Episode 162: Figuring it Out as She Grows

Interview with Mina Okpi, Founder of Black Outdoor Adventurers

Sponsored by Ikon Pass, BetterHelp, & Oregon State University Ecampus

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Mina Okpi is an electrical engineer-turned outdoor entrepreneur. Through her company Black Outdoor Adventurers, she helps connect people of color to the outdoors. Like a lot of small business owners, Mina didn’t plan on starting an adventure tour company, but she followed the demand and she’s figuring it out as it grows.

In this episode, we’ll hear from Mina about running a purpose-driven adventure company, get lots of advice for anyone looking to make a career change or launch their own outdoor company, as well as hear about the changes she’d like to see in the outdoor and travel industry.

Full transcript available by 12PM EST on release day after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Mina Okpi

Hosted by Gale Straub

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Mina Okpi, Founder of Black Outdoor Adventurers

On a cycling excursion with Black Outdoor Adventurers
Skiing & Snowboarding are two of the mountain trips Black Outdoor Adventurers offers.
Mina in the Sierras

 

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Gale Straub:

What outdoor activities make you feel like you can tap into being a kid again?

Mina Okpi:

My favorites are surfing and skiing and that’s not to say I’m amazing at either one. It’s just, it just allows me to tap into that.

Gale Straub – Narration:

This is Mina. Mina is an electrical engineer, turned accidental outdoor entrepreneur through her company, Black Outdoor Adventurers. One of the special things she helps her clients do is to tap into their inner child.

Mina Okpi:

Surfing. I I’m I’m crap at, but it’s just something about getting up and then falling and then just like trying to get, and you’re just, you know, all giggly and happy about it. That allows me to tap into my inner child and kind of forget everything else. But that moment, and then also skiing is the same. I, you know, when I’m coming down a mountain, there’s this, I tell people, I describe it like to being to my own church. I almost feel as though this weird spiritual sense that you get just like cruising down a mountain, then you just appease this. There’s this huge Zen of doing that, then that I get. And I love, I love that feeling, but also just, just hanging out by a campfire is also huge for me.

Gale Straub:

A thing I love about the surfing and the skiing is that like, there’s literally nothing else you could be doing at the same time as that. There’s no multitasking. And as an entrepreneur, you need that.

Mina Okpi:

Yeah. I love those moments, honestly, when I don’t have to think about other things, because honestly I forget what it’s called, but those are the times that when I’m not thinking, or when I’m not trying to think is a time when, when things come to me. And so I love those moments, but it’s, it’s hard to just let go or schedule that time to be in that zone. But I’ve been trying manufacturer that.

Gale Straub:

Scheduling, I think it’s flow, right? It’s like the, the flow state, I think that’s the, like the creative like fixation and then those, yeah, those ideas come, I’m not so good at scheduling that time either.

Gale Straub – Narration:

So Mina and I had a lot to bond over as outdoor business owners whose work sometimes keeps us inside. Mina didn’t set out to start a tour operator company, but she saw an opportunity and a need.

Mina Okpi:

I didn’t start off to create a company or a business of any sort it came about through this lack of seeing certain types of people outdoors and in events that I was going to.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina had this feeling, but the catalyst came in the form of a healing solo camping trip in September, 2015.

Mina Okpi:

I had gone camping in Montauk, New York, as I recall vividly just looking around. I was there for a couple of days. I went by myself, I was looking around and looking around and the whole time I was there and I didn’t see, I didn’t see any, really any Black people or brown people or people I could identify as people of color and really, and you know, it was a large campsite. Beautiful. And I actually got a lot of healing from being at that campsite at that particular time. Cause I was going through a lot of things physically and just mentally and everything. And I remember that it’s striking me, that people, especially people of color are missing out on this healing and, and being able to be outdoors. And so when I got back home, I decided to just create something and just be able to, so that I could invite a couple of people out. I didn’t think that it was going to be that kind of demand for it, to be honest, just because I hadn’t seen these folks outdoors. So I thought I just assumed, you know, maybe it’s just because, you know, they weren’t interested or something. The market was really small, but yeah. But then I, I created it. And as originally as a meetup group and people just started really flocking to it so much so that I, I had to turn it into a business just to make, make sure it made sense and all the T’s are crossed and you know, all those good things.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina started gathering people through a meetup group with a very straightforward name:

