“When you endure for so long and you’re always enduring and fighting, that becomes your normal state. So you need more than ever that refuge of the outdoors and that space to be away from it all and be with people who are like you.”
Mercy Shammah | Founder and Director of Wild Diversity
After the 2016 presidential election, Mercy Shammah, who identifies as Black and LGBTQ, felt downhearted. She saw the severe negative impact that racism had on Portland; gentrification and segregation had torn apart communities of color, and many Black and Brown folk found themselves afraid to even leave their houses.
Similarly, Shammah noticed that despite Portland’s reputation as a liberal haven, the sociopolitical climate had become increasingly dangerous for queer and trans folk.
Driven by these observations and a passion for the outdoors, Shammah dedicated herself to creating a space specifically for people of color (PoC) and LGBTQ+ people in Portland. “When you endure for so long and you’re always enduring and fighting, that becomes your normal state. So more than ever you need that refuge of the outdoors and that space to be away from it all and be with people who are like you,” says Shammah.
So Shammah got to work. She started crowdfunding for her idea to bring PoC and LGBTQ+ people together through outdoor exploration and activities. The donations started pouring in from PoC, LGBTQ+ folk, white folk and heterosexual folk alike. Next, Shammah got her First Responder’s certification, to “feel more comfortable leading people in the outdoors.”
She met Adrian Martinez, the Diversity Recruitment Coordinator for Outdoor School, and immediately asked them to be a part of her project. Martinez, who identifies as Latinx and queer, brought to the table a similar affection for the outdoors, valuable connections in the outdoor industry and access to Outdoor School’s expansive gear library. “I think I really needed a pause from all the noise that daily life brings. I think that’s what really pulled me in,” Martinez says.
After months of networking, fundraising, team building and brainstorming, Shammah and company came up with a name for their organization: Wild Diversity. They also planned their first event: a trip to the Oregon Coast.
“Going to the coast was a nice first thing that we did. We had a good handful of people that showed up and we just got to connect and be at the beach and enjoy ourselves. It was really beautiful,” says Shammah.
Shammah always likes to emphasize that going outdoors “doesn’t have to be strenuous. You don’t have to conquer something big.” This seems to be a common sentiment among the organizers, who try to plan a variety of events that are accessible to people of all sizes and ability levels.
Over the past year, Wild Diversity’s events have included hiking, backpacking, weekend canoe and kayak trips, mushroom foraging, birdwatching, indoor rock climbing, archery, and fishing. Recently, to bring the community together during the cold and rainy Portland winter, Wild Diversity has hosted indoor self-care workshops.
Wild Diversity has big plans to expand offerings and community participation in 2019 with programs like a winter backpacking trip (featuring snow cave camping) and a large PoC/Queer skill-share event already in the works
While the future of the nation may be unpredictable, Shammah remains confident in the future of Wild Diversity. “Knowing that you can go outdoors and be with people that are like you… is something I experienced for the first time this year,” she says. “That is an important experience that I want everyone to have.”
Author: Dylan Palmer
Photos: Intisar Abioto
Published: February 2019