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Kansas City-based show is diversifying the outdoors one episode at a time

Kansas City Star logoKansas City Star 12/9/2021 Farrah Mina, The Kansas City Star
Javohn Boss, 11, caught a stringer full of catfish in the Urban Kids Fishing Derby at Spring Valley Park in Kansas City, Mo.. © Brent Frazee/Kansas City Star/TNS Javohn Boss, 11, caught a stringer full of catfish in the Urban Kids Fishing Derby at Spring Valley Park in Kansas City, Mo..

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — "Urban American Outdoors" is in the business of changing narratives — like the myth that Black people can't swim. The Kansas City-based creators of the outdoors show put that notion to bed years ago with footage of a team of Black divers plunging into the South Pacific.

Edward Johnson, 2, right, and his brother Anthony, 4, were fascinated by the first fish Edward caught during the Urban Kids Fishing Derby at Spring Valley Park in Kansas City, Mo.. © Brent Frazee/Kansas City Star/TNS Edward Johnson, 2, right, and his brother Anthony, 4, were fascinated by the first fish Edward caught during the Urban Kids Fishing Derby at Spring Valley Park in Kansas City, Mo..

It's all a part of what the show does: challenging the larger misconception that Black people don't connect with nature.

"There was a statement made that African Americans started just getting into the outdoors in the late '90s," said host Wayne Hubbard, who co-founded the show with wife Candice Price. "Well, no, that's not right. We've been outdoors recreating in this space for a very long time."

For 23 years, Price and Hubbard have been helping Black Americans re-establish their relationship with the outdoors one episode at a time.

For too long, they say, Black and Indigenous people, and other marginalized groups, have seen their connections to the land erased.

"That was one of our initial things that we wanted to do is to make sure that everybody was included and felt like they had a safe space for us all to go to," Price said.

"We were that silent majority of people that were funding this outdoor space because we were still buying all this equipment," Hubbard said. "So we focused on saying, 'Hey, not only are we here, but we want to see people out there working these jobs that look like us.' "

Their show and events they organize have drawn national attention. Dan Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, flew to Kansas City for one of their family fishing derbies.

"As a country, we need to have a lot more events like this," Ashe told The Kansas City Star then. "It's all about connecting kids with the outdoors.

"Whether it be fishing, hunting, hiking or camping, we have to show them how much fun the outdoors can be."

The award-winning show, which airs on Bounce TV and other affiliates, not only features Black people camping, hiking, fishing, hunting and more, but it also highlights those activities' rich connections with Black history.

"We want to spotlight and say we're part of the narrative," Hubbard said.

Take popular accounts of the West, for example, which seldom include Black cowboys. But historians estimate that about one in four cowboys was Black.

And though park rangers today are overwhelmingly white, some of the country's first park rangers were Black.

"We've always covered historical and cultural pieces to bridge it to make it mean something to the people that are usually overlooked," Price said.

"Urban American Outdoors" has also tackled topics like food insecurity, outdoor survival and climate change.

When it was conceived in 1998, the show was the first of its kind, Hubbard and Price said, with content owned, produced and hosted by Black people for a Black audience.

Price shared the show's pilot with contacts from her career in broadcast. Just a few days later, Price and Hubbard received three offers to distribute the show nationally.

It was "unheard of," Price said. The show's programming has since expanded to include a spinoff cooking show, "Urban Soul Wild."

Price, raised in Kansas City, had little exposure to the outdoors growing up. But her background in television and production, including work on the master control team at KSHB-TV 41, quickly became an asset to "Urban American Outdoors," which she produces.

Growing up in Oklahoma, Hubbard comes from a family of active outdoorsmen who hunted, fished and gardened. Hubbard, who is African American and a member of the Cherokee Nation, got his start hunting at around 3 years old with his grandpa.

Since then, he's run into barriers that he said deter many people of color from enjoying outdoor activities, including finding himself in hostile environments.

"There were a lot of people that didn't feel like they were welcomed or that they couldn't go to these spaces," Price said.

Research shows that people of color are less likely to engage in outdoor recreation activities on public lands. Before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Black Americans were banned from or segregated at national and state parks.

Close to 60 years later, Price and Hubbard said many people of color still feel unwelcome or excluded there.

"We still have unsafe spaces," Price said. "We have to continue to work on that and create access opportunities."

According to National Park Service data, people of color — who make up around 40% of the U.S. population — represent 23% of park visitors. Black people are the most underrepresented, accounting for just 6% of visitors. More than three-quarters of national park visitors are white.

That's why Price and Hubbard have made it their life's work to make the outdoors inclusive.

"These are what we call public lands, and that means they belong to us," Price said.

They've both served on advisory committees to enact policy changes.

When the U.S. Forest Service was planning a framework for land management, Price was on a federal committee where she advised on outreach to youth, low-income communities and other marginalized groups.

As a member of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, Hubbard provided recommendations to the secretaries of interior and agriculture to preserve America's wildlife and hunting heritage.

Former President Barack Obama signed some of Hubbard's recommendations into a memorandum calling for equitable access to public lands and an inclusive national workforce.

When Price and Hubbard are not producing shows or changing policy, they're engaging children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds in the outdoors.

Each year, their amateur fishing derby connects children to nature — an event that began in Kansas City, but has since traveled to include places like Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and Ferguson,Missouri.

"It's us enjoying nature," Hubbard said, "saying that we've always been here."

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