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BLM "paddle-out" event highlights need for diversity and inclusion in outdoor activities

Posted at 4:40 PM, Jun 20, 2020

MADISON COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Dozens of people met at Fort Boonesborough State Park Saturday morning to honor the lives of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd with a “paddle-out”.

The Black Lives Matter Paddle Out Kentucky event was sponsored by the Explore Kentucky Initiative and The Waterman Series. It kicked off at 9 a.m. from the beach at Fort Boonesborough.

Historically, a “paddle-out” is a Polynesian tradition where people gather on the water to celebrate the lives of those who have died.

A news release for the event explains, “surf communities have adopted the custom for larger memorials and movements; people come together on the water to pause, share memories and honor those who have been lost.”

During Saturday’s event, attendees were invited onto the water in kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. While in the Kentucky River, everyone paused for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, which is the length of time Minneapolis police officers knelt on top of George Floyd while he pleaded he couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t know what y’all felt, but I felt emotional about it,” said Gerry Seavo James, founder of the Kentucky Initiative, immediately after. “And I want y’all to think about what George Floyd felt, what Ahamaud Arbery felt, what Breonna Taylor felt as their lives left their body. And I want y’all when you leave here to think about ways we can prevent that from happening.”

Organizers said the event is meant to “honor those who have lost their lives and make a statement against systemic racism, disenfranchisement and intimidation.” Throughout the event, James places specific emphasis on how systemic racism plays a role in “limiting black and other [persons of color’s] participation in outdoor sports and recreation.”

“We need to work hard with making these environments more inclusive and we need to work hard with making these environments feel safe,” said James.

Cubaka Mutayongwn and Mary Morton said while they love the outdoors, they notice a lack of diversity in those who partake in outdoor activities.

“If you go hiking, kayaking, do any sort of outdoorsy activity, you don’t really see many people of color. It’s usually kind of one-sided,” said Morton.

When asked if their skin color has ever affected how they experience the outdoors, they said yes and no.

“It’s more like some areas of the state when we’re getting ready to go kayaking or hiking, we don’t want to go. Or we choose some places over others,” explained Mutayongwn.

“Some places don’t feel as welcoming as others,” Morton agreed.

“Our ‘BLM Paddle Out Kentucky’ message will honor and reinforce the fact that the waters, trails, parks and open lands of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, are for ALL people. Outdoor recreation is not just for the few, but rather the many,” read the event’s description. “Our hope is that this event will be the catalyst for discussing these issues and working together to take actions that will create lasting change so that all folks can enjoy the positive benefits of outdoor recreation.”