Mina Okpi:

Black people who love the outdoors and adventure. Um, and so it was just very like, okay, you see the name and you know what it is, and you know what we’re doing.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina said, she wasn’t sure when she started the group, whether or not the demand would be there, but it was. And she responded to it by establishing a tour company with a shorter, but still very straightforward name, Black Outdoor Adventurers. She wanted to serve her community, knowing that she could figure it all out as she went along.

Mina Okpi:

So it’s really just failing forward and learning in that way.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear from Mina about running a purpose driven adventure company, get lots of advice for anyone looking to make a career change or launch their own outdoor company, as well as hear from Mina about the changes she’d like to see in the outdoor and travel industry, all that more after this.

PREROLL ADS:

Gale Straub – Narration:

In starting Black Outdoor Adventurers, Mina wanted to help people of color access the healing elements of the outdoors that she’s benefited from in her own life. But there’s more to their purpose as a company:

Mina Okpi:

Our mission is to get Black and Brown people exposed to nature and the outdoors and just help them to discover their own potential through being in the outdoors and engaging in an activity and making real friendships and creating community, family, all of that. And also just being able to be themselves, right. We don’t want them to feel as though they have to show up as only half of themselves, which a lot of Black people or people of color feel. So they have to do. And we’re talking about career and workspaces or just a lot of spaces. I hear there’s so, so much with people who come out and, and just, they’re just sometimes I don’t think people even realize how much of themselves they’re holding in until you can just really let go and be yourself and not feel as though you going to be judged. So our mission is just, is, is that is, is I say secretly or my, my mission is to just help people discover their potential. But in the way that we do that is using the outdoors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina shared some of the outdoor activities they plan.

Mina Okpi:

So we offer skiing, surfing, whitewater rafting. We do retreats multi-day retreats where we’ll do things like kayaking. Um, maybe have people do some run, some yoga. We do trips to places such as Nantucket. So we, we consider ourselves Northeast while we’re New York based. So we’ll do Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont. So we’re, we’re Northeast. Um, what else do we do? We do a lot of hiking, a lot of, not a lot, but we do jet skiing. Sometimes we also do. We work in a good amount of social events every month, just so that people can, can continue to grow that community feeling and enhance those relationships that they, you know, they’ve started to create and just deepen them

Gale Straub – Narration:

Right now, those community events are virtual and all excursions are on hold due to the pandemic. Mina is in planning mode, which after five years of a lot of hustling is a different change of pace. Since 2015, Mina has been learning as she goes in an industry that’s entirely different from the one that she planned on pursuing a career in before you went full time with Black Outdoor Adventurers.

Gale Straub:

You were an electrical engineer, which I’m sure people ask you about a lot, like the differences between that. There’s a lot of assumptions that are probably made, but like how, how has your background helped you in this work?

Mina Okpi:

Um, I think it’s helped me a lot because I’m, I would say I’m a person who likes to figure things out very much so, and that’s why I went into that field electrical engineering. I also have a degree in construction management and project management. So those are all about figuring things out and, you know, big picture and planning. Um, and just thinking that has helped me a lot because planning events and figuring out what to do when in looking at the big picture is very much when you’re going to do something on hike by yourself, you know, it’s fine. You think about it a little bit, but that’s great. But now you’re thinking about, okay, how do I do this with 20 people? How do I do this one thing with 15 people? And how do we get there and how do we eat and how do we sleep?

Mina Okpi:

And you’re thinking about all these things. And that for me, the project management aspect came in really handy because just being able to plan and doing schedules and budgets and all of that, they, they really, it was, it was almost faith because it was a very transferable skill. So, um, I’m very for that aspect, but yeah, just being able to figuring things out, cause a lot of this has been figuring things out and getting frustrated, but just, you know, sticking to it, whether it’s figuring out how to build the website and just a lot of technical things that I don’t think I, especially when you, when you’re starting out and you don’t have money and you have to figure out on your own. Um, so it was just sticking to things and putting in the time and, and, you know, figuring out how to do it.

