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Is It Color Blind In the Outdoors?

Kansas City, Mo. — When Wayne Hubbard was growing up in Oklahoma, he was “colorblind.”

The color of his skin didn’t matter — not when it came to hunting and fishing, he said. He was brought up in a rural setting and was surrounded by many other African-Americans who had a passion for the outdoors.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t do that,’ ” said Hubbard, who lives in Kansas City, Kan., and stars in a national television show, Urban American Outdoors. “Hunting and fishing were part of what our family was. It was passed down to us.

“I just thought that there were a lot of other African-Americans like me who were involved in the outdoors.”

It wasn’t until Hubbard moved to the big city that he realized he was the exception, not the norm.

He and his wife, Candice Price, remember a landmark moment when they were sitting on the couch, watching television shows on the outdoors.

“I remember thinking there wasn’t a single African-American person on those shows,” Hubbard said. “There was nothing that was marketed toward me. The only time you’d see an African-American was if he was an athlete who was guest-starring.

“How are blacks supposed to get involved in the outdoors if they don’t see some type of role model on television?”

That’s when Hubbard and Rice decided to start their own television show, with Hubbard in the starring role and Price as the executive producer. It wasn’t easy.

Price remembers approaching well-known outdoors companies for sponsorship and actually getting laughed at.

“One executive told me, ‘Black people don’t hunt, do they?’ ” she said. “We had to work to get our sponsors.”

But today, Hubbard and Price have an award-winning TV show that is seen across the country. They are trailblazers, as one representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put it.

In a day when minority participation in the outdoors is still surprisingly low, Hubbard and Price are working tirelessly to show people of color that they have a place in the outdoors. They put on inner-city fishing derbies each summer, events that have attracted as many as 500 kids. Price serves on a panel addressing youth, diversity, racial and ethnic minorities and low-income communities for the National Forest Service.

And each year they host an Urban Outdoor Summit, in which African-American and other experts from across the country give talks on the barriers keeping blacks from participating in the outdoors and how they can be overcome.

For Hubbard and Price, the message is simple: If we can do it, you can, too.

“I’ve been the only black person on a hunt, and it doesn’t matter,” Hubbard said. “The color of our skin isn’t an issue. We’re all out there having good time, sharing something we have a passion for.

“We’re trying to get that point across to others. Minorities definitely have a place in the outdoors.”

If Hubbard and Price were looking for a challenge, they’ve certainly found it.

They’re starting almost from the ground level in trying to build a base when it comes to recruiting minorities to the outdoors.

Statistics from the most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Association Recreation tell a sobering story.

Whites made up 86 percent of all fishermen nationally, according to the survey, issued in 2011.

Whites made up an even larger percentage of hunters, 94 percent.

Whites far outnumber African-Americans and Hispanics at national parks, national forests and other federal land.

Hispanic participation in the outdoors is so low that federal surveys had a difficult time even finding a large enough sample size to record.

Why the disconnect?

At the Urban Outdoors Summit last weekend at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center in Kansas City, experts offered many answers.

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.

“They’re not too far removed from the generation when, if a black man went into the woods alone, he was in trouble.”

Many African-Americans see hope, but the situation isn’t going to change overnight.

“We have to take one chop of the tree at a time,” King said. “We can’t cut it down all at the same time.”

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.

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.

“We have to come up with ways to get more minorities involved in the outdoors.”

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 to 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 VamosAPescar.org 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.

“We have to come up with ways to get more minorities involved in the outdoors.”

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Tracking participation rates in the outdoors

When it comes to fishing and hunting, minority participation is still lagging. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Association Recreation details the trend. Totals represent the percentage of total fishermen or hunters surveyed.

Hunting

National

2011: 94 percent white, 3 percent African-American, 3 percent other.

2006: 96 percent white, 2 percent African-American, 2 percent other.

2001: 96 percent white, 2 percent African-American, 2 percent other.

Fishing

National

2011: 86 percent white, 7 percent African-Americans, 2 percent Asian-Americans, 1.7 percent Hispanics, 3.3 percent other.

2006: 92 percent white, 5 percent African American, 1 percent Asian-American, 2 percent other.

2001: 93 percent white, 5 percent black, 1 percent Asian-American, 1 percent other.

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©2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

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