it, right? We often want to say that those things don't matter when we come into certain spaces, but the fact is they do, right? And Erik, you're probably just about the only person that I would accept I don't see color from.

Jill: Yeah, exactly. It is very convenient.

Parker: But we have to be understanding of the identity that people bring into spaces. When I first came into outdoor recreation and natural resources, I changed a lot about myself because I wanted to fit in. So if you had seen Parker early on in college, it would have been very similar to what you see now. If you see as she entered into her environmental education career, it was very different.

Parker: So I got out of college and I started getting into these outdoor recreation spaces and I was like, oh, okay. Lose the head wrap, you better get a fleece. You better get the right hiking boots and you better speak the right way and use the right terminology, right? And so now I'm having the opportunity to be more authentically myself and to provide representation for people because it is... And it's interesting once I started saying, okay, I want my identity. I think my identity should be acceptable in outdoor spaces. And I should be able to show up as truly who I am, right? And I walk into spaces and people are like, oh wow, right?

Parker: That's different and we call out difference often. We call it out and it ends up being a microaggression, right? We are calling out something just because it doesn't fit the norm but that call out makes people who are trying to be involved, trying to be active, feel like they're not a part." Oh, I'm different," and they're calling it out. So I've had everything across the years. One is I described myself earlier as being a curvy, right? Woman of color. I used to lead kayaking trips. I'm strong. I might be curvy, but I am strong. And I used to lead these kayaking trips, I'd get to the side of the road where we would launch on this creek, set up 12 kayaks, wait for my participants to arrive. People would drive up, get out, come up, say hello, and then be like, "So who's leading our trip today?"

Parker: It's only me and all these kayaks, right? I worked at residential sites where I was the director of education for all of the experiences on the site. And people constantly thought that I was either housekeeping or working in the kitchen, right? And not because they're like bad or evil people. All of these things are not people who are trying to be intentionally mean, but again, it's calling out difference. I see a person of color and I don't expect that they are active in this outdoor stuff. I expect that they might be doing something else or there's another reason for them to be here other than as a leader or as a person who is bringing us on our trip, whatever it is. So-

Erik: Yeah. So then with all those pressures and stereotypes, how the heck did you get an interest in this? Why didn't you go through that more typical story where maybe you didn't even really recognize it? And then also second question around that as you're answering is, you must've been sort of pressured into putting on a fleece jacket and some Timberline boots.

Jill: Well, you also talk Parker and I'm going to add a third question onto this, is that you said you didn't feel comfortable at home, outdoors, and you've made that transition to feeling comfortable and embracing and celebrating the outdoors. So I'd love for you to talk about that transition. So that's a full 360 question there for you.

Parker: It's interesting. Okay. When I grew up in the Bronx, my mother actually took us outside. She was from the South. And so getting outdoors, even in the city was important to her. And I gained a sense of place about my city blocks. I would walk with my dad collecting cans because you could give them back for money back in the day, 5 cents a can. So we collected cans to get money and I would see the trash on the ground. And I asked my parents, "What are we going to do about all this trash people are throwing trash on the ground." My mom said, I think she was probably trying to blow me off, but she didn't know. Well, she knew me, but didn't know that I'd take it up. She said, "Why don't you write a letter to the New York Times?"

Parker: And I did, I typed a letter to the New York Times on my dad's typewriter that was imploring the people in my neighborhood, "Dear people, we need to save the planet." So that's a connection, right? Really early on at nine years old. But no one told me, "You're an environmentalist. You are an outdoor enthusiast because you go outside and climb trees." No one gave me that language. And when I did think about those words, I didn't have representation for myself. So I just thought that those things were honestly things that White people did, right? I didn't think that it was something that applied to me so much so that one time my mom took us fishing and we're in New York, she figured out where to go, what boat we could rent, how she could rent the gear. And she invited a friend of hers along who was a White woman.

Parker: And we spent the whole day, it was amazing. I loved it. I put the worm on the hook, it was really cool. We spent the whole day together. At the end of the day, I turned to my mom's friend and I said, "I wish I was White so I could do things like this all the time," right? So I had in my brain that those type of things were things that White people did. And so as I got older, it didn't really seem like... It never even entered my mind as a career path. And instead, I went to school first for pre-med, which got squashed real quick after my first math class and switched over to anthropology and got my degree and then took up an environmental education job as a placeholder. And it was two or three years in to doing that and trying to figure out what my next step in my real life in the real world was going to be. When someone had a conversation with me that was like, "You know this could be your job. You could do this." And I was like, "But when I'm older." I thought environmental education was just working at a camp my whole life, I didn't realize that there was a career.