Gale Straub:

How does, um, like this, like being an entrepreneur, running a company that has to do with spending time outside, but obviously you spend a lot of other time, like in front of the computer doing logistical items. How does, how does this kind of fill in some of the gaps that maybe you were lacking in your previous work?

Mina Okpi:

Um, well, it’s interesting because I did, I, I was an electrical engineer, but I worked in the construction management sort of project management realm. And we did a lot of field work. Right. A lot of all your, your electric poles, your transformers, all those underground lines, all those good things, you know, your substations, that was all, you know, the type of things I did. So we spent a lot of time outside doing that. But the thing that was for me, that I wasn’t a huge fan of was just the really corporate sense of it, I guess. And it was also being in utility is very much, uh, an older, white male dominated field. And I was often, but also in my classes, I was often one of the only women and then, you know, Black women and then getting into the workforce. It was the same thing.

Mina Okpi:

So that was the part of it that I kind of struggled with. And then, and then making any, I didn’t think I was going to make any head road there on, you know, unless I got really old and, you know, really lucky just because that’s, that’s just what it was. There was no women in like immediate, um, sort of senior roles or anything like that. If they were, they were all in like administrative type fields, which is, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I, I didn’t see anyone that I could even look at and look up to where, you know, immediately where I was. And so that’s why as I started to spend more time outdoors, I just, I just started to feel this kinship with the people and obviously just being outdoors. And then the more I did it, the more, the more I wanted to do and, and, and spend time with the people and also, and just create a place where people could thrive and, and people, people were just so appreciative of that. And I didn’t, I don’t know, maybe that’s selfish. I didn’t feel quite that, that kind of appreciation at work. And so, yeah. And so I just, I wanted to just naturally I started spending more time doing one than the other, and it’s, it’s funny. I still have a love of all things, technical and project management. I maybe I just, the place was not right.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina talks a lot about failing forward. It’s at the root of her advice for other women who might also want to start a business in the outdoor industry.

Mina Okpi:

It’s funny because in the past, obviously, you know, we, sometimes we don’t think we all want to start a business. And in the past I’ve had ideas where I’ve like created this grand business plan for, but at the end of the day, I, I, a lot of those I never followed through on, and this one, for some reason, I, I just said, you know what, I’m just gonna, you know, I’m just going to get up tomorrow and I’m going to do this a little bit and then get up the next day and do this other little thing. I’m just, I’m just going to do it. Right. Um, and so I think that’s half of it just, you know, the, the Nike slogan just do it, just do something, right. Whatever it is, just start. And I think that’s the biggest thing. Just start somewhere, anything, whatever it is. And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Right. It’s not, it’s not the end of the world. You keep it moving. So that, that would be my big advice. Just start,

Gale Straub:

I love that you said it’s not the end of the world because sometimes running a company or like executing on something that you feel passionate about. It can, I guess I’m speaking from my own experience that sometimes it can feel hard to distance myself from, from an outcome. Like it has nothing to do with me, but emotionally, sometimes that will feel like it’s tied up in me and my identity. And I think that’s also usually a sign that I need to take a step back because it’s fine.

Mina Okpi:

Yeah. Yeah. And it’s not just you, it’s prevalent. And I think especially women are very afflicted by this where things become ref reflection of themselves or their own just overall failure. And that’s something I used to feel honestly, you know, to be just, you know, a hundred percent transparent initially when people would leave the leadership team, I would feel strongly as though, you know, I would cry sometimes because I w I would start to question, where did I go wrong? You know, is this a failure of my own character or something? Could I have done something differently? Was I too mean too bossy? You know, whatever the case is, like, I would go through everything on the roof, but then what I started to kind of take away sometimes from like men and, you know, when they do a startup and things they’ll go right.

