Contribute to the conversation with Joy Trip Reading Project

Join the Joy Trip Reading Project to discuss books centered on people of color and their relationships to the natural world.
James Edward Mills
Photo by Nick Berard

Award-winning journalist and photographer James Edward Mills has been involved in outdoor education and engagement since the late 1980s. He’s long recognized the significant lack of diversity in outdoor recreation, from the faces of people on hiking trails to the models sporting hiking gear in magazines. He set out to change that in 2009 by launching the Joy Trip Project, a reporting organization and podcast-turned-online platform about how people — particularly people of color — spend time outdoors.

“It was through the podcast that I got to interview authors, filmmakers and photographers,” says Mills. “That first year was also the year the ‘National Parks: America’s Best Idea’ came out, and I interviewed Ken Burns. I asked him, ‘How are you going to tell the story of Black people?’ and he told me about the buffalo soldiers at Yosemite. That discussion took me down a rabbit hole of undiscovered stories of people of color in the national parks.”

After that conversation, Mills continued reading and sharing stories about the complex history of the Black experience in the outdoors, and he was invited by Paul Robbins at the Nelson Institute to teach a summer class at the University of Wisconsin–Madison called “Outdoors for All.”

“Whenever I could, I’d invite the authors to come to the class to speak to the students,” he says. “I’d post photos of the authors’ talks, and people in the community would constantly say they wished they could be a fly on the wall for these conversations.”

Joy Trip

On joytripproject.com, you’ll find photos and a podcast from the Black Men Northwoods Retreat, organized by James Edward Mills (behind the camera) and Aaron Perry (far left). The hike along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail was one way to help Black folks create positive experiences with the outdoors.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, Mills taught the class virtually, using teleconferencing technology to host panel discussions and Q&As with authors. This year, he launched the Joy Trip Reading Project to bring a core reading list to the public. Twelve selections (mostly memoirs) deliver compelling narratives from people of color engaging with nature and the outdoors and their experiences of fear, danger, liberation and freedom.

“Outdoor recreation has a lot of presumptive privilege people aren’t aware of,” he says. “I hear people say, ‘Why can’t people of color just go outside?’ These authors have written books that illustrate why it’s not that simple.” Mills hopes readers recognize that while some people of color have struggled to achieve a positive relationship with the outdoors, it is possible.

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