Erik: It made so much sense that there would be that disconnect though, because you couldn't see yourself as an environmentalist, as somebody who cared about this stuff, even though you did already. So when you moved out to Colorado and you're interested in getting out there, there's it seems like a lot of barriers to entry, I don't know. I'll put myself a little bit in there being blind. I mean, maybe there's some crossover, it's a little intimidating to get out there. So what was your first experiences when you got out there on the trails? What'd you see? What'd you observe?

Parker: Yeah. Well it's terrifying. And getting into the outdoors, I started before I got to Colorado, right? But there was definitely a barrier there. In my community and just from my personal experience, this isn't every Black person's experience, but my parents didn't teach me how to swim because they never learned how to swim during the time when they would have been able to learn how to swim. There was only one pool in town that was Whites only, right? And they were not able to go and get that background, so I never learned how to swim. My grandmother used to tell me things like, "You don't go into the woods, don't go into the woods alone. Don't go into the woods," because she was remembering that legacy of the lynchings and awful things that happened to people in the woods. There is this historic-

Erik: Yeah. Excuse my language but yeah, scary shit happens in the woods.

Parker: Exactly. So there's this historical legacy of things that have happened in the past that still affect us today, right? There's this legacy of racism that affect people's connection to the outdoors. And for a long time, I was scared, I was worried. And I was in positions as I was in my natural resources career where you needed to be outside and I was like, "Okay, I'm going to do it. I'm going into the marsh. I'm going into the woods." I would be out on a kayak and while I was strong and while I thought I did a really good job leading those kayaking trips, I'd be like, "What is under this water? And it's going to get me. I need my life jacket. What if I fall over?" All of these things. So there's that part of it. And getting here to Colorado was another level because by the time I got to Colorado, I was much more comfortable with being in outdoor spaces and going into the woods even by myself, but Colorado, you all are fit. There are these fourteeners, the altitude kicked my butt and that there wasn't a whole lot of people, just the fear of, if you are not aware of all of the safe and welcoming places are to get out-

Erik: And we're sandbaggers too, by the way to interrupt. We're total sandbaggers meaning, like in my neighborhood there's 10 people have climbed Everest and they're like, "Come on and hike a fourteener." And you're like, "Well, maybe that's not the first step."

Parker: Right. Exactly. And if you don't know the places to get out and you don't have anyone who you feel like is similar to you. Like my first hikes out, I wanted someone who I was like, "Okay, you are at my fitness level. We're going to go together, right? Because I know that you're not going to out chase me." Those things can be terrifying at first, but I got used to it. I got out and I started just looking up spaces to go and visit and really researching the trails. I got to have a really clear view of what the trails going to be and then going out and trying it on my own at my own pace, right? And once I know that I can do it, "Oh, okay. This is the pace. This is what it looks like." Then I started to go out with people, right? If you're going to invite me on a trail, I might have to go and test it out and look at it first to say, is that going to be my deal, but-

Jill: And this is part of the work... I mean, I just want to bring in your new initiative, right? You've got KWEEN Werk, which everyone should be following you. And I want to talk to you about that balance of advocacy and fun. We'll talk about that, but Inclusive Journeys. So you're talking about being prepared but also where to go. I would assume going back to Erik's questions about barriers to entry, so you decide you want to do this, but where do you go? So talk a little about... Because I looked on the website, I think you're 23 days from officially launching.

Parker: Yes. We're so-

Jill: Two hours and maybe-

Erik: 17 seconds.

Jill: Three seconds right now or something like that.

Parker: My co-founder put that countdown on the website and it gives me stomach bubbles every time I visit that website and see the countdown. Yeah. So Inclusive Journeys, we're really excited. Myself, I have a background like I said, in natural resources. My co-founder is another Black woman who has a background in outdoors and worked for Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a while, and is a hunter. She's she's a Black woman that's a hunter and she got trained, so she got a hunting mentor who started teaching her how to hunt. And she did a whole series for Colorado Parks and Wildlife called My First Big Game Hunt and you can check it out on YouTube. And she was talking with her mentor one day, this is the inception of Inclusive Journeys. She was talking with her mentor one day and he was saying, "Oh, there's all of these places you can go hunting and Colorado in a range of public and private lands and this and that."

