Go on a hike with @black.people.outside | Feature | Chicago Reader

Go on a hike with @black.people.outside 

A south side couple carves out a digital safe space for POC interested in outdoor recreation.

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click to enlarge Chevon Linear and Kameron Stanton, who now live on Chicago's west side, aim to explore everything the Chicagoland area has to offer, from city green spaces to state parks.

Chevon Linear and Kameron Stanton, who now live on Chicago's west side, aim to explore everything the Chicagoland area has to offer, from city green spaces to state parks.

Camilla Forte

When Chevon Linear looked up at the sky as darkness descended over Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park in August of 2020, she unwillingly began to cry. As her partner Kameron Stanton chuckled at her response, Linear tried to rationalize her reaction. As she sought to blame anything from light sensitivity to dust, she simply could not get past her shock at nature's display. "I've never seen anything so vibrant, so beautiful. We literally saw parts of the Milky Way, pointed out satellites," recalls Linear, gazing upward as though she can still see the stars in her mind.

Stanton and Linear both grew up city kids in Chicago's West Englewood neighborhood, and despite living a block away from each other, they had vastly different relationships with nature. Stanton says for him enjoying the outdoors came down to what he could discover amid his surroundings. "It's just finding any bit of nature. A little brook there, a little waterfall here," he says. For Linear, programs like Girl Scouts and Phoenix Military Academy helped make outdoor recreation a staple of her childhood and teen years, serving as a welcome escape from other struggles growing up. Be it through visiting the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum every week or "roughing it" in the woods as a teenager, those experiences made her intrinsically curious, pushing her to seek further adventures as she grew older. By the time she was 28, Linear had visited around 16 different countries. When the pandemic hit, the self-described "world traveler" was heartbroken to cancel all her plans. To raise her spirits, Stanton decided to appeal to her roots and planned a camping trip as regulations eased in the summer. With camping materials borrowed from a friend, they struck out on their first trip as a couple, driving from Denver to visit Wyoming's so-called "Mountains of the Imagination." The journey reawakened Linear's love for the outdoors, and once the couple commenced crossing sites off their bucket list, they found no reason to stop.

On their initial trip to the Tetons, driven by a desire to document their surroundings and goof around, the pair began recording their trip in a series of short, candid videos, unknowingly laying the foundation for their joint TikTok account @black.people.outside. As their love for outdoor excursions grew, so too did the couple's awareness of the fact they were often the only two Black people in the spaces they were inhabiting.

"We named it @black.people.outside because of the lack thereof," Linear says. "A lot of people think, Camping? That's for white people. Hiking? That's for white people. Rock climbing? That's for white people. And it kinda is, but we out here too."

In an effort to send out a signal of sorts to fellow Black adventurers, Linear began editing random clips from their adventures and uploading them to TikTok, hoping it would reach like-minded people and get people like her outside. Now their account, which the couple runs together, boasts a follower count of more than 60,000 users. Their content features both urban and outdoor adventures, all to the background track of short, irreverent voice-overs talking viewers through their experiences.

@black.people.outside

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However, running the account has not been without its challenges for the couple, especially as their audience has grown in size. Despite an overwhelmingly positive response from the general public from the beginning, Linear, who was doing most of the editing in the beginning, saw her views drop as random users reported her video for umsubstantiated claims such as "hate speech" whenever she spoke about racism or exclusion on the account.

"We already personally feel like our page is under attack," says Linear. "I've never intended on being a social justice warrior, that wasn't my intention, @black.people.outside [it] was never meant to be controversial." As fighting the algorithm became increasingly exhausting, Linear chose to take a step back to conserve her energy, with Stanton taking over the bulk of the front-end work. Despite the challenges, this shift will help to keep the page active, which Stanton feels is important to encourage the shift they hope to see within the outdoor community. "I feel as a culture, we might lose out on what we can offer if we don't continue to push back and represent ourselves how we know we should be represented," Stanton says. "That's why I feel the need to keep going."

Along with increasing the visibility of Black people outside overall, taking the intimidation factor out of outdoor exploration is something both Linear and Stanton aim to do through the videos they share. "People of color have been constricted to these walls in their hoods, where that's Bible, that's all we know," says Linear. "We're sure about what's on the block and in our neighborhood, but we're not sure about what's in the Tetons or Joshua Tree, so we won't go. Our goal here is to tell people [that] just because you're uncertain about it as we were, it doesn't mean that you can't experience that. Because those experiences are also there for us, the outdoors are for everyone."   v

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