How HBCUs Outside Brings Adventure and Gear to Black Students
Nonprofit founder Ron Griswell talks changing the face of the outdoors and launching #BlacktotheTrails5K fundraiser to support future BIPOC outdoorists
Cliford Mervil, AGGIE Core
Ron Griswell wants to meet people where they are to get more Black faces in the outdoors—whether that’s hiking, biking, walking, or running. To do so he’s rebuilt and relaunched HBCUs Outside, and announced the nonprofit’s first fundraiser, #BlacktotheTrails5k.
The virtual race will run from 19-27 September to celebrate Global Trail Running Day, and in turn, help raise money and awareness for the nonprofit and it’s goal of bringing outdoor experiences and resources to students and alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
As an adventure outdoorsman who’s guided canoe, sea kayaking, and whitewater rafting trips, in addition to hiking and backpacking experiences, Griswell wants to use his expertise to create a welcoming space for students and alumni from HBCUs to get outside.
Getting outside can be intimidating and expensive. HBCUs Outside aims to tackle these roadblocks with a three-channeled approach: a gear library, local experiences & expeditions.
The outdoors can be a very white space, and, as Griswell found, there aren’t a ton of outdoor resources or recreation programs at HBCUs, nor climbing walls or gear libraries. But he wants to change that. “Let me make things easy by at least putting my knowledge and skills into play, offering these things for HBCUs as a safe space and an intro to get outside,” Griswell says.
Getting outside can be intimidating and expensive, but HBCUs Outside aims to tackle these roadblocks with a three-channeled approach: a gear library, local experiences, and expeditions.
The gear library makes it easy for students and alumni to rent outdoor equipment at a fraction of the cost of buying. “I want the core things that make it really hard to get outside,” Griswell says. “I want tents, sleeping bags, pads, 30L or 60L backpacks, trekking poles, stoves and pots, headlamps, and raingear.” Prices to rent for a full week of use will range from $5 up to $60. The later bring for a 2-person camping kit, for example. “This is a resource a lot of HBCUs do not have, even though right down the street PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions) have robust outdoor programs and gear libraries. This needs to be something we put in [the student’s] hands,” Griswell says.
"This is a resource a lot of HBCUs do not have, even though right down the street Predominantly White Institutions have robust outdoor programs and gear libraries. This needs to be something we put in [the student’s] hands." — Ron Griswell
Local experiences will create opportunities for HBCU students and alumni to meet each other, network, and possibly find mentors. The first of these will start with the #BlacktotheTrails5k. Throughout North Carolina and Virginia, Griswell will have socially distanced meet-ups to run, walk, strut, basically move your body in any way you want.
Virtual experiences for how-tos and meetups will broaden the program’s reach, too. “Speaking from the HBCU lens, this is the way that a lot of these students are first introduced to the outdoors, or it’s the first intro to someone who likes the outdoors, so that gives them a chance to meet other students on campus, and peers at other HBCUs,” Griswell says.
The stronger that network, the more connections each student makes. These benefits also extend to alumni. “Local experiences are not only about professional training skills but really about community and belonging.” HBCUs Outside will post a monthly calendar online that will also serve as a spot to keep track of other HBCUs’ outdoor clubs, so students can know what those outing trips look like for the year.
Lastly, the expeditions will offer participants something to push their boundaries and look forward to—from the Smoky Mountains to Acadia. “With these, we truly want to focus on the East Coast activities. So many [outdoor trips] are focused on the west, and for good reason, but you don’t have to go so far,” Griswell says. Especially given COVID and certain travel restrictions, showing students and alumni the beauty in their backyard is integral to getting them outside more.
While Griswell is just getting started—local experiences are live now, expeditions will launch later this year, and the gear library is expected to go live in January 2021—his optimistic plan for the future includes making himself obsolete.
Right now, these resources are needed at HBCUs to get the students and alumni outdoors, and starting these conversations Griswell is creating space for many more to come. Still, Griswell envisions a future where “HBCUs will have adequate resources from the outdoor industry and have the funds that can be invested specifically for recreation.” #BlacktotheTrails5k is just the start.
Want to get involved? Sign up for the #BlacktotheTrails5k fundraiser. To do so, visit HBCUsoutside.com and click on the banner across the top of the page. Alternatively, you can go to @HBCUsOutside on Instagram and click the link in bio.
Don’t run? Walking is excellent, too. “We’re encouraging people to run, hike, strut—whether that’s you walking, running, using an adaptive device, going to a national park or laps in your yard,” Griswell says. You don’t have to run the fastest 5K, but you can go for your #Fiercest5k, #Mostest5k, #Trashiest5k #Cutest5k, and more. Prizes are up for grabs for each category.
Once you’ve signed up, it’s time to move. Not sure where to go? Try your backyard or local neighborhood, map your course on mapmyrun.com or use USATF’s website to find a certified route. Is there a track near you? 12.5 laps is a 5K. Wherever and however you get outside is up to you.
See you out there.