Parker: And she said, "I am not sure that I would feel comfortable going to some of these places, especially as a Black woman carrying a gun. I don't want there to be any misunderstanding about my intention." And he said, "Well where's the data behind that? Because we hear about incidences, we hear about people not feeling safe, but where's the data behind it?" And he wasn't being malicious, it was an open, honest question. And she started to think about that. And she started to think about this historical publication called The Green Book or The Negro Motorist-

Erik: Right. I saw the movie.

Parker: And so The Green Book started in the 1930s, 1940s maybe, and it was started during the time when Black people were... So it was after slavery, Black people are now able to gain money for their employment and they were starting to do things like have income and buy cars and they wanted to travel if they needed to get to safe outdoor spaces. The Green Book listed what were the safe towns, what were the sundown towns, right? The towns that you really could have bad experiences or bad opposition when you came through. And so she had this idea that, Wow, it would be amazing if we had something current like that, that just said what are the safe and welcoming spaces, because we would like to think that all spaces are safe and welcoming but it's just not the case. And we see evidence time and time again, of things that happen. And so with Inclusive Journeys and it's the inclusive guide.

Parker: So we're producing the inclusive guide and it is going to be a resource where people can go and rate outdoor spaces, businesses, anything for whether or not they felt safe, welcomed, and celebrated in those spaces. They can also list accommodations for these spaces. So if I'm a wheelchair user, the trails were wide enough for me to get down, right? If someone is trans, they can list, "They have single stalled gender neutral bathrooms that I felt comfortable using." So we can list how people feel in a space and we can also list the amenities of a space, much like a Yelp or a TripAdvisor. You go on Yelp people can say, "The soup was cold and the service was too slow." And they can also say they've got a pool at the hotel, right? So we're going to try and do for inclusivity, what Yelp has done for customer service.

Jill: So have you been traveling and assessing and evaluating?

Parker: What we have been doing, we're excited because we have a partnership that I probably shouldn't name right now, but it is a large travel website where people can kind of list out their trips and we're getting all of their data points into our database The first day. What's going to happen is people are going to rate. So we're not going to rate it. We don't want to say this is Parker and Crystal's list of safe and welcoming spaces. We are getting users onto the database so if any of your listeners here in Colorado, go to inclusive guide-

Jill: Sign up now.

Parker: Yeah, sign up now, and people will register and rate and we need everyone. So I also want to say that... Sorry, I said go to inclusive guide. You go to Inclusive Journeys to sign up for the inclusive guide, but we need everyone. Even people who don't have marginalized identities, right? Sometimes White folks ask me, "Is this app going to be for me?" And it definitely is.

Erik: Is some of it just subtle observations and things like that as well. It's not like the trail is X number of feet wide and accessible, but it's like, "Hey I was on this trail and I was running at sunset and people were giving me scary looks," you know what I mean? Is some of it kind of subtle in terms of how you might perceive a location?

Parker: People might put in things like that, but I think you'll be surprised at some of the more concrete examples, because it's hard to say how are we going to regulate outdoor spaces, right? But I think that if we can regulate in a park, like we have signs all over the place that are like, "You need to pick up your litter and you need to do this and do that." We have rules, right? What are our rules around inclusion and the way people can interact with one another once they're within our park borders, right? And either you go with these rules of inclusion which means not harassing other park guests, right? Or you are not welcome to use our space, right? We haven't gotten to the point where we're quite willing to say that, but maybe with some data people would be willing to... I think we often get into conversations too about what this app can do to show discrimination, but I really also want to celebrate the organizations and the spaces that are already welcoming, right? That's really what this app is about, to show people that if you are a welcoming space and people can identify that, they'll spend their money with you. And suddenly inclusion becomes something that other businesses want to strive towards because they want that same customer base.

Jill: So to that point, I have a question for both you and Erik. Who do you think whether it's locally or someplace far flung who is doing it well right now? I would say that from a park perspective. You're both hikers and kayakers, I think Erik, it's the 20th anniversary of his Everest climb this week. So maybe that's a question for both of you. Who's doing it well? Let's celebrate that.

Erik: Well, I'd love to hear from Parker on that, because I was just thinking about that this morning, very seriously. Who is doing... Patagonia, I know they've really worked recently on bringing in different kinds of athletes, not the stereotypical folks. So I know there's a lot of energy out there, but I think I'd leave it to Parker to learn who you think is really doing it well.

