RV Lifestyle Attracts More African-Americans
The throngs filling campgrounds across America this summer will include hardy outdoors types and those who prefer creature comforts. But, according to an Associated Press report, they'll have at least one important thing in common: Nearly all of them are white.
A small but committed group of campers is trying to change that by growing a generation of black campers, one person at a time.
The National African-American RVers Association (NAARVA) is composed almost exclusively of black people who camp, although it includes a few whites and Hispanics.
The group doesn't have much money to buy ads or solicit new members. Instead, it always holds its major national gathering in July when schools are out so children and grandchildren can come along.
"We cater mostly to the family so that our young people will be able to grow up understanding the outside world and seeing the creation that God has created for us and how beautiful it is," said the Rev. John Womack of Boston, the group's president.
Lawrence Joseph, one of about 160 campers packed into the River Country Campground, Gadsden, Ala., for the recent Southern regional rally of the black campers' association, bought his RV four years ago seeking the same things that draw whites to camp.
"I like the closeness, the friendship. You meet people from different venues, from different professions," he said. "I have two kids, and it gets them out of the house from playing video games."
Womack and his wife Bertha got hooked on camping during a cross-country trip with their three children in 1983. He said outdoors recreation wasn't very practical or attractive to blacks for generations.
"In the early years, we didn't have the resources to camp. We didn't have the time off to camp," Womack said. "And for many people, life itself was camping. Our homes were like tents. We weren't anxious to run from one set of woods to the next."
Lemuel Horton, Southern regional director for the black campers' group, said that for years many blacks were simply afraid to camp.
"They felt like a black person out by yourself just wasn't personally safe," said Horton, of Decatur, Ga.
The Associated Press reported that a survey commissioned by industry groups estimated that as many as 30 million Americans have camped, but only 300,000 of them are African-American, said Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
Longtime park ranger Shelton Johnson, who is black, said he began telling the story of black buffalo soldiers at Yosemite National Park in California partly to lure more black visitors. Johnson has seen more minority visitors in recent years, but there still are not many.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a major issue," Johnson said. "As the so-called browning of America goes on, if black people and other people of color aren't visiting campgrounds and parks, how is the National Park Service going to reach the public in the future?"
Founded by a small group of enthusiasts 16 years ago, NAARVA has about 3,000 member families nationwide. Most are in the warm-weather South.
Gladys Curtis of Houston is active in both NAARVA and mostly white camping groups, and she has noticed at least one difference between the way the races camp.
"When we go to the (white) rallies, we hear a lot of country and western," said Curtis, president of a black camping group from Texas. "We've had a Motown review, big band, blues. Not a lot of country."