Nonprofit aims to encourage women of color to get outdoors, break down historical barriers


AUSTIN (KXAN) — As a kid, Tanya Walker wanted to do what she saw other children doing on TV. That included activities such as kayaking, hiking, cycling, longboarding and cave exploring.

“But my mother being a single parent whose income was very limited coupled with the fact that typically our culture didn’t see many people doing any of those activities because we don’t have that exposure nor did we have the proper knowledge,” Walker said.

Walker is not alone.

“Research shows that people of color are far less likely to engage in nature-based outdoor recreation activities, with historic discrimination being a large underlying factor,” a recent report by North Carolina State’s College of Natural Resources said, which goes on to examine the history of access, specifically related to the public park systems in our country.

It also touches on access when it comes to housing locations and discusses why some may experience an “unease in the outdoors,” citing the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

Walker wanted to break down barriers for women of color, and in 2018 she started Black Women Who Kayak+, a local nonprofit that encourages women to get outdoors and try various activities. One of those women is Christina Mays.

“As kids, we always went to the pool but you never learned how to swim, you just learned how to jump in the water and then kind of play around but you always were on the very shallow and or you went to a flash park or something like that,” Mays said.

She had not properly learned how to swim, and that was her first step. Walker connected Mays with Brian Borchardt, the owner of British Swim School in Austin.

“Swimming is not an activity, it’s a life skill,” he said.

Borchardt teamed up with the nonprofit and is now offering swimming lessons at a discounted price for the group’s members. For Borchardt, his goal is to prevent drowning. While swimming can be a fun recreational activity, he wants to ensure those who are getting the water can protect themselves.

Mays has been taking lessons at the British Swim School and has a few to go.

“I wish I would have done it a long time ago because it’s kind of like, ‘Gosh, I could’ve really enjoyed a lot of different things,'” Mays said.

This June, the nonprofit will offer free wakeboard surfing lessons. The group also partners with other organizations such as the Texas Rowing Center. Walker said for those who may be experiencing financial hardships, the nonprofit does offer scholarships. If you would like to join or sponsor a class, you can reach out online.

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