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Thu., Aug. 7, 2014

Eusavio Webster bubbles with excitement after catching his first fish while his mother Nia holds his fishing rod.
Eusavio Webster bubbles with excitement after catching his first fish while his mother Nia holds his fishing rod.

Tackling minority participation in outdoors

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – At the Urban Outdoors Summit last weekend at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center in Kansas City, experts offered many answers for a lack of minority participation in our great outdoors.

They included a lack of cultural ties to outdoor sports, a lack of access, an inability to leave the urban core and drive a couple of hours to find good hunting and fishing, intimidation, a lack of role models and a fear of stereotypes.

“There are stereotypes about what type of fish minorities go after,” said Charlie King, a semipro fisherman. “We’ll pull up to a boat ramp with a $30,000 bass boat and people will stare. It’s like, ‘What are you doing here?’

“We have to overcome those stereotypes and get involved.”

Eric Morris, who lives in Killeen, Texas, but will soon be moving to Kansas City, is an African-American who is working to bring inclusion to the outdoors world.

He and others established the Black Wolf Hunting Club, a nonprofit organization designed to bring hunting to the black community.

Chapters across the United States recruit African-American mentors to take minority children hunting. They teach the youngsters about firearms safety, how to shoot, basic hunting strategies and the laws and regulations of the sport. Then they take them out in the field.

“With a lot of these kids, you can just see the light go on,” Morris said. “It plants a seed.”

But he knows that he and his organization are just getting started. There are many barriers to overcome.

“Sometimes, parents are some of the biggest obstacles,” Morris said. “Many of them don’t have cultural ties to hunting, so they don’t think it’s something for their babies.”

King and others are encouraged that they are seeing at least some progress. With census surveys showing that populations of African-Americans and Hispanics will outnumber whites several decades from now, government agencies, outdoor-equipment manufacturers and others are focusing more on the future than the past.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has introduced a program called Discover Nature: Fishing. It’s designed to introduce children and families, particularly those who live in urban areas, to fishing. Classes go through the basics, such as the equipment, bait, ethics and regulations of the sport. Then the participants go fishing with supervised help.

The Department of Conservation also has been active in stocking urban lakes with trout in the cold-water months, and channel catfish when it gets warmer.

“It’s important to provide people in the inner city access to good fishing,” said Bob Mattucks, a fisheries biologist for the Department of Conservation. “Not everyone can afford or has time to go to the Ozarks for the weekend.”

The same is true on the Kansas side. The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism stocks small bodies of water in the urban core and has programs introducing city residents to fishing.

The tide is turning nationally, too. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, which represents the boating and fishing sector, has been active in recruiting minority participation in the outdoors.

A new program called Vamos A Pescar (Let’s Go Fishing) was recently introduced as a way to appeal to Hispanic fishermen. The website tells of a campaign designed to encourage Hispanics, especially families, to get involved in outdoor sports.

And national leaders are showing a resolve to get more minorities involved in fishing and hunting.

“One of our priorities is reaching out to minorities,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “That’s a key to our future.

“One of our biggest challenges is making the outdoors relevant, and not just to white, male Americans. America is changing. And we have to change with it.”


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