Mina Okpi:

They’re just like, Oh, okay, cool. Then work. I just, you know, I’m gonna jump into the next thing and raise all this money again. Um, and yeah, and it really had me wondering why, especially us as women, we would spend so much time just like, and then it becomes like, Oh, this is a failure of, you know, my, you know, my myself and, you know, and, and we, we personalize it and it’s not, it’s, it’s, it’s not, it’s not personal at all. And it’s, it’s, it’s really, really hard to, to make that separation, but we have to make that separation. And especially as women, we have to even more actively make that separation. Um, because a lot of men are not afflicted by this. Some are, but a lot aren’t, so it’s something that we have to work on and we have to think about,

Gale Straub:

Yeah, yeah. And you can put the heart into other aspects of the company potentially. So like, I think about, I saw you and I can’t remember what video I, and saw. I saw You on a video talking about your, your philosophy for bringing people into the outdoors and how you create like a warm and welcoming experience for people. And that’s like a place where you can put your heart into it. And, um, but that’s separate from like, this is the business’s performance. There’s different places for it.

Mina Okpi:

Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. I think for me sort of empathy and treat the way I treat people, it’s just a way of life. Right. So God forbid, if this business didn’t work out and I started another business, it would still, because it’s a way of life. It would still have, um, aspects of that. It would still incorporate empathy and it would still incorporate all those things. And so to say, I, I removed myself from, it is not to say I don’t care, but it just, it frees you up from just carrying the burdens of every thing that doesn’t go right on your shoulder.

Mina Okpi:

Right. Because that honestly prevents you from moving forward and being able to do things. So if, if, if I decided I couldn’t stomach stomach at when team members left and I was like, Oh, okay. I was going to shut the business down because this is too much, then you’re not, you’re doing yourself a grand a service at the end of the day. Right. Because you’re a person personalizing something that’s, maybe it wasn’t even personal. All right. Somebody had a life change that they had to, you know, something else they have to do. And it’s funny because over time I’ve realized if it’s not personal in the least for the most part. So yeah, I think you can, you can empathy. And all of that for me is a way of life and you can infuse it in everything you do, but yeah, just, just be cognizant of going down with the ship.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear more from Mina, after this.

MIDROLL AD BREAK

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina’s company, Black Outdoor Adventurers, runs tours in the Northeast. I was curious what the industry landscape was like for adventure companies run by and for BIPOC or Black Indigenous and People of Color.

Gale Straub:

We were talking about working in a field where there was a lot of older white men. And, you know, there’s a lot of older white men in the outdoors. Just curious what’s that’s been like.

Mina Okpi:

I’ve traded one for the other…I mean, at least I was familiar with it. No, it’s, it’s not there, there isn’t a lot. Um, to be very honest, we are one of the very few, a lot of companies such as ours tend to be set up as non-for-profits. And I made a decision to, for this to be a for profit company for various reasons. But I feel as though Black people and people of color have the buying power. And I, some, I struggle sometimes with the, I don’t think the nonprofit model should be for everything.

Mina Okpi:

Right. I struggle sometimes with the hand me down model, I not-for-profit works in certain cases, but I, in, in this particular scenario, I want, I want it to be a company where it’s run by a Black person, but also people feel as though their voices can be heard, right. So they’re not just take accepting, hand me downs and taking what they can get. Right. So they’re giving me feedback. I’m, I’m innovating based on that feedback to meet their needs. Right. And they are putting their dollars into what matters for them and we’re growing our community. And ultimately, hopefully I can hire more people within that community and, you know, create my goal is to create some type of apprenticeship program to bring up more Black guides and all of that. So we’re, we’re feeding into that community and then hopefully creating jobs, et cetera. But yeah, there isn’t, there isn’t honestly, a lot of companies like ours, there are some, I know surf groups, but to be honest, a lot of them, a lot of them are set up as non-for-profits.

