Welcome the first edition of the Black Joy newsletter – an evolution of our weekly series highlighting the different ways we show off our Black magic. Thanks for joining us for this beautiful ride!
No one could have predicted the seesawing emotions this week produced. We are here to honor the complexities of that pain while still pursuing joy.
While I can’t foresee what will happen in the coming weeks, know that in this space, Black girlhood will be seen as precious and will not be questioned. Black fatherhood will be honored for its presence of love and protection. And Blackness will always be magical.
That being said, may this week’s edition of Black Joy be a salve as we talk about being B(L)ACK outside. Temps are warming up, flowers are blooming and you know that sunlight makes our melanin pop.
Let’s get free by going outdoors, y’all.
If I could give this north Alabama family a motto, it would be: “Catch us outside. How about that?”
The self-dubbed Black Adventure Crew – made up of Zenovia and George Stephens and their three sons, ages 8, 5, and 2 – is on a mission to inspire more Black and brown families to explore the outdoors. You’re sure to swoon over the crew’s Instagram featuring snapshots of the kiddos splashing in creeks and frolicking in forests and sunflower field. Black boy joy on full display. George Stephens shows the fullness of fatherhood as he plays, protects and nurtures his boys both on and off the trail.
Growing up in the concrete jungle of Chicago, Zenovia Stephens’ relationship with nature wasn’t as intimate as it is now. She fished on Lake Michigan with her stepfather, but it wasn’t her thing. She moved to Huntsville, Ala., in 2004 to attend Alabama A&M University, where she met George.
Although the college sweethearts spent their dates chasing rainbows across Huntsville, they were unaware of the wealth of outdoor activities the city offered.
Whether they’re taking a short excursion to Alabama’s highest natural point or voyaging through Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Zenovia Stephens hopes these adventures teach her boys the importance of respecting nature and being the architects of their own happiness.
“I want them to know they can create joy or whatever lifestyle they really want to live, right where they are,” Zenovia Stephens said. “I want them to be confident in occupying any space they chose to be in. Be it in nature or a career path, I want them to be confident knowing that it’s all for them. Don’t let anybody take that away from you.”
Black Adventure Crew is about more than looking cute for the Gram. Zenovia also shares the family’s love of the outdoors with other Black and brown families by expanding the crew’s mission in several ways.
- Black Kid Adventures Inc. Founded by Zenovia Stephens last summer, the nonprofit aims to bust down barriers keeping Black and brown families indoors, such as lack of transportation, funds and representation. The group has served more than 100 people through free community events like yoga in the park, a Halloween hike and family camp at Camp McDowell in Nauvoo, Ala. The next family camp takes place in May.
- Sis also teamed up with two Black women to start Black Hikers Week last June. More than 30 organizations worldwide participated in the inaugural event that empowered more Black people to hit the trails.
“This land is a part of our history and we need to take advantage of everything that it offers,” Zenovia Stephens said.
Embracing the outdoors is not as complicated as you think. You don’t need fancy gear and shoes. Nor do you have to trek for long. For those wondering where to start, Zenovia Stephens and I have a few tips. You can get started by downloading the AllTrails or Gaia GPS apps.
- Start where you are: You don’t have to take on the biggest, baddest mountain. Start small by wandering down your local greenway. Zenovia said this removes the intimidation for those afraid to get lost in the woods.
- Invite a friend: You don’t have to bring the whole squad. But if you’re going to try a new thing, why not share that experience with a friend or two?
- Keep your mind and heart open: There’s progress in flexibility. If you catch yourself struggling to reach your hiking goal, give yourself the compassion and grace to adjust your goal. Doing new things should be an enjoyable journey.
- Don’t go empty handed: Pack your H20 and some snacks, like KIND bars, fruit and trail mix. Believe me, you don’t want to be starving on a trail and you still have a mile to go.
Some of Black Family Crew’s favorite spaces:
- Campground: Ebenezer Park (South Carolina)
- Waterfall: High Falls (Grove Oak, Ala.)
- Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee)
More Black adventurers to hit up
It’s cool if you need a little motivation. Here are a few Black outdoor enthusiasts to follow in the South and beyond.
- Will “Akuna” Robinson: In 2019, this Louisiana combat veteran became the first Black man to complete hiking’s Triple Crown, completing the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Robinson found solace in the outdoors while struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
- The Mosses: Similar to Black Adventure Crew (they have two daughters) the Mosses are an Atlanta-based family who runs on the motto “a family that plays together stays together.”
- Kena Peay: Reality star Kena Peay grew up hiking in Washington State and started cooking with her mom and grandmother before she turned 10. She combines both skills while enjoying nature. Her outdoor cooking tutorials on TikTok will have your stomach grumbling.
Go forth and keep spreading your own Black Joy outdoors. If you enjoyed this week’s Black Joy, consider forwarding this newsletter to a few of your friends. You can sign up to receive future Black Joys here.
See you next time!