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Black History Month

February 23, 2022

February is Black History Month and to celebrate, YMCA of the Rockies highlighted Black mountaineers, winter athletes and leaders in the outdoors.

February is Black History Month and to celebrate, YMCA of the Rockies highlighted Black mountaineers, winter athletes and leaders in the outdoors on our social media accounts and on posters at Snow Mountain Ranch and the Estes Park Center.

Black History Month has roots associated with the YMCA. In 1915, after attending a celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary of emancipation, Carter Woodson convened a small gathering at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago, and formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). The Association created Negro History and Literature Week, renamed Negro Achievement Week, later Negro History Week, and eventually Black History Month.

We hope you were able to check out the posters at Snow Mountain Ranch or Estes Park Center, or follow along on social media throughout the month. Just in case you missed it, you can see all of the highlights below! 

Matthew Henson - First-known person to set foot on the North Pole

Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson, Robert Peary and four Inuit hunters became the first-known humans to set foot on the North Pole in 1908. However, the trip likely wouldn't have been possible without Henson who trained even the most experienced of Peary's recruits. Henson was the first-known person to reach the North Pole. 

Matthew Henson built the sledges used on their expeditions and was fluent in the Inuit language, enabling him to build rapport with the native people of the region.

Bonnie St. John - 1st African American to medal in the Paralympic Winter Games

Bonnie St. John

Bonnie St. John's leg was amputated at age 5, and at age 15 she began skiing with an amputee club. She went on to compete in the Innsbruck 1984 Paralympic Winter Games where she won a silver medal and two bronze medals, becoming the first Black American to medal in the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games. 

Bonnie St. John graduated from Harvard, became a Rhodes Scholar and went on to Oxford University before working in the White House as an economic official. 

Rue Mapp - Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro

Rue Mapp

Rue Mapp is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a national nonprofit that celebrates, encourages and inspires Black participation and leadership in outdoor experiences. The organization inspires volunteers and leaders to organize outdoor experiences for a nationwide network of thousands of members of all ages. The network is trailblazing and leading the way for inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature and conservation.

Mapp’s work and op-eds have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times, Ebony Magazine, Outside Magazine and NPR. In 2019 Mapp was named a National Geographic fellow.

James Edward Mills - Founder of the Joy Trip Project

James Edward Mills 

James Edward Mills has worked in the outdoor industry for more than 30 years in many different roles. He founded the Joy Trip Project, "a news-gathering and reporting organization that covers outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living." He's also the author of “The Adventure Gap”   which chronicles the first all-African-American  summit attempt on Denali, the highest point in North America. 

In 2016, James Edward Mills was named a Yosemite National Park Centennial Ambassador in recognition for his work in sharing the important history and legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers and their efforts at the dawn of the National Park Service. 

Harriet Tubman - Naturalist and conductor of the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman

Many are aware of Harriet Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad, but fewer few know of her prowess as a naturalist. She was an avid outdoorswoman who navigated hundreds of miles by using the stars and botany. She escaped from slavery in 1849 by making the 90-mile journey from Maryland to Pennsylvania, traveling mostly at night while following the stars. After arriving in the north, she risked safety to return to Maryland at least 13 times, leading more than 70 people to freedom. 

Tubman used the Big Dipper to orient herself and used the call of an owl to alert refugees and her freedom seekers that whether it was or wasn't ok to come out of hiding and continue their journey. She also had great knowledge of botany, understanding which plant life was plants were helpful for food and for survival. 

John Francis - Environmentalist known as Planetwalker

John Francis

After witnessing the massive oil spill that ravaged the San Francisco Bay in 1971, John Francis swore off all motorized transportation. For the next 22 years, he walked everywhere he went, raising awareness about the importance of the environment. He embarked on solo hikes across the entirety of the US and across much of South America, becoming widely known as “Planetwalker”. When his words didn’t make a big enough difference, he took a 17-year vow of silence which ended on Earth Day in 1990. 

In 1991, Francis was named a United Nations Environmental Program Goodwill Ambassador, and in 2008 National Geographic published his memoir, “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking, 17 Years of Silence.”   

Erin Jackson - First black woman to make a US Olympic long-track team

Erin Jackson

Erin Jackson qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics US long-track speedskating team after learning how to speed skate just four months prior. She is the first Black woman to be on the United States long-track team and the second ever to make an Olympic speedskating team. In November 2021, she became the first Black woman to win a speedskating World Cup. 

Jackson is currently ranked number one No. 1 in the world in the 500m speed skating discipline. 

This year, Erin Jackson became the first Black woman to win a speed skating medal at the Winter Olympics, and the first Black woman to win a gold medal in an individual event at the Winter Olympics.

Charles Young - First African-American national park superintendent

Charles Young

In the summer of 1903, Captain Charles Young became the first African-American   national park Superintendent when he and his troops were tasked to manage and maintain Sequoia National Park. 

Young led a number of road construction projects and during his tenure, the parks reported no poaching violations. Over More than 18 miles of trail were improved during his time there. The neighboring town of Visalia was so appreciative of Young’s work on the road that they requested a sequoia tree be named in his honor. He protested, asking them to defer this honor and revisit the idea in 20 years. If they had not changed their minds, he would be comfortable with a tree dedicated in his name. A tree was later named in his honor along the Crescent Meadow. 

Hazel M. Johnson - Mother of the Environmental Justice Movement

Hazel M. Johnson

“Mother of the Environmental Justice Movement,” Hazel Johnson, was a passionate environmental justice advocate from the 1970s until her death in 2011. She fought for clean air and water on the South Side of Chicago by empowering, educating,   and organizing her community in Altgeld Gardens. She founded the People for Community Recovery organization to fight for a safer environment. 

Johnson also fought for environmental justice on a national scale, joining forces with the US Environmental Protection Agency, protesting environmental injustices, holding businesses and the government accountable for their actions, and urging President Clinton to sign the Environmental Justice Executive Order. Johnson also mentored future President Barak Obama.

Assigned Categories: Estes Park Center, Snow Mountain Ranch, Diversity & Inclusion

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