Mina Okpi:

And obviously that makes things very differently. Right. So there’s, they’re raising money and, um, someone might have a say on how they spend the money a bit. Yeah. There’s really not a lot. And I think that’s part of why I a I didn’t have a model to look at, right. In terms of, Oh, is there a company like ours, there is outdoor Afro, but they’re also a non-for-profit. So the way they run things, if I was trying to like, copy their operations type model, it’s not, it doesn’t work because it’s very different. Right. Non-for-profits can charge next to nothing or nothing. We can’t do that. And in fact, initially I made that mistake because I’m like, Oh, okay. I want everyone to go. And I want this to happen. And I was losing a lot of money because realistically I was paying money out of my own pocket because we’re not, we’re not a non profit.

Mina Okpi:

Um, and so I had to really step back and just really look at it and look at startups and look at social enterprise type businesses that are, are for the good of the community, but also earning a profit set up as a, as a business. So I had to read up on reading up on those types of models and how we can take it and adapt it to what we’re doing. And then also like start a couple of years ago, I started going to conferences of other tour operators so that I can see how they’re creating and operating their businesses. And it was really great because I just from hearing people talk. Cause I just always thought as though, okay, I’m really effing this up really badly because I’m just figuring out as I go, but going to those conferences made me realize, Oh, so other people are having these same friends.

Mina Okpi:

Oh, okay. Maybe we’re actually doing better than I thought. Right. Cause you know, some people seem like they’re struggling with things that we’ve already overcome. So there’s a, there was a bit of a, I don’t want to call it ego boost, but okay. You’re doing okay. Kind of thing that went with that. And you’re right at the conference. I was one of the only Black people, definitely the only Black business, well, one of two that were catering to getting Black people, one was actually more international travel, but locally I was the only one getting Black people outdoors, but that really helped because then I could see what other tour operators were doing and how they were doing things. And that, that was a huge change for me because I was like, Oh, okay, here, I can take tips from this one, this one and the other one and I can apply it to what I’m doing. So yeah, it’s just been, it’s been a grand experiment. Um, but you have to be, you have to be able to do a lot of reading. Um, I’m a big reader, big podcast listener, a big article reader. So I, I consume knowledge like it’s no one’s business and that’s honestly the only way I’ve been able to figure all this out.

Gale Straub:

Well, it sounds like there is a lot of room for growth in the industry. And also that you could see a company like REI going and adding trips, you know, for the BIPOC community, but it’s not the same as having a company that’s led by a Black woman and who knows how to serve her community. So I think that there’s just a lot of room for, for more growth. And as you said, there’s already lots of demand and, um, that’s all really, really exciting. And hopefully it will inspire more people to start companies like yours and that your apprenticeship program will come to life too. And so in 25 years, it’ll just be a completely different landscape.

Mina Okpi:

I’m hoping that’s the case. I’m really hoping that’s the case. Um, we had one of our virtual bonfire conversations this past weekend and we were talking a lot about just outdoor companies and, and why they’re not really, I dunno, catering or, or, or trying to bring in more people of color.

Mina Okpi:

Um, and just a lot of so much came up. I was proud of my community for just like starting a conversation. Some of us, like we should write an open letter and I was like, Oh, okay. I love this. But yeah, I hope that’s the case. And I don’t have a straight answer for why a lot of companies, um, are not actively trying to create those relationships in this type of scale, like this purposefully, right? Like this, you know, a lot of companies will support causes and okay, we’re donating to this non-for-profit but how, how can you, um, it kinda goes back to that sort of handout mentality that I was talking about. How, how can you, instead of just giving him handouts, how can you support something that’s different from just that traditional way that we’ve tried to do it for so long? And obviously it’s not working for multiple reasons, right?

Mina Okpi:

Yes. There’s, non-for-profits that do great work. And I work with some of them, even there’s one in the Bronx, um, cat rock ventures that gets out, you know, inner city youth, um, that live in the Bronx and get them into, into the outdoors. And that makes total sense. I’m all for that. But there’s also an opportunity, you know, it’s kinda like when I hate to say when Black travelers became a thing, right. And people were like, Oh, there’s Black travelers, that’s a market we can tap into they’ve, you know, they’ve been around, they didn’t just like show up all of a sudden, but it’s just like other Black companies started to really pour into that and then highlight them in their own media, in all of those. And then all of a sudden, you know, other companies start reporting on, Oh, this is a market we can tap into the market’s always been there and same as this, right.

