Phil Henderson sees the outdoor industry like a cruise ship. It’s taken a long time for the largely White industry to embrace people of color, reports the Associated Press.
But the ship has turned. Almost every corner of the industry is focused on building a diverse population of outdoor enthusiasts.
“We just need more propulsion. We need more power,” says the Cortez mountaineer who helps train guides and organizers for expeditions to the top of the world’s highest peaks. “This is our boost. We are priming that engine.”
Henderson’s plan to lead the first-ever all-Black American expedition to the top of Mount Everest will add fuel to the outdoor industry’s growing diversity movement.
The first American expedition reached the top of the world in 1963, the same year Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his culture-shifting “I Have a Dream” speech. The nine-person Full Circle Everest Expedition aims to be the first all-Black American team to summit the tallest mountain on the planet next year.
Henderson has been on several climbing expeditions in Nepal and South America. He taught at the National Outdoor Leadership School. He’s led an all African American team to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. For decades, he’s been a quiet force in expanding the outdoor industry’s reach to overlooked communities.
As he launches this expedition — beginning with the grueling, seemingly endless search for financial sponsors — he’s become a much more vocal force for change.
“It’s kind of emotional for me as well,” he says. “I’m realizing and living these things I’ve always said were so important and how it’s so vital for all of us to be connected to the natural environment.”
A Black American man has never reached the summit of Everest. Eddie Taylor, an accomplished climber and mountaineer, says only eight Black people have ever stood atop Mount Everest. The Full Circle team hopes its expedition, as well as a high-profile training plan and publicity push, will encourage people of color to not just dream big, but simply get outside.
“From gardening to bird watching to climbing Everest, the sky is really the limit when it comes to people just getting outside and really understanding the benefits of spending time in nature,” Henderson says.
Taylor is part of the expedition. The chemistry teacher and head track coach at Lafayette’s Centaurus High School began venturing into the outdoors as a young boy, going camping and skiing with his family. He was lucky, he says.
“Those are not traditionally things that families of color do,” he said.