When asked how we break the stereotype that Black people don’t like outdoorsy activities, Jason Weintraub, an O’ahu, Hawaii-based digital marketing specialist provided some insight:
“Outside of the obvious factors like having our land taken and a lot of Black families [being] rooted in cities where nature can be deprived of, I think social media and representation have been important in growing a community of Black folks that show their outdoor interests.”
Weintraub is referring to the growing numbers of Black gardeners, hikers, birdwatchers and more, who have been finding each other via social media and encouraging themselves and others to try new things—or to do more of what they love with other people who enjoy it. It’s all about exposure to more people and pushing past comfort zones. When it comes to nature, there’s an added mental health benefit which we all could use in these wild times we’re living in.
So, American Urban Radio Networks caught up with three Black professionals who talked to us about their passion for engaging the natural world—horseback riding, gardening, golfing, and more—and how the great outdoors has become a way of their respective lives.
Gardening, Farming, Swimming, Hiking
Jason Weintraub is a digital marketing specialist, DJ, freelance writer, and certified plant professional who was based in Atlanta, Georgia, for years. That is, until he packed up and moved to O’ahu, Hawaii, the ultimate outdoor paradise. Weintraub has a busy schedule, but he has found the ultimate place to live out his passions and pursue his favorite hobbies: gardening, farming, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, and plants.
“[Hawaii] is definitely the ultimate motivation to go outside,” he tells AURN, “since there’s a plethora of activities and such amazing weather. Even though my job is demanding, I go outside every day for two hours—even for small things like lunch in the park, tending to the garden, or watching the sunset on the beach.”
When Weintraub isn’t working with clients on Zoom, he is outdoors in nature or in the ocean where he can “give his brain a break.” He is also a certified plant professional, which allows him to work in multiple sectors of agriculture from landscaping and sales to plant nurseries and home and garden services in the realm of soil types, bacteria, propagating, germinating and more. It’s a field he discovered serendipitously. Weintraub explains an eye-opening moment while on tour:
“I DJ on the side,” says Weintraub, “and one night while touring in Japan, the promoter I was with asked to finish my rice that I was too full to finish myself. [He] explained how it takes five months to grow rice and it’s not fair to the farmer to waste it. After that, I wanted to learn how much effort and skill it takes to provide us even the smallest of things, which kickstarted my journey of working on all different types of farms all over the world, including, rice, coffee, tea, tobacco, aloe vera and even alpaca.”
Weintraub has always loved plants, but that experience gave him a deeper appreciation for them. He went back to school and took classes at the University of Georgia to get his certification. These days, tea is one of his favorite plant species.
“My brain is going 24/7,” says Weintraub, “to the point I’m not that great a sleeper. While I love all plants, I’ve gravitated towards tea because everything about the process is meant to make you focus in the now. From picking to hand withering, drying, to even steeping and making a cup. Your hands are constantly at work and timing is essential, so you don’t have the opportunity to look at your phone or leave and come back. My brain will still be constantly thinking, but it isn’t so scattered and hectic. It’s an opportunity to think about things like how beautiful the sun looks reflecting off the morning dew of the tea leaves, or how Nature is really this strong, self-sufficient woman who don’t need nobody!”
Andia Winslow describes herself as a fitness activist, but she should probably add prodigy to the list. The award-winning athlete, voiceover artist and adventurer, is also a trainer and sports performance coach—not to mention an avid rock climber, professional golfer, skier and more. There is almost nothing active that she can’t do as her enthusiasm for movement is a mix of passion and mental survival.
“Without movement and without nature,” says Winslow, “I’d be a depressive, disconnected, non-intuitive mess. For me, outdoor activity is non-negotiable. I love to move my body, I love to explore, I love to experience the wonder of the natural world.”
The fitness renaissance woman was raised in Seattle, Washington, and describes her childhood as having “won the access-to-outdoors lottery.” Despite being in an urban area, Winslow was exposed to fitness, sports, and cultivated a deep passion for nature. She grew up hiking, biking, sailing and rock climbing. She traveled a lot pre-pandemic but these days mostly resides in Los Angeles. No matter where she is, she loves being active outdoors and figures out how to adapt her activities to her location.
“When I live in large metropolitan areas, or even when traveling to new locales, the first order of business is to scope out my environment,” says Winslow. “Where is the closest body of water? In which direction are the mountains or largest change in elevation? Or open space? Greenbelts? What’s the parks & rec system like and what are the offerings? Outdoor activity can be tricky in big cities, but it’s less about what there isn’t and more about resourcefulness—what can I make out of this? It’s a mindset.”
Winslow’s social media is full of images of her always in motion. When it comes to working out, she does whatever inspires her in the moment. Whether it’s a walk or sprint or doing acrobatics on rings in the park, rock climbing, playing baseball, or even keeping it simple with some calisthenics, the constant is that you can often find her where open air and sun reside. That part is key. While anyone can work out anywhere, outdoor activity has many added benefits.
“Nature, just like exercise, has been proven to increase the production of biochemicals in the brain and body related to cognition and general mental function,” says Winslow. “That means, you might experience better judgement and increased creativity. Colors might be brighter, sounds and smells more robust. It’s a type of stimulation that can break through the demands of daily life and the powerful sway of technology.”
Micheline Hess is a New York City-based illustrator who has a passion for horseback riding. She grew up in the city, which is obviously very urban, but she had an infatuation with horses as a little girl. It inspired her parents to start taking her to a dude ranch in Suffern, New York, on the weekends, and that’s where she learned how to ride Western.
“I was very lucky to have the privilege to do things like this,” says Hess, “as well as being sent to horseback riding camp in the summer. I enjoy horseback riding because it’s fun and sometimes can be challenging. To me, there’s nothing like being outside, breathing in the fresh air while riding on a leafy trail. It makes me completely forget what’s going on in my life. In that moment, that’s all there is.”
Hess has ventured outside the United States to go on international horseback riding trips and describes it as “wanting to follow her bliss.” While on these tours she was able to experience new locales, new people with similar interests, and different breeds of horses, which she says was a dream for her. Her travels have taken her to Iceland where she joined a small group to ride through the Icelandic wilderness for up to six hours a day, and she went to France and Peru, which she describes as point-to-point rides.
“We went out every day and rode to a new location, and we would spend the night,” says Hess. “The France ride was amazing because we got to visit vineyards along our ride and sample wine. One night I even got to sleep in a castle. Peru was very different but equally amazing. We rode high up in the Andes Mountains where we could look out and enjoy a view of the entire world.”
Covid-19 has made it harder for her to ride for obvious reasons, but the benefits are clear to Hess, who hopes she can get back at it soon.
“Particularly in regard to the riding trips,” she says, “I think there’s something really exciting about being out in the middle of a forest or mountain range on the back of a horse. I think a lot of folks think because the horse is doing most of the heavy lifting that the rider just sits there, but it’s really not true. You can get an incredible workout with horseback riding, especially if you are more advanced and can ride through tougher environmental challenges. I also love the challenge it poses. The thought of falling or getting hurt while far from civilization really forces me to stay focused and alert. In this way, my mind doesn’t have time to get hung up on racing thoughts, rehashing past scenarios or worrying about other aspects of my life. You really have to be in the moment.”