Mina Okpi:

It’s just, how can we continue to cultivate it? And how can these other outdoor companies, support companies such as mine that are trying to, you know, social enterprise type of companies that are trying to do something in this space, um, and failing forward at it, but figuring it out nonetheless, right? How can, how can they support companies such as mine and hopefully create more opportunities for there to be more Black, outdoor guides. Right. If I went outside and tried to find, hire a Black outdoor guide, it would be so difficult. And why is that? Right? Um, first of all, they’re not starting, they’re not, they don’t do outdoors from childhood, right? So the likelihood that they’re going to fall in love with the outdoors and they, and say, Oh, I’m going to become a guidance. Is this is it’s low to nothing, right. It has to have like, you know, really special circumstances for that to happen. So there’s, there’s just so many ways that outdoor companies and brands can, can work with companies such as mine to, to help continue this and foster this and grow this, this, um, it’s a market sector, but it’s also a community.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina jokes that she traded one white male led industry for another, but this time she’s running her own company to help change what the outdoor and travel industry looks like.

Mina Okpi:

Do you mind telling me what you think they are? And then I, I think that might be an interesting way to, to have this conversation.

Gale Straub:

Oh, wow. Yeah. Oh my gosh. I like that. You just put me on the spot there.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina touched on the small number of Black and brown outdoor guides out there leading trips. Mina wanted to share her thoughts on the barriers to the outdoors for people of color, but she wanted to hear my thoughts first.

Gale Straub:

So I know that, and this is probably changing and evolving all the time, but one, one aspect is representation. So like what we see in the media. So like if you just opened up a catalog for say, like Patagonia or something, and you see like, who are the models that they’re working with. Um, and then also who, who have been not just this year, but who have been featured in the last 25 years. That’s, you know, in terms of that expression, like you can’t be what you, you don’t see that has been a barrier that I’ve read about. Um, another has been red lining and the

Gale Straub:

Way that people of color have been forced into different neighborhoods with less access to the outdoors, um, and then not necessarily having the, the means to, to get out. And then there’s also the safety element. So over the years, not being, you know, going, I’ve read a little bit, like very little bit about, I believe it’s the green book, um, and giving Black people the opportunity to know like, Hey, this is a safe space to go because, you know, you could go somewhere and it’s really dangerous. I’ve talked with Teresa Baker about the fact that, you know, the outdoors, wasn’t always a safe place for Black folks because, you know, people were murdered outside. They know people are still being murdered on site. So those are the things that come to mind for me in this moment. Uh, so those are some of the things, but like, I feel like it, it definitely varies by, by culture to, you know, by race. So, um, for indigenous people that they’ve had all of their land stolen from them, most of their land stolen relocation, the trauma that happens has happened in these places. So it’s just, um, so, so layered, but also we continue to perpetuate a lot of this stuff through white supremacy today. So yeah. I don’t know how articulate that was, but

Mina Okpi:

No, no, that was, that was great. That was great. And it’s, it’s, it’s great to hear your thoughts on it and then, and then talk about it, but yeah, one of the, one of the things, um, you mentioned the Green Book, and it’s interesting because even now, sometimes I’ll be thinking like I’ve been thinking about, you know, this grand road trip. And one of the things on my mind, um, that plays on my mind is like, is, okay, where are there places where I could potentially feel, you know, what places I should avoid for lack of a better term. And, you know, in that was part of, that was the whole purpose of the Green Book. Right. And I feel as though a lot of people, non people of color, you don’t have to think about this when they’re planning a trip. Right. Isn’t so, “Oh, the world is our oyster.”

