Today is National Hiking Day. Also known as “Take A Hike Day,” thousands of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts will be coming together to celebrate the trails that have changed their lives. We’d like to introduce Pamela Slaughter, founder of PDX People of Colors Outdoors. Founded to create a safe, inclusive space for people of color in Portland, Oregon to enjoy the outdoors together, the organization brings awareness to the environmental injustice in the outdoor African-American hiking community while also creating a safe space to pursue their hiking passions.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), true environmental justice is reached when everyone has the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
PDX People of Colors Outdoors
Focusing on these critical elements and motivated by the experiences of her grandson and nephews’ outdoor experiences, Slaughter established the PDX People of Colors Outdoors community to learn about all things about hiking, trail running, biking, and canoeing. She was also recently nominated for the first-ever Facebook Community Awards for the local category. We spoke to Slaughter about her endeavors and bringing heightened awareness to the African-American hiking communities.
ONE37pm: Great to speak with you Pamela! First, we wanted to ask you about the process of finding and developing PDX.
Slaughter: Last year (2020), I started the Facebook Community group PDX People of Color Outdoors. By then, I had already established a Meetup group called People of Color Outdoors (POCO), which I founded in 2017. I actually never felt the need to have a Facebook group, because our group was growing rapidly. But during the pandemic, the POCO community wanted to share some of the obstacles and issues they were facing in addition to COVID-19.
Some had dealt with racism from roommates and dreaded going home. Some felt overwhelmed from teaching their children at home. A few were homeowners that felt fearful because their tenants couldn’t pay the rent. Then you had tenants that felt afraid because they couldn’t pay the rent. Some had relationships that were deteriorating. Others felt fortunate and blessed, and wanted to remain that way, and to give back.
Even though the group members had diverse lives, they had one common thread: to spend more time outdoors. They wanted to maintain their mental health by spending more time in nature with other BIPOC outdoor enthusiasts. During the pandemic, I decided to take a step back from my real estate business in order to plan POCO’S transition from a Meetup group to a new non-profit. I found a fiscal sponsor, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, and Advisors, Soumary Vongrassamy and Greg Wolley, and wrote a book called “Hi! My Name is Robin!”, to encourage families to learn all about birdwatching, especially home schoolers.
After I published my book, I officially started our Facebook community group, PDX People of Color Outdoors, and in 2020 POCO hosted 30 gatherings, including several virtual gatherings due to COVID safety precautions. This year, PDX People of Color Outdoors hosted 42 outings with more outings set throughout November and December!
ONE37pm: When did you first discover your love for the outdoors and what kind of impact has that had on you?
Slaughter: I was born and raised in Oregon, which is an incredibly beautiful state. I can’t remember not loving nature since Ive been surrounded by it my whole life but I really grew an appreciation for nature when I visited family in Chicago when I was 10 years old. I found all of the cement, tall buildings, and the lack of forest and trees depressing. Once I returned home, I realized my love and need for nature. I made an effort to connect on a deeper level by signing up for 4-H and Girl Scouts. I’ve been sharing nature with others ever since!
ONE37pm: What does a day in the life look like for somebody who is actively involved in the outdoor life be it hiking, trail running, canoeing, etc.
Slaughter: I don’t know a lot of athletic outdoorsy people, which is ironic. I’m active, but I work all day like most people. I get my outdoor time in small bites. I pack my lunch, eat in my office, then drive to a favorite natural area 10 minutes away, and walk the loop there , then drive back to work within the hour. When people want to go out for brunch or lunch on the weekend, I’ll sometimes suggest a walk instead. I’m very spontaneous, and will pull over and explore a trail if I have time while I’m driving. In a nutshell, I grab lots of little opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, in addition to going to group events such as the ones offered by People of Color Outdoors.
PDX People of Color Outdoors
ONE37pm: According to the EPA, true environmental justice is reached when everyone has a healthy environment and the same level of environmental protection. How is People of Color Outdoors working to eliminate racism and discrimination in the outdoors?
Slaughter: Black ball players, golfers, swimmers, gymnasts, tennis players, have all survived hostility and obstacles from racism. The color barrier was broken and years later, it’s not shocking to see BIPOC professional athletes. People of Color Outdoors is getting BIPOC outdoors into natural spaces on a regular basis. Four years ago we would be stared at when we explored certain trails. I have deliberately repeated our outings frequently. Now no one looks at us twice when we visit those same places, four years later, because it’s normal for us to be there. The very act of going into a space repeatedly is helping.
ONE37pm: Where do you hope to see People of Color Outdoors five years from now?
Slaughter: We would love to acquire our own wooded acreage by then, so that we can train our leaders, teach outdoor skills, host outdoor events, camp, and meet. Ultimately, we will have our own retreat center that will be open to the public.
ONE37pm: People of Color Outdoors has a very close-knit community. What do you guys do for fun and fellowship?
Slaughter: Some of our favorite outings take place when we rent a camp for the day and have the entire day to enjoy each other’s company, good food and nature!