“Treat Everyone, Everywhere, Equally.”
That’s the simple and profound message behind Black Folks Camp Too’s Unity Blaze, which depicts the campfires that bring us together and the “blaze” that is internationally known as a symbol of navigation.
Black Folks Camp Too (BFCT) is a marketing-driven business whose mission is to increase diversity in the outdoor industry by making it easier, more interesting, and more fun for Black folks to go camping. The founder, Earl B. Hunter, Jr. is full of energy, humor, and the quality of being unstoppable. He first stepped into the camping and outdoor world in 2015 when he took on the role of Vice President of Sales at Sylvansport. At Sylvansport, Earl grew the business from $1 million to $17.5 million in sales in just 4 years. It was during that time that Earl first began thinking about the idea of “Black Folks Camp Too,” but the idea didn’t fully form until he and his son, Dillon, went on an epic camping road trip across the USA and Canada. They traveled for 3 months, visiting 49 campgrounds in 20 states/provinces and saw precisely one other Black family camping.
We had the good fortune of catching up with Earl about life, Black Folks Camp Too, sustainability, and working with Recover…. Check it out!
Earl, we are so excited to chat with you today! Tell us a little bit about your background...
Well, I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and graduated from Georgia Military College and Appalachian State University. I’ve been an Executive in a few different industries, particularly the international sourcing industry, namely import and export within Asia, North America, South America, and India. I moved into the outdoor industry 6 years ago, working as the VP of sales at Sylvansport. I build businesses for a living.
Tell us about Black Folks Camp Too- what’s it all about?
Black Folks Camp Too is a business; however, it’s also my legacy. It’s all about removing generational fear, adding knowledge by inviting more Black folks to camp and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle with any and everyone. If you’re wondering who anyone and everyone is, please look in the mirror!
Black Folks Camp Too is about inviting Black folks into the lifestyle, which is currently 93% white, and encouraging outdoor enthusiast to invite more Black folks to camp. BFCT was also created to invite the outdoor industry, which is 97% white, to invite Black folks to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle with anyone and everyone while creating unity in the outdoors. We promote Unity in the outdoor industry and lifestyle. The campfire symbol in the center of our logo is the Unity Blaze and it means: “Treat Everyone, Everywhere, Equally.” Your race, age, gender does not matter, we all have something to say around the campfire.
In your experience, why are there so few Black folks out camping?
There’s a couple of key reasons-
1- Generational Fear. Our ancestors didn't go into the woods to recreate because they saw some of the most horrific actions. They witnessed lynchings, crosses being burned, and other symbols of hate that kept them from enjoying the fullness of nature. Those awful stories are passed down from generation to generation which has caused future generations to lack the desire to camp and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle. In addition, National and State Parks were segregated until the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.
2- Lack of Knowledge- Many Black folks lack knowledge of the outdoor industry and lifestyle because of fear. We do not know what and where trailheads are located. We lack knowledge of purchasing RVs and other outdoor equipment, what types of tents and sleeping bags to purchase, etc.
3- Invitation- The outdoor industry never really invited Black folks to participate in the lifestyle. The industry never said, “Hey Black folks! We want your money!” They assumed we didn’t go outside or that we did not have the money to purchase outdoor lifestyle products, and they didn’t ask.
How did this evolve Black Folks Camp Too?
We believe the outdoor industry is the most segregated industry in the world besides Churches and Barber shops. Black Folks Camp Too is not a 501(c)3, we’re a business, and we’re going to help fund a lot of projects to help encourage Unity in the outdoor community. Our job is to do what we need to do to get things done... move the needle off center. We launched BFCT October 10, 2019 and we’ve already been featured on CBS and PBS. In addition, we have partnered with North and South Carolina State Parks to help them invite more Black folks to visit parks. I am very intentional regarding our company and mission. I introduced the company on the stage at the Outdoor Economy Conference in Asheville, NC October 10th, 2019 while singing song associated with equality in the Black community.
Earl sings (unreal!)... “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.
Black folks should be encouraged in sharing the same 640 million acres of public land that we all share and own. Black Folks Camp Too is a company; we’re not looking for a pity party...we do not call folks out, we call folks in! Our job is to share knowledge with current outdoor enthusiasts and the outdoor industry about the reasons why you haven’t seen many Black folks in the outdoors. When folks purchase our Unity Blaze products. We use the funds to create our D.E.I.(Digital Education Initiative), which is culturally relevant copy and content intended to encourage more Black folks to enjoy nature.
What drew you to want Black Folks Camp Too to partner and work with Recover?
Recover makes really good products, and they make it in the South. They are located in North Carolina, which has a deep history for Black folks. I signed a plastic pledge a couple of months ago, and working with Recover creates another story for us to stand up for. We need sustainability and we need to encourage sustainability if we want the outdoors to continue to be a place we ALL can enjoy.
What gear can we get from Black Folks Camp Too?
Currently, we offer Recover Brands gear Women’s and Men’s Unity Blaze T-Shirts on 100% recycled material Recover Tees, which we’re excited about. We have a ton of gear launching, and based on how incredible our mission is, the Unity Blaze is going to continue to grow as a symbol of unity in the outdoors.
What can people do to help get more Black folks out camping?
The industry and lifestylers should educate themselves on the reasons why they have not seen many Black folks in the outdoors. Once they know, take action.
What are the top three things you want to convey about what y’all are doing?
- Removing Generational Fear
- Adding Knowledge
- Inviting more Black folks to camp and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle with any and every one!
EDUCATION is key!
We partnered with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to help educate and build a more inclusive workforce in the outdoor industry. We’re using sales from our Noso-Unity Blaze patch and branded gear to provide scholarships to Historically Black Colleges and Universities along with other college alumni. We’re also creating outdoor educational material via our DEI (digital education initiative). In addition, we are funding other organizations who are working hard to empower more Black folks to enjoy nature. To learn more, please visit lnt.org/unityblaze
Any final thoughts to conclude our interview Earl?
Our Unity Blaze symbol is changing the world! Our work is not easy, but everyone can take part. It’s not just something we need to do, everyone needs to do this. It doesn’t matter who you are, take your Black friends camping, and/or nature walking. If you don't have Black friends, it’s the greatest time in America for you to find some! We WILL get better TOGETHER!