A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going on my very first Hike4Life adventure, at the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Stoneham, MA. The long and short of my experience on the hike is that I had a fantastic time, traversed some beautiful scenery, and met some wonderful people. That said, my experience on the hike is secondary to the vision and accomplishments of the man responsible for the Hike4Life movement, Jerel Ferguson. I got to know Jerel during the hike and found him to be a very bright, driven, and passionate individual.
He has a sincere appreciation for nature’s beauties, and an even greater desire to share such with others. All are welcomed to join Hike4Life’s periodic missions, but Jerel’s made a concerted effort to introduce the joys of hiking to Greater Boston’s inner-city and urban communities, who historically have not engaged in these activities. As much as I enjoyed the hike itself, it was this central sentiment that I found most fascinating, important, and admirable.
Jerel was kind enough to send me some background information on both himself as well as Hike4Life to assist with this post. His write-up was genuine, thorough, and much more poignant than I myself could attempt to recreate by paraphrasing and/or condensing. As such, I felt it best to present his write-up as it was presented to me, so as to most accurately capture who Jerel Ferguson is, and the drivers behind his ambitions. What follows are Jerel Ferguson’s own words:
My name is Jerel Ferguson from Boston Massachusetts and I am Executive Director of Hike4Life. I am a passionate outdoorsman that loves nature and Hiking. I enjoy various outdoor sports, I’m a conservationist (a tree-hugger) naturalist, environmentalist and a Father to 3 wonderful sons. Growing up in the city among fortresses of brick and stone, I really didn’t have much exposure to nature. The only wildlife I had known growing up were the neighborhood squirrels, pigeons, stray cats and dogs and occasionally rats. Now, while all of this may sound demeaning, it has made me appreciate the wildlife that I discover now as an adult even more.
Hike4Life began in May 2010 when I along with a friend co-founded the idea for this great organization. We basically said, “Let’s get a bunch of our people together and go on hiking trips.” This wasn’t an easy thing to do in our early stages. We decided to use technology to our advantages: Facebook, Twitter and a startup website, all in the same day, to get our intentions out into the world fast, free and no time wasted.
Getting Black people to try something ‘new’ was challenging and still is. I’ve been hiking for almost 20 years and at the time of our inception had been actively engaging other people of color (POC) hikers for about 3-4 years, so to me it was normal. But, to other people of color it was taboo.
“Black people don’t hike!”
This was preached, screamed, hollered, texted, emailed, written and [conveyed] on the phone. I was beside myself when I first heard it, and then I had to think. Why don’t Black people hike? It never dawned on me until it was put in my head that it was to a degree, true.
There could be historical-reasoning. Black men and women were forced to escape from slavery through the woods and wilds of Slave Era America. Whether it was encountering wild animals or slave catchers dogs, we could never find solace or peace in the woods. Saying that there may be an ingrained fear in our DNA of the wilderness isn’t really an overstatement, it could be that an inter-generational phobia could have been passed from generation to generation due to the experiences of our ancestors.
On my many trips to the outdoors, I was the only one. I would never see people that looked like me out on the trails. In light of that realization I accepted the challenge and vowed to break that urban myth and get people that looked like me, “Out of theHoods & Into the Woods!”
As one can see, Jerel is deeply committed to growing Hike4Life. He’s sincere about his desire to expose people from inner-city communities to the great outdoors along with providing an outlet for those with an interest who may simply not know where to get started. As I mentioned above, I had a wonderful time at the Middlesex Fells Reservations hike. Visual highlights included viewing Boston’s beautiful skyline from the top of Boojum Rock, as well as the sights of the fresh water reservation.
That said, the best part of the experience for me was enjoying nature in a multi-cultural setting. Jerel is not only very knowledgeable about the outdoors, he’s also very personable. He began the hike by having everyone share choice moments from their summer, a tactic that helped break the ice and facilitated conversation between the group. Despite it being my first hike with the group, I felt very comfortable. I did not hesitate to immerse myself in the group’s overall positivity as well the sheer beauty the reservation has to offer. And again, it was great to be able to do so in a care-free, very welcoming, multi-cultural setting. It was a manifestation of Jerel’s vision in practice, and it was a damn good time.
So if you think you have to travel a lot to enjoy the great outdoors, simply put, you’re wrong. The Middlesex Fells Reservation is only about 30-45 minutes from the heart of Boston. The group has also hiked trails at the Arnold Arboretum, in the Roslindale and Jamaica Plain area, and the group’s next hike is on Saturday October 22, 2016 at Ponkapoag Pond in Canton, MA, right down Route 138. I strongly encourage everyone to learn more about Hike4Life and to join the group on a hike. For you Fitbit folks, it’s a great way to get those extra steps. More than anything, however, it’s an inclusive, fun atmosphere and you’ll meet some great folks. As such, I particularly implore those from Greater Boston’s inner-city and urban communities to step outside of your town’s comfort zone and enjoy the many wonderful great outdoor options New England has to offer. I’m confident you’ll very much enjoy the experience.