Behold. Steward. Embrace.
My interest in the outdoors was birthed within me at a very young age. As a child, I was infatuated with nature. On a weekly basis, I overwhelmed the same cloth bag with books about plants, reptiles, and my all-time favorite topic, marine wildlife. I spent hours flipping through almanacs, encyclopedias, and atlases, learning all about our planet’s geography and the ecosystems within. Through my eyes, the one-foot-wide gully in my backyard that appeared after every rainstorm was a bubbling creek fraught with wildlife. I was overjoyed by the rare appearance of a frog or salamander. I was the kid who asked his parents to pull over and save the box turtle attempting to cross the street, kept abandoned bird eggs warm, and created a fort for a baby rabbit in the yard that broke its leg. When I wasn’t physically outside, my imagination was still there as I drowned myself in Magic School Bus and Bill Nye episodes.
It’s difficult to put into words the majesty and intrigue that the outdoors cast over me like a spell at a very young age, but it never left.
However, I almost missed the opportunity to not only play, but also work in this passion. As a graduating high schooler, I didn’t know that a legitimate career path existed in which I could use my skills to help an organization grow while bettering the environment. I remember noticing, but refusing to approach the environmental science display booths at college fairs. I repeatedly suppressed my interest. I always told myself that there was no way I could translate my eco-nerdiness into a job sustainable enough to pay the bills while growing and advancing as a professional. Plus, I had already made up in my mind that I’d study civil engineering, graduate, and go on to design sports arenas and skyscrapers.
After a challenging freshman year in the civil engineering program, I scored an internship focused on assessing the infrastructural integrity of highway projects. My daily responsibility was to walk up and down transportation projects, ensuring that the concrete and asphalt on the bridges and highways met structural requirements. I was so bored – all day, everyday! But, in the midst of these daily walk-thrus in the scorching heat, I found myself gazing over the bridges at the creeks and wetlands below, hoping to catch a glimpse of wildlife. I often asked my engineering supervisor and colleagues if the transportation projects were designed and constructed with these local ecosystems in mind. They responded with unengaged attempts to assure me that the projects complied with regulatory ordinances. Their answers didn’t satisfy me. I wanted more.
These moments reminded me what I really cared about. They helped me realign with elements of my purpose and passion. They served as the catalyst that pushed me to pivot toward the academic and eventually career route that gives me the freedom to behold, steward, and embrace creation. Fast forwarding to today, I still possess the same youthful curiosity when I step outside the metropolis I call home and embrace the simple mysteries with which the environment humors us.
As I write and reveal my deep interest in the outdoors, a voice in my head tells me that I’m an anomaly. But, I’m confident that I’m not alone.
There exists a vibrant community made up of people of color, children and adults alike, who share similar experiences and view nature through lenses of admiration and respect. In a world in which outdoor-inspired media campaigns exacerbate the stigma that people of color don’t have affinity for the outdoors, I celebrate the mission and vision of movements like The Black Outdoors, Melanin Base Camp, Corny Creation, and others. Every individual highlighted debunks the falsification that outdoor-focused brands continue to depict. Witnessing today’s explorers, naturalists, hikers, campers, skiers, surfers, swimmers, etc. of color cause me to reflect on early black heroes/heroines and pioneers like Harriet Tubman, Mae Jemison, Madam C.J. Walker, George Washington Carver, Matthew Henson, James Beckwourth, and more who understood the value of nature and used it to heal, innovate, empower, and liberate.
I challenge you to continue getting outside, bringing your friends and loved ones with you on your adventures, and exposing anyone you can to the life-giving benefits of experiencing nature. The outdoors aren’t exclusive, nor solely for certain demographics. The outdoors are for everyone. They are for us. Let’s continue shifting the narrative. Let’s collectively behold, steward, and embrace.
Who is Jarami?
Jarami is a 2017 GreenBiz 30 Under 30 and Sustainability Strategy Manager at Interface, Inc. He has spoken to hundreds of students across the country about sustainable business and purpose-driven careers. He is also a photographer and cinematographer, capturing the beauty of people, moments, and nature. Learn more at www.jaramibond.com and follow his adventures on Instagram @jarami_bond.