Jill: Yeah. Brands and then also locations.

Parker: Yeah. Wow. That's a tough-

Jill: Loaded question, I know.

Parker: No, I think there's a variety of organizations that are really trying and are really bringing things to the forefront. What I hesitate to say is someone that I feel like is doing it great all the time, right? Because it's a learning process. And I feel like my experiences in a space might be different than other people's experiences. I know like Crystal and I talk about how she'll go to one gun range over another gun range because she knows that if she goes to one that they're going to treat her really well, right? And if she goes to the other, she's not going to be treated really well. Some organizations though to check out is, I don't know if you have seen Theresa Baker who created the African-American National Parks' Experience?

Parker: She created a website called In Solidarity and it's the In Solidarity project, and she actually has a list of outdoor brands that have taken the outdoor CEO diversity pledge. And within there's participating companies, but each one of those companies have taken this pledge and then are working to... They have to provide what is the work that they're doing each year. So they have to update each year and they get their profile updated on the In Solidarity project website to say, what is the work that we're doing. And she's got everyone there from Granite Gear, which I will say Granite Gear they're an amazing outdoor company that is really working to be racially inclusive, size inclusive. They have these weekly interviews with the CEO and they talk to different people, just like you are talking to me. Different people who are kind of breaking that mold in outdoor recreation and lift up a lot of different voices, but that's a great website to go to.

Parker: And the other thing that I love about that website is that it has a community directory that lists people of color that are working in the environmental and outdoor recreation fields with their bios and ways to contact them. And I'm sorry, it's not only people of color, it's actually all diversity within the field. So there are people like also Pattie Gonia on there, who I love. That's someone that you all need to get. I don't know if you all have thought about interviewing Pattie Gonia, but they are amazing. They are a hiking drag queen. They do really amazing work, intersectional.

Erik: Oh my gosh. Jill, we've got to have hire Pattie Gonia on this-

Jill: And I'm going to kick Dave out of the-

Erik: Yeah. You get exclusive interview rights to Pattie Gonia.

Jill: I'm putting my flag in that right now. Yeah, for sure.

Erik: Well, I want to go back to your personal experience and then we'll go back to some of this more deeper stuff, but one, did you learn to swim? And two, tell me about your first time camping because camping is a big deal. I remember even when my daughter, Emma was six to eight months old, we decided to go camping and it poured rain, rain flooded our tent. Our daughter was running around in inch enter deep water. And we said, "Forget this," and we went and got a hotel room. I mean, so that must've been a huge learning curve.

Parker: Yeah. So I've learned to swim, but not very well. My husband is an amazing swimmer and I'm like, "You have to teach our kids this swim." But I still have a little bit of a fear of the water, so that's coming slow. As for camping, my first camping experience was actually my junior year of high school and then I did not camp again for years because it was a terrifying-

Jill: Traumatizing.

Erik: Yeah, it can be so traumatizing that first night out in the woods.

Parker: I was like, "Oh my goodness." I was trying to play it off. You go on these school things and a lot of people in the group already had those experiences and I had not, and we had to hike our stuff seven miles up to this camp site and it was so dark. And now when it's that dark I can admire the stars and feel better. But I spent the whole time just terrified. Terrified out of my mind and just really scared that I was going to be eaten by a bear or all of these fears that you get told. So now I love-

Erik: Of course. Yeah, I'm interrupting but I remember there was this guy who we were in Moab on the Colorado river and he pulls up to us and we're car camping. And he goes, "I'm from New York city and I'm traveling across the country camping out and I'm freaked out right now. It's so big. The sky is so freaking big." He's like, "Can I just camp next to you guys just because I need some human companionship?" We were like, "Of course. Yeah. As long as you're not an ax murderer, we're totally happy for you to be next to us."

Parker: I'm glad you asked him because I'm sure he would have been a hundred percent honest. "No, I'm not an ax murderer."

Jill: Well, Parker, I feel like though what you do is you like to go out and own the trails now and you show them who is boss. And you're doing it in style. A couple things that I just would love for you to talk about is how you get through hikes. I mean, I'm not going to steal your thunder here, but your trail breaks and your trail dancing and you hike musings and all the little tips and tricks that you have to help you get through it. So maybe talk about that a little bit because you make it fun.