Mina Okpi:

It doesn’t quite apply for, for Black and Brown people when they’re planning trips. Right. You have to be a lot more intentional and think about, you know, just everything, but yeah, absolutely. You made some really great points, um, representation in the law. And a lot of those are great factors, but I think there’s also factors that people don’t think about one of them being just factors within the right, the communities of color themselves. Right. Well, before that one is obviously economic factors, right? We talked about red lining in terms of housing and access, but then also there’s just economic factors in terms and disposable income. Right. And we know that a lot of Black people and Brown people and people of color have been disenfranchised for years, right. Centuries starting from, you know, slavery and people being behind and all of that, some people have the disposable income, but a lot of people are still working on sort of getting to that place where all their basic needs are taken care of before you can get to, I guess if you consider the outdoors a leisure activity, right. Um, in a sense before you can have disposable income to spend on that and not to say that the outdoors, well, that’s another thing, right? Why is the outdoors are expensive? Um, not to say that the outdoors is, should be, is something that is thought of as being expensive, but when people think of, I think just overall is the output of the outdoors and adventure. They’re going to associate it with cost because you know, how much, um, lift tickets cost or any of these activities, a lot of these activities, right. Costs.

Mina Okpi:

And one of the things that I ask myself often is why are these things so expensive? And yes, I am. I understand a lot of the factors, but it doesn’t change. The fact that economic reasons is there’s one of the top one and having disposable income, but then also there’s factors within, within the Black and Brown community. That just, whether it’s stigma of, of Black people participating in things that are seen as white activities, right. So they might say, Oh, are you trying potentially to be white or something of that nature? Um, and I know that that stigma actually plays heavily for, on my community. And when I started, and even now a lot of people still say that, right. A lot of their friends just don’t do that. Right. It’s just not something we do. There’s a lot of videos on YouTube about just like, you know, why,Black people don’t camp. And just like, there’s a whole entire series about those types of things. And it doesn’t come from nowhere. So it’s, it’s working against not against, but to overcome right. That stigma and some of the sources of it. And some of the sources of it’s very legit. Right. We talk, again, going back to the green book, people were afraid for their, like when I told my mom, my aunt, I was going camping originally, you know, first time I went camping, she was, she was afraid for me. Right. And that is, there’s multitude of reasons why that is. And, and that, that is when a lot of Black people tell their family members, Oh, I’m going hiking. There’s just always this sometimes jokingly, but sometimes not so jokingly like, Oh, you know, don’t die or anything like that because, because the outdoors is not always a safe space for, for, you know, people of color.

Mina Okpi:

So there’s a lot that goes in there. Um, yeah, you, you mentioned some really great things, but yeah, the representation is also a huge piece. Um, and a piece that we’re trying to actively change by putting out our own, just, you know, media and all of that. And I hope it’s changing things even somewhat, but even, even it’s weird, even trying to find stock photography sometimes of like things we can use in our website, we can like try typing in Black people, camping or, or something weird like that. And it’s not, you know, or surfing. Right. And, and it’s hard to find those and it’s not because those people don’t exist. Right. There’s a lot of not, you know, there’s enough where, you know, you could, or even, I mean, it’s stock photography, it’s posed photography, right. But why, why don’t we even have that? So there’s definitely a lot to it. And, you know, we would love, we would love, love, love if companies and people were interested in trying to peel apart those reasons and, and address them in a way that allows people to feel included and wanted.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mina is helping to change who gets to benefit from spending time outside and in adventure here in the Northeast. But she doesn’t want to do it alone. At the end of every interview we do here on She Explores, I ask the guest if there’s anything I missed, or anything they want to expand on. For Mina, it was the barrier conversation we just had, but she also wanted to make sure we talked about what companies in the outdoor industry can be doing differently to invite more people in.

Mina Okpi:

I think the first would be, and we kind of talked about this a little earlier first would be to get out of our head, the idea that it’s going to be a, it’s a quick fix type of thing, because it wasn’t a quick, easy, a quick problem to create, right? So it’s not going to be, you’re not going to get sort of a fast food type of solution to this. It’s something that companies are going to have to be willing to spend time and energy and resources on and care about. Quite frankly. It’s interesting because a lot of it sometimes I’ll give a talk and inevitably, after a lot of companies or operators will come up to me and say, Oh, Hey, so what can we do? How can we start changing this within our own brands or companies? And the first thing I would say is just first of all, start to, to look out at your audience and notice who they are, and then notice who they’re not.

Mina Okpi:

And then just start to ask the question, address, maybe write down or address certain questions about why this is the case. Why is your audience, if they’re solely white or mostly white, why is that the case? Like, why do you think that is the case? Is it your marketing? Is it your, your targeting? You know, what is it? And then I would say, if you want to create a more diverse audience, you have to, I would recommend, right. Since most people are not going to have any experience or a frame of references work with like companies in the space already, right. To discuss, okay, here’s our issue. How can we begin to reach out authentically to people of color and invite them into this space so that they feel comfortable? Right? Because a lot of people, certain companies, if I see them start inviting me, all of a sudden into their spaces, I am just going to be like, I don’t trust it because historically we know what it’s been.

Mina Okpi:

And I think a lot of people of color are of that sort of opinion, right. You know, skeptical, concerned, you know, alert to, to, to a lot of people, just, um, what’s the word pain falls tribute to certain things, right? It has to be authentic and it has to come from a real place. And I think people will be, will, will smell it if it’s not authentic. So, um, my recommendation is, is work with someone and try and create authentic ways to engage with the community and know that you have to you’re, you’re looking to create a longterm engagement with them. I think it’s, it’s, it’s so funny because COVID has brought out this thing where, you know, we’ve very much lately been a, for a long time, been a society of just like, you know, individualism and individuality and just like all this stuff.

Mina Okpi:

There’s nothing wrong with individuality, but we’ve lost a lot of community in that sort of pursuit of individuality. Right. And the interesting thing is a lot of communities of color by their very nature are very community network based, right. Very tight, not always tight, but like, you know, very community network based. They live in, in multiple generation households. So in last type, those types of things. So they have community built in. So to connect with the community of color, you have to tap into that community and community network based. And you have to approach it from that sense, right. You’re not approaching one individual, you’re approaching the network, the community. So if you look at it from that point of view, hopefully that will help guide certain decisions that certain companies can make. But yeah, [inaudible], it’s not so much as that, of that sort of individuals and sort of based community.

Mina Okpi:

It’s more of a, you know, a generational based community. So that’s why when we do a lot of things, I see what I’m doing is making generational change. Right. I’m not seeing it as, okay. Yes. We’re affecting the life of this one person who comes out, but I’m seeing her going back to her household and telling both the younger ones and the older ones, what she’s done. Right. And inspiring change and those multi generations. And so that’s the way I see it. We’re making generational change. We’re not just taking one person out on a trip. Who’s never going to come back. That’s just capitalism. So you have to look at it from that point of view, in the bigger picture sense type of thing. Otherwise it’s going to come off as very capitalist and very authentic and more than likely people will call you out on it.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s um, Oh, that’s likely very challenging for companies that have been operating in a capitalistic way for the last, you know, how many years too, but there’s definitely a huge opportunity to, to look beyond that or think, think differently. Like obviously the way things are going and just isn’t working. So that’s, that’s some great advice. And like I said, very generous of you to, to want to share, because you don’t have to like to provide this like really valuable information for anyone who be listening to this.

Mina Okpi:

Yeah. No, I mean, you’re welcome. But I mean, at the same time, I also, I know we can’t be everywhere at once. You know, I have people who messaged me from across the country saying, Oh, when are you going to start up a chapter here or something of that nature? You don’t even have chapters, but, and it’s like, I want to help everyone. I want to reach everyone. But you know, we’re just not at that place yet. So it’s impossibly, we’re going to be able to reach the entire world. So we have to sort of get, we have to galvanize everyone to, to make sure that their companies and their brands and their organizations and their people are representative of everyone, right. Not just a certain subsection of society. So, you know, we were talking about companies, not thinking that way, but it’s this it’s we talked about empathy earlier.

Mina Okpi:

And I think that all ties in together, right? If you are, if you are empathetic to the plight of, of humans, right. Just, you know, your fellow humans. I think that, and I think a lot of companies are moving in this direction where they thinking about they’re leading through empathy and all of that. If that’s the way you’re thinking, I think that you should be able to put this in together with that. And in a way that you’re approaching communities of color and trying to diversify your customer base or your client pace or any of that.

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