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One Year In, Black Girls Hike RVA Still Breaking Stereotypes

Black Girls Hike
Co-founder of Black Girls Hike RVA Nicole Boyd said It makes a difference to see someone that looks like you on out on the trails. "And it's really probably even more important to see someone that doesn't look like you." (Photo Courtesy of Black Girls Hike RVA)  

Nicole Boyd remembers the first time she invited her friend and fellow Chesterfield County teacher Nashara Tucker on a hike. It was to celebrate Boyd’s 42nd birthday.

“I was like, oh, let's do a hike and wine. That would be great,” Boyd said. “I'm an adventurer, and I'm an explorer. So I will find places that maybe I haven't gone before or by word of mouth.”

Boyd, who grew up following her father as he jogged around Central Park, did a lot of research and picked Crabtree Falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The National Park service lists the area as a scenic 2.5 mile loop trail with moderate to strenuous and steep inclines with rocky terrain. An adventure that should take up to two and a half hours. 

“It has a switchback [that’s] not too bad, not hard. We'll do some wineries. It'll be great,” Boyd said. 

But it’s here that Boyd pauses to let Tucker finish the rest of the story. 

“Before we get there, I’m like, ‘Hey, what do I need? Do I need hiking shoes? Do I need my hiking stick and all this other stuff?’ She's like, ‘no, you're gonna be fine,’” Tucker said. 

But, Tucker wasn’t prepared for what Boyd had planned.

“We did not even finish the hike,” Tucker said, laughing. “I was angry the whole time, like I thought it was going to be paved. I didn't know what a switchback was. I didn't know what a rock scramble was.”

Black Girls Hike
Photo courtesy of Black Girls Hike

Tucker said she didn’t see people of color during that hike or on others. 

“We just noticed the lack of diversity outdoors, just from randomly hiking different places like Crabtree falls,” Tucker said. “But I was more worried about, just like, you drug me all the way here from home for this. Like I'm waiting for wine.”

After that experience, Tucker said Boyd worked hard to change her perspective on hiking. The two started hiking together around local trails in Chesterfield County, like Midlothian Mines or Robious Landing Park. 

When the pandemic ramped up, the two started to hike even more. Word about their outings began to spread to their friends on social media.

Tucker said people started to reach out to them with questions, such as if they’ve hiked in certain areas yet or asking to join them on their next outing.

“We had no plans to have a hiking group,” Tucker said. “But it kind of just started when we made an Instagram page. And then people started donating money. So it's just became a business so quick. We're teachers who know nothing about running a business.”

Member Ester Nizer, 67, calls herself the grandmother of the group. She says she was looking to join people who look like her out on the trails. After seeing a hike posted on Facebook, she decided to reach out, despite living an hour away from the event. 

“It was so nice just to be around people that look like me,” she said. “And to be able to hike with folks who were new, and those that were experienced and not feel like I had to catch up.”

Nizer said that on the many hikes she’s done with the group, it’s been good to let her guard down and to have conversations with other women of color, ones that she’d have to put a filter on if hiking with white people.

“When we're hiking with folks that look like us, there's a lot of things that you just don't say, but you understand. You know, when you're talking to people, you may say, ‘Oh, I have a son’ and so we immediately know what that means to an African American woman,” Nizer said. “We don't have to go into a big discussion but we just know. So there are a lot of things that we say without saying, just by being around people that are all like us.”

Markia Baker is also a member. After her first hike with the group last year, she said she “truly felt like I found my tribe,” and added, “the best part about this organization is the fact that while we are all Black women, we are a diverse group of Black women, all ages, body types, experience levels, professional backgrounds sharing the love for the outdoors.”

Since their debut last May, Black Girls Hike RVA have held 25 hikes and gained members steadily. Tucker said they have 100 people signed up to their email lists and 15 people have already signed up for their recently launched paid membership. But she said anyone is welcome to hike.

Though Black Girls Hike RVA is geared to a safe space for women of color to hike, the group does open up events to family and friends of all colors.

Black Girls Hike
Photo courtesy of Black Girls Hike

Fighting The Stereotype 

Boyd said that it’s important for them to break the stereotype that hiking is just for white people. And, she said the connection between Black people and the outdoors is a painful history.

“Because it's either connected to slavery, or it's connected to things that happened during Jim Crow, being killed and lynched,” Boyd said. “Those stereotypes are rooted in that because it's from a painful place.”

Boyd said when people like her are on the trails, it may seem odd to others because it doesn’t fit the stereotype that Black people don’t like to hike. 

“A lot of people generally don't [see us]. It's a stereotype, but some of it is true just because of just the connection, that historical connection,” Boyd said. “So we definitely are going to do our part in breaking that stereotype because it's for everyone.”

Expanding Access For People of Color

Both Boyd and Tucker are teachers at Manchester Middle School in Chesterfield County. Boyd said she’s amazed at how little her students know about all the parks that are available to them in the county. Part of her and Tucker’s goal is to get more kids into hiking.

“When I talk about other places, they're like, ‘Oh?’ I mean, I think they know Pocahontas is a State Park, but that's pretty much it,” Boyd said. 

Boyd said her and Tucker use their teaching skills to help influence the kids to get out more. Boyd will often give kids assignments to find trails and parks around the county. And she said she remembers years ago, she’d show her students pictures of her hiking, and they’d say to her, “Black people hike?”

“And I was like, yeah, they really do. They're there, a lot of us are out there,” Boyd said. “It makes a difference to see someone that looks like you. And it's really probably even more important to see someone that doesn't look like you. And it's okay to be out on the trails.”

Boyd told her students that the trails are for everyone “no matter your race, disability, sexual orientation, any of that. The outdoors is for everyone.”

Black Girls Hike
Black Girls Hike RVA at the Slave Trail. (Photo Courtesy of Black Girls Hike RVA)

The two are in the process of creating a non-profit so they can take teenage Black and brown kids out on hikes. And they’d like to create a summer camp too.

“I just think about if I would have climbed my first mountain and had that view when I was 15, or 16, or maybe even 12 or six, how different my life would be, rather than just doing it when I was like 31,” Tucker said.

Boyd says they’ve also started a GoFundMe page so they can purchase a van, which would make it easier for larger groups to travel to hikes together.

Tucker said in looking over the past year, the group has turned into something much bigger than just the two of them. For something that just started with a few group of friends, it has now “ignited a passion” in others to get outside. 

“So when I look back, I'm like, I never thought it would be this big. But it says a lot about our mission and our goal that we are trying to inspire other people to do the same thing that we're doing,” Tucker said.

Black Girls Hike RVA’s next hike will be an anniversary one, held at the Shenandoah National Park, the place it all started.