Parker: I feel like you need to enjoy your time, right? And for me enjoying my time is one, setting a reasonable pace for me. It's not all about getting to the top, getting to the top is an added bonus. I like to take breaks along the trail, view the nature, but also I work it out on the trail. I do a little bit of dancing out with some music, if people are with me, I'm like, "Let's do a little dance break, everybody get with a plant and take a look at what's going on and just really breathe it all in." And when I'm hiking alone, I still do those dance breaks. And sometimes I take time to record what I'm thinking and that does end up getting on my social media. What am I thinking in this very moment right now?

Parker: Some of them are silly. Like I've got one video where I went to go hike at, I think it was Roxborough State Park, and they've got a lot of signs that are like, "Watch for mountain lions and watch for bears." And I just spent the whole time thinking why does every rock have to look like a bear? Why does everything have to look like a mountain lion? And I've had this thought enough that now I want to share it with people. But I think when I put it on social media and people see it, they say, "Oh, I've had that thought too. And oh, that is my actual fear, but look, she's doing it and she's okay. And so maybe I'll try it because I'll be okay too."

Erik: And so, I mean, I still feel like when you go out into the outdoors and the mountains, marginalized folks, you just don't see that many different kinds of people enjoying the spaces. So besides Digital Green Book and the things that you're doing, what are some of the other recommendations or solutions that you have? What are the barriers to entry and what are the ways through them?

Parker: Yeah. So we have to think about when us who are comfortable in those outdoor spaces and out on the trail, how do we make our spaces comfortable for others? We know what is our comfort level, but not everyone has that same comfort level. We also end up getting a little stigma around different groups of people and then people end up leaving, right? If we are talking about bigger people on the trail, people of size, if we are making comments when we see someone that looks different, I get asked all the time, is it my first hike? I get told, "Whoa, you're colorful." I get asked, am I prepared for my hike? And I wonder, and I've asked my friends how often do you get asked is this your first hike when you go hiking? Because it happens to me at least once-

Erik: Oh, I guess... I mean, I try to be polite about it and patient, but people are like, "Good job buddy, you're so great. Look at you out on the trail." And I'm like, "Yeah, thanks."

Parker: And so there's these assumptions that people make and then they make comments and we have to understand not only how other people might get there and show up, but how we provide a space for them to feel included. I'm not going to other you, and sometimes when we want to be encouraging, we should think about what would I say to someone who was like me? Would I be saying this to someone who I feel like is similar to me in the outdoors? And if not, what is my motivation for saying that? So working on microaggressions so that people feel welcome, I think is one spot. Working on outright aggressions, I have a friend who takes kids of color into the mountains and gets told often when they go up there, "Oh, I come here to get away from kids and people like that," right?

Parker: So how do we deal with outright aggression? How do we provide equity? We have to think about equitable outcomes, which means equity isn't exactly equality, right? Yes, it means treating everyone fair, but thinking about what are the things that people need to be able to fully participate and how can we provide that for them, right? Whether that is gear, outdoor gear is not cheap, right? And gear lockers, and places where people can go and rent or borrow gear, help transportation to those spaces is not easy. Especially if you live in a city and you don't own a car, right?

Parker: So how do we provide transportation to some of those spaces? How are we having the conversation, and open to the conversation? Because sometimes people have the reaction of, "Well, what are you trying to say? The trees are bias? Are you trying to say the river's racist?" Right? And that's not the conversation we're trying to have, but we need to open our mind and think and understand that people might have different experiences when they're in these spaces. And so let's be open to that conversation so we can learn and serve people better in the way that they need to be fully involved.

Erik: Is there a socioeconomic just barrier too just straight up, if you don't have the disposable income to hit a national park for a week or you're working all the time? Yeah, right? And that seems to be kind of obvious, is that true?

Parker: I think that is definitely part of it. And so that's why I also advocate for us investing in our nearby nature, right? Because not everyone can get far out and not only do we need to invest in it, we need to value it at the same level because we know that nature is healing. We know that nature provides so many benefits. And so if you are in the city, you deserve access to that nearby nature and it shouldn't be a long social economic lines, but it is now. Like here in Denver, right? We have some areas of the city that are more affluent, that have better parks, more tree cover and areas of the city that are lower socioeconomics that have concrete parks and no tree cover.

Parker: You look at the difference between Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and Cherry Creek, and those two neighborhoods, Globeville, Elyria-Swansea some areas only have 2% tree cover and Cherry Creek, some areas have 60% tree cover, right? And that difference is not only along socioeconomic lines, but means that one area is better able to fight the effects of climate change, right? With increased heat, increased flooding, right? And so if that's a thing that the city provides, why is there such a distinction between what one area has and what the other area doesn't, right? We need to provide for that at all levels, because it has an effect on people's connection to nature and their access to the outdoors.

Jill: No, I think that's super important to remember. It's not just about going and hiking an hour away. You said you were from the Bronx, I was in New York City for 22 years and I grew up on a lake and water has always been sort of my sense of salvation. So for me to get out of the concrete jungle, just to be able to go look at the Hudson river and go walk on the Hudson river whether it was on the East side or the West side. What they've done on the West side highway is remarkable in New York right now, from downtown all the way up through the Bronx. So yeah, just that idea that it's not just about going and tracking up the 14,000 foot elevation that Erik was talking about, but just going to your local park. And how beneficial that can be. One thing I just wanted to mention too Parker, that really resonated with me is that you talk about this fight for social justice and equality and equity is not a sprint, it's a relay race. And the fact that you say you didn't start it, the people came before you and you may not see the results in this lifetime, but just to run the fastest and hardest race possible so the next time someone gets there quicker. Can you just reflect a little bit on that statement?

Parker: Yeah. For a long time, when I was doing this work, I was feeling sad. I was feeling down. It seemed like these problems were way too big for us to ever solve. And that my ancestors before me had been fighting the same fight and now I'm fighting it and why am I doing it? Am I wasting time? And I came across this analogy and it really resonated with me that it's not my job to solve racism, right? It's not my job to solve all of these systemic issues that have plagued us for years. I want it solved and I'm working toward it being solved, but I had to come to the realization that I may not see it change in my lifetime. And so if that's the case, if I've come to that realization even though I don't want it to be the case, if that is the case, then it's my job to just do the best that I can while I have this time, because I'm just one leg of this multi-person relay race. And if I can run my leg as fast as I can, as hard as I can, maybe we will get there a little bit faster.

Erik: Well, and dance a little bit along the way.

Parker: Yeah, And dance a little bit along the way, right? Exactly.

Erik: Hey, so Parker, you also have this eco-inclusive which seems like another facet of this equation, another facet of how to change things, right? So you look at all these great conservation organizations and outdoor organizations like No Barriers even, and it seems like if you can get this idea of equity and inclusion on their radar in terms of how they eat, sleep and breathe it. That's going to be a big game changer, right?

Parker: Yeah. And people understanding that and making that connection I think is very important. And so the training and the discussion and conversations about it so that people understand it's not a side thing, right? All of the systems that we deal with are part of the every day way that we operate. And it's important for us to realize that and to start to make structural changes within our organization. So we have to have the conversation and we have to give people the training needed to understand it and make changes and move forward.

Jill: Well, we want to invite you to come be part of No Barriers. Erik, we've got to get her on the docket.

Erik: Yeah, I know. Of course we do. I know, I'm thinking that the whole time.

Jill: For sure.

Erik: Well, Parker, thank you so much for all your time today, and the work you're doing is amazing. I've learned so much and it really opens up your mind to thinking about how complicated this is, but also how solvable these things are as well and how it could really enhance so many people's lives to have them more connected with conservation and the outdoors and all the beauty and reward that comes from it. So yeah, I even think at no barriers, we have a lot of work ahead of us thinking about this.

Parker: Well, thank you so much. I'm really excited to have gotten the chance to chat with you all today, and it's been wonderful. Thank you.

Erik: Cool.

Jill: Yeah, Parker you're amazing. And everybody follow KWEEN Werk, check out inclusivejourneys.com in 23 days, and also inclusive. She's got her plate full, but man oh man, doing great stuff.

Erik: Yeah. I can't wait to get on that app.

Parker: It's going to be cool.

Erik: And thank you to you, Jill. Awesome job. I appreciate-

Jill: It was so fun. I hope you inviting me back, Erik.

Erik: Yeah, I will. That's not my choice, but I would if it were my choice.

Jill: I really enjoyed it. Parker, it was so nice to meet you.

Erik: All right. Thanks Parker, No Barriers to everyone. We would like to thank our generous sponsors that make our No Barriers podcast possible. Wells Fargo, Prudential, CoBank, Aero Electronics, and Winnebago. Thank you so much for your support. It means everything to us. The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer, Pauline Schaffer, sound, design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman and marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie Dinardo, Erika Howey, and Alex Schaffer. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.


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