Black Joy in the Outdoors


ELK youth at Cast a Line Family Fishing event

This month marks the 47th anniversary of the United States recognizing February as Black History Month.

Since that time, this month has served as a moment to honor the achievements and contributions of Black individuals and organizations, and to uplift our central roles in American history because as we know, Black history IS American history.

In short, Black history serves to uplift where we’ve come from, or what we’ve done. In many ways, it’s a celebration of the past. Now Black joy on the other hand… that’s a celebration of our present.

But what exactly is Black joy? We reached out to folks within our ELK family to learn what Black joy means to them.

Black Joy, for me, is being free of all the worries and stress this world often brings us as a community, along with seeing the success and jubilation of us. Black joy for me usually comes at times when I am surrounded by family and friends, out in nature, or helping with community needs where I can. — Dennis Troutman, ELK Education Coordinator

Black joy is a celebration and recognition of the resilience and creativity of Black people in the face of adversity and a rejection of the stereotypes and negative narratives that have historically been used to depict us. We make music, and we dance. We create art, food, and fashion. We gather with community. Anything to express our identity and celebrate the beauty and richness of Black culture. At its core, Black joy is a celebration of life and a refusal to let the struggles and hardships of the world define the Black experience. It’s a reminder that despite the challenges and injustices we may face, we are still capable of experiencing happiness, love, and hope. — Parker McMullen Bushman, ELK Board Member

Birthed from a culture whose roots are deep and found throughout the world and on every continent is a blessing. I feel as if I’m carrying not only a portion of the past with me, but also paving the way for those after me, all while walking through the doors of the future…I am divinity in the flesh. — Mercedes Blea-Davis, ELK Board Member

Black joy is having hope that the future moves towards an environment where we prop up Black communities by acknowledging hateful systems and rebuilding them to correct the harm of the past. It is hearing voices from non-Black communities’ advocate for equity and justice for the black nation. Finally, it is seeing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act become the law of the land. — Daija Cortez, ELK Development Associate

Black joy for me, is excelling not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am. Pushing through the struggle and the barriers, ignoring the “no’s”, and reaffirming that every space I step foot in — is now a space for me and my people. Black joy is a lightness, a freeing of the spirit from so much that tries to hold us down. It is the ability to find enjoyment in me. My culture, my past, and my future. It’s something inside me no outsider could ever touch. — Kristina Gray, ELK Director of Marketing & Communications

ELK youth learning about snow science

As you can see, Black joy means many things to people in our community. From a state of being stress free, to rejecting stereotypes, Black joy only flourishes in the outdoors and nature. At Environmental Learning for Kids, we don’t only hold space for Black joy, we cultivate experiences and opportunities to create it. We are disrupters of a system built to “other” us by ensuring our students know that the outdoors and careers in these sectors are just as much for them as anyone else. And we look forward to celebrating all of their achievements in Black History Months to come.

About Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK): Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) is a Denver-based, nonprofit organization established in 1996 to address the growing need to introduce and educate Colorado’s racially diverse youth about science, leadership, and careers. Twenty-seven years later, ELK continues to provide strong educational support, good role models, and opportunities for positive community action for youth, helping them to become engaged, productive, and successful members of society. Learn more at

About the Author: Kristina Gray received her Bachelor of Art degree in Political Science from MSU Denver in 2011. She has been a part of the nonprofit sector for over 10 years. She is an alumnus of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Hispanic Chamber Foundation’s Aspiring Leaders Program, Class of 2017. Kristina spends her free time advocating for justice and equity for all of Colorado’s youth & families and going on adventures with her husband and young daughter. Contact Kristina at



Environmental Learning for Kids

Environmental Learning for Kids cultivates a passion in science, leadership, and service in a diverse community of learners.