Brainstorm Follow-up: Reconnecting Black People to Nature is Key


Brainstorm Notes

Some Black people think that outdoor activities are strictly the domain of White people.

This was a key finding from a brainstorm session at 100State where we addressed the question, “How can we get more children of color outdoors?”

Participants identified barriers and solutions to getting more children of color outdoors.

Thank you to the following organizations for your participation. Fitchburg City Council, Dane County Parks, Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership, Madison Notes, WHOA, Black Women’s Wellness Foundation, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and others.


  1. Lack of connections to the outdoors. 

    Some Black youth (and adults) dismiss outdoor activities saying, “That’s just for white people.” While no one is suggesting that everyone must like the outdoors, it is important for youth to have choices. Participants want youth to be open to outdoor activities before making decisions about their value.

  2. Many Black youth and parents fear the woods.

    One participant said, “Many African-Americans will be initially hesitant to venture out into unfamiliar or remote places unless assured that it’s safe for them and their children and that the people in surrounding areas/towns are friendly. Part of our historical memory deals with extreme violence and danger in the wilderness (lynchings/torture/fleeing slavery and violence at great danger).”

  3. Transportation can also be a barrier.

    Local parks are great, but getting further away from the city can be a challenge for families.


  1. Reconnect to Nature: 

    One person said, “Nature and the outdoors is deeply embedded in the DNA of people descended from Africa. Historically, we are no strangers to the outdoors. Prior to mass migration to urban areas in the 1920’s-60’s for work and to escape the racial violence and lack of opportunity in the south, African-Americans largely lived in rural areas, were farmers and agriculturalists and had strong ties to the land, nature, and wilderness. This is part of our collective memory. We just have to re-spark it. Further, before the transatlantic slave trade that brought millions of Africans to the Americas…we as African people had mastered the toughest of wildernesses on our Mother continent. So again – it’s in our DNA – we’re just a few generations removed from the experience.”

  2. Be Culturally Relevant: What this means is providing activities that celebrate the Blackness of the outdoors. Making youth and adults aware of the many Black outdoor and environmental leaders is a good place to start. Stories about the Buffalo Soldiers, Shelton JohnsonJames Edward Mills, John Francis, Matthew Henson, Rue Mapp, Carolyn Finney, Will Allen and others must be told to Black youth and to all people. Black history is everyone’s history. These stories will inspire youth to try outdoor activities and to picture themselves doing things that they once thought were ‘just for white people.’
  3. Work with families: One participant shared that, “Too often organizations only work with kids. When, if you work with the parents, the children will follow.”
  4. Provide transportation: The participants of the brainstorm thought that providing a bus would help people take part in events. Transportation always helps, especially if parents are on a tight budget. They coined the term “Nature bus” and envisioned a bus that would travel around town to pick up kids and families for outdoor adventures.

Thank you again those that participated in the brainstorm session. I will be incorporating these ideas into my business plan. The business will be called Outdoors123 and be dedicated to getting children and families of color outdoors.

To read more about people of color and the outdoors, here are three articles and two books book that will help you think deeper about this topic.
Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, ‘Like Me on Facebook,’ and share this article.

This land is ours: African Americans should claim their place in the great outdoors


by Carolyn Finney


by James Edward Mills


How to Make Hot Chocolate Outside!

Winter and hot chocolate go together.
This year, enjoy hot chocolate while you’re playing outside.
We cook outside during the summer so why not winter?
There is nothing better and your kids will remember it forever.

It’s easy and fun.


You will need: images
1. Portable Coleman Stove or similar with fuel
2. Pan for water
3. Cups
4. Lighter or matches
5. Cocoa mix
6. Water
7. Spoons
8. Towels/rags to clean up spills (optional)

You can buy small gas stoves at REI, Dicks, Target or any outdoor supply store for about $30. Portable stoves are easy to use and you’ll have hot water within minutes. Propane stoves like the one shown are great because you don’t have the mess of fuel.

