Semester Speaker James Mills
Emily Hayne

"Mountains don't discriminate so why should we... narratives help move the story of adventure forward." - James Mills at Conserve School on March 21, 2018

James Mills returned to Conserve School for the third time as the semester speaker. A journalist, photographer, and author of the book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors, Mills talked about the challenges racial minorities have when accessing the great outdoors. The "adventure gap" addresses the division between who spends time outdoors and who does not.

Growing up in Los Angeles, California Mills found connections to the environment through Boy Scouts. His parents also encouraged him and his siblings to spend time outside, "From a very young age I was exposed to the outdoors... I can't remember a time in my life not spending time outdoors." Mills acknowledged that both his parents' support and his exposure to nature at a young age impacted who he is today. Mills found himself making connections to nature growing up but noticed that he was often the only African American he encountered when spending time outdoors.

What happens when you do not have someone supporting and encouraging you to spend time outside? What happens when others tell you that you do not belong in a certain place? Who is left out of the story when it comes to adventure and outdoor experiences?

Mills believes it is the lack of exposure to the outdoors and the limited diversity represented in adventure and recreation narratives that discourage racial minorities from experiencing the outdoors. Furthermore, stories throughout history about African Americans participation in environmental recreation and conservation have gone untold and unheard. The Buffalo Soldiers in Yosemite, Sophia Danenberg ( ) as the first African American to summit Mount Everest, Charles Crenchaw ( as the first African American to successfully summit Denali and Matthew Henson, the first African American Arctic explorer, are a few of these narratives. History of African Americans and other racial minorities in the outdoors does not often embrace and share these stories. Mills notes the power stories throughout history have over people relating to and identifying with historical figures, "When people have history and legacy, they become inspired to participate as well." The more we know from history and current events around diverse perspectives the more we can expand our understanding of who belongs in the outdoors and who can participate in adventure.

During his visit to Conserve School, Mills encouraged the students to think about why there is a racial division in the outdoors and how humans can make connection to one another to encourage collaboration and solutions to the adventure gap. "The goal is to essentially have people see themselves as part of the outdoor narrative" and this is important to have people connect to the outdoors, food sources and communities. As a journalist, Mills creates opportunities for peoples' stories to be shared with others so that the face of the outdoors is more diverse. Some of the projects Mills has worked on is AN AMERICAN ASCENT and The Joy Trip Project.

The film AN AMERICAN ASCENT, written by James Mills and Andy Adkins, features a team of all African Americans climbing Mt. Denali. Conserve School students had the opportunity to view this film to learn more about the challenges the team faced when pursuing this adventure (Trailer: Additionally, Mills created the The Joy Trip Project for people's stories in the outdoors to be told through podcast and blog in order to inspire other people to pursue adventure and spend time outdoors. Learn more about this project here

MESSAGES from James Mills

There are things young people can do today to inspire the next generation to connect to the outdoors. According to Mills, "we have to go out of our way to make people feel welcome in the outdoors." By inviting others into the outdoors, the more people will be included to preserve the environment for future generations. Additionally, students at Conserve School can start by sharing their stories. Each of are narratives are powerful and Mills encouraged students to use their experiences to connect with others, "We should share as many stories as we can about spending time outdoors... about spending time in nature. These stories inspire people to do pretty remarkable things."

After presenting to CS16, James Mills spent time answering questions, talking with students and signing copies of the book, The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors.