I Guess Black People Do Camp…

“Me — go camping? Why would I venture into some dark wooded area where lions, tigers, bears, and snakes roam? You must be crazy!”

This would be the typical response of 99 percent of all inner-city kids, when asked about going camping and/or hiking in what we call “the woods.”

Take a kid from the hood and place him in the woods, and that kid will experience the same anxiety as a kid who is taken from the woods and placed in the hood. (FYI, “hood” is an idiom for “neighborhood.”) Fear of the unknown grips the hearts of people. It has a reach that extends from Black people who live in the hood to White people who live in the woods.

Many of us not only fear people, places and things that are unfamiliar but also conjure up misconstrued fiction about a particular activity, group of people or place because we have heard bad things from others or seen something on television that causes us to keep at a safe distance.

So what do we do about this? How do we overcome our fear of the unknown? We take boys from the hood and venture into the woods. (This is about more than camping.)

I’m from the hood, and my wife is from the woods. Well, she’s not actually from the woods; she’s from a place that I call “Wonder Bread Land” — you know, all white, encased in a nice plastic bag so as to keep it safe, clean and edible. Can you imagine her parents’ fear when a boy from the hood showed up on their doorstep? Yeah, I’m sure you can imagine the scene.

Before we were married, she asked if I wanted to go water skiing with her family. I discreetly pulled her aside and said, “Honey, Black people don’t ski.” “Why not?” she asked. I hunched my shoulders and said, “Black people just don’t ski.” Those were the words that came out of my mouth, but my inner voice was saying, “Don’t you know about all of the sea monsters, snakes, and water-people who live at the bottom of the sea, who wait in the deep, dark waters for the right moment to grab hold of your ankles and drag you into the abyss of the unknown?” Yep, I had conjured up misconstrued fiction about something I had only heard from others and seen in fictionalized movies, and those fears kept me far from any body of water. By the way, I know it was just a lake, but every body of water to people who are unfamiliar with bodies of water is a deep, dark, eerie sea. Needless to say, I went skiing and drowned… well, almost drowned — my life jacket saved me.

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Years later, my wife informed me that their family was going camping. I asked, “In the woods?” She said yes. Once again, I kindly put my hand around her shoulder, looked her in the eyes, and calmly said, “Honey, Black people don’t camp.” She said, “Why not?” Once again, I hunched my shoulders and said, “Black people just don’t camp,” but my very sane inner voice said, “Don’t you know about the snakes, lions, tigers, and bears that lurk through the forest waiting to pounce on and eat an unsuspecting idiot who has crossed the boundaries from civilization into the deep, dark forest?” This is why you don’t see Black people in horror movies walking through the woods or swimming in lakes — we don’t do that stuff! Needless to say, I went camping, but I did have my knife and pepper spray ready, just in case I encountered any lions, tigers, or bears.

Fear of the unknown cripples people, both psychologically and physically. It limits opportunities, stifles adventure and creates a life that reflects the saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” We want our students to be free from the fear of the unknown, to explore God’s creation in all its glory, and to expand their vision for life.

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Students from the Urban Scholastic Center had a chance to venture out of the hood to spend a few days in the woods — that is, the beautiful mountains in Medicine Bow National Park in Wyoming — thanks to Wayne and Jude McDaniel, two of the USC’s ministry champions. They took us on a very long, arduous, and beautiful journey through the mountains, where we experienced things that had been beyond our vision. We slept in the frigid air of the night under a blanket of glowing stars, fetched our water from a nearby stream, and stumbled upon two waterfalls that were wonderfully glorious. We never saw any snakes, lions, tigers, or bears, but we did see several llamas (long story).

We are making an intentional effort to take our students beyond the man-made boundaries of the inner-city. Students from the USC have been to the mountains in Wyoming, the country of Poland, and traveled on mission trips to China and Costa Rica. Our goal is to go to Africa in 2016.

Through these adventures, our students are learning that Black people (all people-groups) can not only camp but also swim, hike, own companies, become CEOs and lead nations. The problem is that many of our students can’t see themselves in these positions; therefore, we often must not only be their vision but also be their guide.

Journey With Us as we expand the vision of students in urban Wyandotte County, Kansas.