DSC00093Put all your supplies into a plastic bin to transport to your event. If there isn’t a picnic table handy, search for a flat rock or create a place in the snow for your stove. The kids can make a spot for you. When you’re ready, fire up the stove and serve. I always recommend that you let the kids work up a sweat first before enjoying the drink. They’ll appreciate it more and they’ll be warm enough to stand around for a few minutes.

If you’re worried about your hands getting cold, just pop a hand warmer in your pocket. You can buy 6 pair for about $10 or individual packs for $1. Why suffer with cold hands when there’s an easy solution?

By creating wonderful outdoor experiences, kids are more likely to get off the couch and into the outdoors. Watch this video of two young people enjoying their first outdoor hot cocoa. You can tell that they’re having a blast and you can bet that more people will come on the next trip.

You can find Diane planning for her next trip at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church on Madison’s east side. 

The Stick: Now available at a woods near you!


Kira rocks out with her microphone-stick.

You can’t keep a good stick down.

In an instant, kids will transform the humble stick into just about anything and you should let them:

  • Walking stick
  • Crutch
  • Stir Stick
  • Microphone
  • Magic wand
  • Eating tool
  • Fishing pole
  • Drawing tool
  • Building material
  • Flag for a sand castle
  • Digging tool and lots more…

What’s not to love about sticks?

Sticks are free.
Sticks are everywhere.
Sticks are the ultimate creativity booster. Continue reading

ET: The best bike movie ever

ET still inspires kids to take flight on their bikes.

“I want to ride like ET,” said Jamar, during bike club last week.

“You mean that you want to fly?” I asked.


Thank you Jamar for reminding me of the best bike movie ever.

In the movie’s most famous scene, a gang of bike-riding kids outmaneuver the cops to protect their friend ET. Kids ride like the wind through back alleys and roads and take flight from berms. All the while, Spielberg keeps the camera on the kids’ feet as they furiously pedal.

Anyone who’s ever ridden a one speed bike can relate to this scene. Flight does seem possible and Spielberg captures this feeling perfectly. The dazzling moment where Elliot flies away with ET loaded in his basket captures what all kids intuitively know–that anything is possible on a bike.

That’s exactly how I remember biking as a kid and it’s the primary reason why I started Bike for Life.

Jamar rides like the wind toward the capital.

When I was growing up, every kid in my neighborhood had a one speed bike. Just like in the movie, we rode to the park, the pool, to school and to the grocery store. We owned the road and knew all the cracks, potholes and short cuts along the way. We rode like our lives depended on it, even when it didn’t. If something happened, we’d be ready and NO ONE would catch us.

At 10 years old, we ruled the neighborhood and that’s all that mattered.

Bike for Life teaches kids the joy of biking as transportation. While we can’t take as many shortcuts as I took as I kid, we still go places that cars can’t go. We cruise the bike paths, careen under bridges, bump along the grass in the park, and get rock star parking at the grocery store.

We teach kids that you can go anywhere and do anything on a bike.

And, if you’re lucky, you might even take flight.

Thanks Jamar for the reminder.

The fall session of Bike for Life is now over, but you can still ride your bike well into winter. Stay tuned for more fall and winter adventures. 

These feet are made for biking: making memories to last a lifetime

Buba’s Feet at Vilas Beach

These feet are made for biking.
And playing in the sand,
talking to ducks,
jumping on rocks and just plain having fun.

But will they remember any of it as adults?
Will Bike for Life make a difference for these kids?

As Bike for Life’s summer session comes to a close, I’d like to think that the minds attached to the feet will carry with them positive memories and skills from the summer.

But since I can’t attach a tracking device to each child, I can only hope that one or two memories will stick with them and keep them motivated to eat healthy and to bike later in life.

