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Strange Fruit: "You Can't Swim!" Paddle Boarding While Black

explore kentucky

Summer is in full swing, and it's the time of year when most of us head outside to enjoy the fresh air. Maybe you take to the hiking trail with just what you can carry on your back. Or maybe your idea of being outdoorsy is having drinks on a patio. (We'll let you figure out which option #TeamStrangeFruit favors.)

If you're a person of color, especially a black person, data show you're less likely to participate in traditional outdoor activities. NPR's Code Switch talked about it recently on their podcast, noting the National Parks Service's statistic that around 80% of its visitors, volunteers and staff last year were white.

We decided to see what the situation looks like closer to home. So we spoke with Gerry James, founder and director of the Explore Kentucky initiative. He says it's not unusual for him to be the only black camper, hiker, or paddle boarder in his group — and people notice. He's heard everything from, "Hey, it's great to see you out here, brother!" to "Get out of the water, you can't swim," accompanied by racial slurs.

So his work with Explore Kentucky encourages everyone to enjoy our state's beautiful scenery. They offer classes, workshops, and donation-based activities to all interested parties, regardless of income level or experience.

We talked about some of the factors that might prevent people of color from engaging more with nature, including the fact that public parks and pools were tightly segregated under Jim Crow laws. We also promised Gerry to be more open to the idea of spending time outside (not counting patios), and he even has us ready to try out his favorite sport: the ancient Hawaiian practice of stand-up paddle boarding.

In our Juicy Fruit segment, we talk about Melania Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention, and how Dr. Story plans to use it to teach her university students about plagiarism.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.