Black people were not allowed in most parks, public lands and campsites until the 1950s. Still, with desegregation came safety fears, acts of violence and threats. So, while other communities were passed down generational health, the Black community inherited a generational fear of the outdoors. Black People Who Hike is about creating a safe, welcoming space for Black people, changing the narrative, showing our community that this space is for us.
In 2019, Debbie Njai’s professional career was going exactly how she wanted it to. She was managing multiple restaurants as a part of her family’s business, and the restaurants were successful financially. However, Debbie was beginning to notice that the stress of her career was beginning to have an impact on her personal life. This is when Debbie began taking hikes in parks around the St. Louis region.
While on one of her hikes, Debbie noticed how her mood had improved and her stress had lowered. Being outdoors in natural spaces was the cure to her successful, yet stressful, career. This is when Debbie had the idea of finding a way to bring the benefits of nature therapy to more people who look like her. Debbie states, “I grew so much through the outdoors. It allowed me to find myself and unapologetically find myself.”
Debbie began hosting hikes with her friends and colleagues to reintroduce Black people to the outdoors, a space they have historically not been welcomed into because of racial discriminated. As these hikes began growing in number and frequency, she founded Black People Who Hike and the #WeHikeToo movement. Debbie believes nature is a resource that should be experienced by all people, and she is committed to making access to the outdoors more equitable for everyone. She has also become the Vice President of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) and assists MCE in strategic planning, ensuring a continuing focus on environmental justice.
Since its founding, Black People Who Hike has conducted over 100 hikes and outings to empower, educate and re-engage Black people with the outdoors. The group’s work includes wellness campaigns, health advocacy and community-based activities including hiking, camping, kayaking, rock climbing and yoga. This has included activities in the St. Louis region as well as trips to National Parks.
Debbie is opening doors and minds to create a more inclusive and just outdoor community.
Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) offers a variety of ways to engage with its portraits and portrait subjects. Host an exhibit, use our free lesson plans and educational programs, or engage with a member of the AWTT team or portrait subjects.
AWTT has educational materials and lesson plans that ask students to grapple with truth, justice, and freedom.
AWTT encourages community engagement programs and exhibits accompanied by public events that stimulate dialogue around citizenship, education, and activism.