Looking back at my childhood, I recall trips from elementary school and how they affected my life. A school field trip to the Milwaukee Museum in fourth grade taught me that dinosaurs were scary and cool and that there’s a great big world out there. I imagined myself on the streets of Old Milwaukee, which no doubt spurred an interest in all things historic. But more than anything, those trips gave me hope and served as an escape from a not so happy childhood (another story).

I’d like to think that the same is true for the kids that attend bike club, many of which have limited means. Bike club exposes kids to new worlds and that makes them more confident and independent. When kids bike 12.5 miles, they learn that they can go anywhere. When they get exposed to new adventures, they learn to handle the unexpected. These are skills that will serve them well in life.

Biking along Lake Monona with Monona Terrace and the State Capital in the background.

I’d also like to think they’ll remember the teachery things, such as how to make a healthy soda drink, how to cross a busy street and how to put air in their tire.

But more than likely, they’ll each take with them the one thing that touched them… perhaps biking over the bridges or under the tunnels, the elevator at Monona Terrace, or biking to the zoo. Or, they’ll remember the great snacks, or the time I fed them “bird style” because we ran out of cups (see photo below).

Regardless, I am confident that they will remember something. If I’m lucky, they’ll think that bike club was cool, just like I thought that dinosaur was cool. But more than anything, I hope they remember the joy and freedom of biking. I want them to remember that for two hours each week, they were happy. If I leave them with that, I will consider my job well done.

Thanks for the memories kids and see you on the bike trails this fall. 

Here I am feeding Soren “bird style” some of Miss Diane’s tasty homemade soda-sparkling water and a splash of apple juice – before leaving the zoo.

Diane Schwartz is the founder of Bike for Life and Get Kids Outside. You can find her working on her fall biking calendar and other fall outings for the Goodman Community Center.

What goes down must come up: Life lessons learned while skiing

What goes down...

Learning to ski is a humbling experience.

Fall, get up. Fall, get up.
Poles and skis slip and slide and get tangled up in the weirdest of ways.

That’s  pretty much how it goes for first-timers,
especially as they learn to maneuver hills.

I can’t think of a better metaphor for life.
If kids can get past the initial frustrations, they learn so much. That’s why we ask kids to make an 8-week commitment to ski club. That way, they have to work through their frustration. The end result is always a joyful celebration on the last day.

In the mean time, there’s more agony of defeat than the thrill of victory, but the victory is so very sweet.

Check out these photos from this week’s lesson at Black Hawk Ski Club. They really do say it all.

Continue reading

African savannas and Wisconsin state parks

Outdoor adventures with kids bring curious comparisons.

Photo of kids on overlook

“It looks like Africa,” said 8-year-old Marjorie as we drove into Governor Nelson State Park on a cold March day.

I paused, a bit thrown by her thoughtful comment. I mean, I had never heard Wisconsin and Africa being linked geographically. And even if comparisons could be made, you’d think they’d be made during a blistering heat wave and not when the ground was still frozen.

Yet, she was right.

In March, the Wisconsin savanna does look like the African savanna, a sea of tan grass with a few trees dotting the landscape. I almost expected a lion to appear, the image was so vivid in my mind.

This 8-year-old girl made a deep connection between Wisconsin and Africa that can only be made by experience. This blew me away. I love being shown how to see something in an entirely new way and sometimes it takes a child to do it.

Continue reading

All eyes on the eagles: Eagle Days 2012

Cashel Nelson, 8, looks through a scope at the eagle overlook in Prairie du Sac during Bald Eagle Watching Days 2010 while his friend from Madison's Goodman Community Center Qarly Haywood, 8, awaits her turn.By Jeremiah Tucker, Sauk Prairie Eagle.

Now one of the longest-running events of its kind in the state, Sauk Prairie’s Bald Eagle Watching Days began life as a token of thanks from the state to eagle-deprived volunteers.

Randy Jurewicz, a retired biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helped organize the first official Eagle Watching Days in Sauk Prairie 25 years ago. The event, he said, grew out of a national census of eagles organized by the National Wildlife Federation.

