When you think about people most likely to engage in outdoor adventure sports, Black women may not be the first group that comes to mind. But Black Women Who Kayak+ is out to change that. Tanya Walker founded the organization in 2018 to provide a safe space for women of color to connect with nature. And since then, the group has been on a mission to obliterate stereotypes around Black women and girls and the outdoors.
The Root spoke exclusively with Missy Wilson, the Houston chapter administrator of Black Women Who Kayak +, about her love of all things outdoors and how she’s preparing for an upcoming all-female Alaskan outdoor excursion.
Wilson is a graphic designer and mom of a toddler who has always loved camping and hiking. But when she relocated to the Houston area from her native Georgia, she couldn’t find many opportunities to engage in the activities she loved. “I didn’t know a lot of Black folks who wanted to go outdoors in this heat,” she said. During the pandemic, Wilson looked to reconnect with nature and the activities that brought her joy. But in a hostile political climate, she was intentional about wanting to be with people who checked a similar box. “I didn’t always feel comfortable going into majority spaces because you never know who will be out there. I didn’t want to talk about politics or deal with microaggressions. I just wanted to be with someone who looked like me,” she said.
After a Google search for Black women and kayaking, Wilson discovered Black Women Who Kayak +. So she drove from Houston to Austin for a paddle boarding event and immediately fell in love. “It was amazing to be out on the water in this incredible city with other women who looked like me,” she said.
Wilson isn’t alone. Black Women Who Kayak + currently has seven chapters in major U.S. cities and over 1000 members. “When I started to lead the Houston chapter, there were only 40 members. Now we’re up to 400,” she said. And kayaking is just a part of what they do. “We do all sorts of outdoor activities, including archery, horseback riding and rock climbing. If you want to get outdoors and try something new, this is the group for you.”
Wilson says she loves being able to unplug and has enjoyed meeting new people, who she now considers to be like family. But in addition to the camaraderie, she says the group’s activities have plenty of physical benefits. “Kayaking and paddle boarding is a workout for your upper body and your core,” she said. “So you’re having fun without realizing that you’re getting a workout.”
Now, with the help of Grape-Nuts, Wilson is preparing to take her love of the outdoors to the next level. The iconic cereal brand has donated $12,500 towards an 8-day outdoor adventure trip to Alaska for Wilson and another member of Black Women Who Kayak +. “We’re so grateful. The donation closed out our GoFundMe and will allow us to do some great things for the organization,” Wilson said.
The donation is part of a larger effort by the company to support female adventurers. “We’re so proud to have fueled pioneering adventures from the likes of Sir Admiral Byrd in the past, but the opportunity to support female explorers as they take those first bold steps towards breaking new ground is truly an honor. Onwards and upwards!” said Lauren Jamnick, Grape-Nuts’ associate brand manager.
Although eight days of backpacking, sleeping in tents, and potential bear sightings might not be for everyone, Wilson says she’s looking forward to the experience. “I think there will be some challenges, but it will also be a fun learning experience,” she said. “My biggest goal is being able to bring back knowledge to the rest of the ladies in our group.”
Wilson says people tell her all of the time that activities like kayaking are not for Black folk. But she argues that they are actually ingrained in us. “We started a lot of these things and lost them when we were brought to America because we couldn’t bring our culture with us,” she said. “I love getting out there and showing people that we do everything.” And Wilson has already started sharing her love of the outdoors with her four-year-old son. “You’re never too old or too young to get out there.”