Continue reading

Kids learn to enjoy winter at Indian Lake County Park

Even without snow, the kids made use of the sledding hill.

Lou and his mother didn’t look too happy as we gathered at 9 a.m. on a cold, December morning for a trip to Indian Lake County Park.

“I had my doubts,” mom admitted. But she showed up anyway along with 30 others. At the end of the day, they were all smiles and glad they came.

Despite the lack of snow and 10 degree temps, the kids found lots of ways to stay warm and have fun. Plus, Indian Lake is a drop-dead gorgeous park. The sunny, blue skies formed a perfect back drop for limitless outdoor fun:

– Kids ran, slid and rolled down a frost covered sledding hill.

– Kids played on a huge pile of wood. They turned the wood pile into a fort, a mountain or just a neat place to climb. They killed off space aliens, played soldier games and lots more.

– Kids played with sticks, the best toys ever.

– Kids examined beautiful frost crystals that coated the ground.

Sticks are the best toys ever. Note the lack of mittens.

– Kids helped build a fire.

– Kids played football and kicked around a ball.

– Kids hiked up the hill to see a historic chapel.

– Kids ate hot dogs and hot chocolate.

But mostly, the kids learned that sometimes it’s important to get up and go even if it’s cold. Parents set the example. Unfortunately, about 15 kids missed out because their parents cancelled.

We forget how warm kids get when they run around. No matter how many times we asked kids to put their hats on, most didn’t listen and took them off anyway. Go figure. Kids just don’t react to cold the same way as adults.

Winter is a great time to get outside. It’s important to help parents and kids learn how to enjoy the winter.

How do you respond to fears about cold weather? 

Playing football in the morning sun. Again, no mittens. Are they crazy?

Carrot Juice vs Chips: Bike for Life explores the options

Surprise: Kids like carrot juice.

Carrot juice or chips?
Raw peanut butter anyone?
What do you think kids will eat?
Turns out they’ll eat all three, but not necessarily in that order.

I didn’t think they’d like carrot juice, but they did.
They watched intently as the Willy Street Coop juice bar man turned carrots into juice with the flip of a switch. The rich, orange juice flowed out and the kids eagerly drank it up. They also loved watching peanuts turn into peanut butter in the grinder.  They liked that it looked kinda gross coming out of the machine, which always helps with kids.

After they tried the juice and peanut butter, I took out chips and chocolate to talk about portion size and choices in food. They squealed with delight. Sugar, salt and fat make for tough competition. No squeals for carrot juice and unsweetened/unsalted peanut butter, but then again, they had never tried them before.  On the other hand, junk food, is readily available and a primary cause of obesity in kids.

Can you just 12 chips?

Of course, the real challenge with junk food is how much kids eat.

Did you know that there are about 12 chips and 250 calories in one serving?  Have you ever tried eating just 12 chips in a sitting?  That’s the challenge. I offered single serving bags of chips to make the point.

The next time you sit down to eat chips, challenge yourself and your kids to eat just one serving. And, before you eat, read the ingredient label. Turns out that the nacho cheese flavored chips are loaded with preservatives, whereas simple potato chips contain just potatoes, oil and salt. Even in the chip world, there are choices.

As for the chocolate, the package said a serving was half the bar. This seemed like a lot so we talked about that. Can you eat just a few squares of chocolate and put the rest away for another day?  I know I can’t, which is why I don’t eat chips or eat sugar. I shared this with the kids so they know that there’s a choice. They don’t get it, but then again, they don’t have to, just yet.

Kids are smart and while most of their food choices are made by others, I believe that this information will make a difference to them.

Perhaps not now, but in the future.

What do you think?   

Bike for Life is an obesity prevention program created and run by Diane Schwartz out of the Goodman Community Center. It’s funded by the Endres Foundation and the Rosenlund Family Foundation. The group is enjoying the great fall weather by biking around Madison. Next week, we’ll head up to the Capitol.