Hoods to Woods: Bringing the Inner City to Backcountry

I grew up in Brook­lyn, New York, in a neigh­bor­hood called Brownsville. There were no moun­tains or camp­grounds. The only grass could be found in over­grown vacant lots. When our par­ents direct­ed us to “Go out­side and play,” we flocked to chalk-cov­ered con­crete and asphalt play­grounds where we found adven­ture in rounds of Hop­scotch and Skel­ly.  If we were lucky enough to own a bike, the most impor­tant thing to remem­ber was that you bet­ter not let any­one ride it or else you might not ever see it again.

Camp­ing, ski­ing, snow­board­ing, and rock climb­ing were for peo­ple with mon­ey. Even if we did have access to those activ­i­ties, to afford them when try­ing to pay bills and put food on the table was unheard of.

I often won­dered why there weren’t more minori­ties in the out­door indus­try.  Spon­sored ath­letes in most out­door sports aren’t brown or from neigh­bor­hoods like the one I grew up in. I don’t believe that peo­ple from urban areas aren’t inter­est­ed in ski­ing or snow­board­ing, but rather that grow­ing up in an envi­ron­ment where you lack access to learn and prac­tice those activ­i­ties means they’re not on your radar. Because of this, inner-city chil­dren miss out on addi­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to build their con­fi­dence and expe­ri­ence envi­ron­men­tal education.

The Clymb recent­ly donat­ed more than 300 packs, some Arc’teryx har­ness­es, and oth­er items to a pro­gram called Hoods to Woods. Hoods to Woods pro­motes out­door aware­ness to inner-city kids – right in my old neigh­bor­hood – through snow­board­ing, indoor rock climb­ing, camp­ing, hik­ing, and more. When I learned that the organization’s founder, Bri­an Pau­paw, was from Brownsville, black, and an avid snow­board­er, I had to know more. As Pau­paw pre­pares to give out the donat­ed packs and oth­er items to youth in Brownsville this Sat­ur­day, he was nice enough to spare a few moments to talk about the Hoods to Woods pro­gram and what it means to the chil­dren of Brooklyn.

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TC: Tell us a lit­tle about your upbring­ing in Brook­lyn. I know first­hand that there’s not much access to sports like snow­board­ing. How did you dis­cov­er it?

BP: I dis­cov­ered the out­doors while I attend­ed Par­son­’s School of Design in 1996. My class­mates were snow­board­ers and lived in rur­al areas in Ver­mont, Cal­i­for­nia, and Wash­ing­ton state. I was very appre­hen­sive at first. I always felt black peo­ple had no busi­ness with any of those activ­i­ties at the time. While grow­ing up in Bed-Stuy and Brownsville I was­n’t exposed to the out­doors. Just day-to-day sur­vival was the main con­cern and going camp­ing was the last thing on our minds. Also, I didn’t know any­one in my com­mu­ni­ty that was involved with the out­doors. After being con­vinced sev­er­al times in col­lege, I final­ly gave snow­board­ing a shot and got hooked and fell in love with the outdoors.

TC: When did you get the idea for Hoods to Woods? How did it begin?

BP: The idea for Hoods to Woods Foun­da­tion start­ed in 2001 when I quit my job to go snow­board­ing at Mt Bak­er ski area in Sno­qualmie Nation­al For­est. I stayed with friends for 4 weeks in a log cab­in beneath the snow line near Glaicer, Wash­ing­ton. It was a sur­re­al moment for me. It was my first time vis­it­ing a nation­al for­est. I was blown away by the scenery and see­ing the Mt Bak­er ski area for the first time made my jaw drop. It was a very emo­tion­al moment because right there is when I felt as if I was denied access and knowl­edge of amaz­ing places like this while growjng up. When I came home back to Brook­lyn, it was the same scene in the hood. The vio­lence and pover­ty was still there. It both­ered me that I was expe­ri­enc­ing these moments and no one in my com­mu­ni­ty was. That is when I want­ed to fig­ure out a way to share with my pas­sion with the com­mu­ni­ty. In 2009, I made a short film titled “Hoods to Woods” with all the footage I had lying around. I did a few screen­ings in New York City and that’s when peo­ple approached me after the film about vol­un­teer­ing to make Hoods to Woods a real­i­ty for Brooklyn.

 

 

TC: Why do you think it’s impor­tant for teens in urban areas to have access to sports like snow­board­ing and activ­i­ties like rock climb­ing? What does it teach them?

BP: It’s impor­tant for chil­dren in urban areas to have these out­door expe­ri­ences for sev­er­al rea­sons. One is to expose the lifestyle to them because of the phys­i­cal and men­tal health ben­e­fits of the out­doors, and I’m liv­ing proof of that! The sec­ond is build­ing envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness in urban com­mu­ni­ties. It’s hard to be envi­ron­men­tal­ly aware when you have nev­er seen or become attached to the envi­ron­ments that need to be pro­tect­ed. These activ­i­ties will teach them how to respect and pre­serve these envi­ron­ments, but also edu­cate them on the career oppor­tu­ni­ties and entre­pre­neur­ship with­in the out­door industry.

TC: What is the most com­mon response from the teens when they start the pro­gram? Do you find they’re intim­i­dat­ed by the sport? Excited?

BP: The most com­mon response is mixed from the teens we serve. At first, it’s a new envi­ron­ment to them and what­ev­er stereo­types they have come up the first day of activ­i­ties. Then after a few hours the fear set­tles and the laugh­ter and joy begins! And after that they are hooked! The shy kids open up and the kids that think they will excel first day become hum­bled after they learn it takes time to mas­ter snow­board­ing or indoor rock climbing.


TC:
What has the response been in the out­door industry?

BP: The response from the out­door indus­try has been amaz­ing. Com­pa­nies like The Clymb, Bur­ton, Yes Snow­boards, and Giro have been great sup­port­ers of Hoods to Woods and help us with pro­vid­ing appar­el and equip­ment to our pro­grams. We are will­ing to work with any com­pa­ny that wants to share the pas­sion of the out­doors with inner city children.

TC: Any plans to bring this pro­gram to oth­er cities/neighborhoods?

BP: We plan to bring Hoods to Woods to oth­er urban cen­ters in the future, but first we would like to make the pro­gram a suc­cess in Brook­lyn before we ven­ture out. We have lim­it­ed resources and want to make sure each child has the best expe­ri­ence and suc­cess with our programing.

TC: Tell us a lit­tle about the event this Sat­ur­day, August 18th.

BP: The event Sat­ur­day is a reg­is­tra­tion dri­ve with free book bags to the com­mu­ni­ty of Brownsville Brook­lyn. It’s part of the stop the vio­lence block par­ty in part­ner­ship with Mt. Ollie Bap­tist Church.

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Pro­grams to intro­duce inner-city teens to dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly new. When I was 11, I was offered a chance to go to board­ing school in Con­necti­cut. I would have been skipped a grade — I lat­er was any­way — and exposed to oth­er cul­tures and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties. I refused out of fear. My neigh­bor­hood was­n’t great, but it was all I’d known. Thank­ful­ly, I man­aged to obtain a great edu­ca­tion and even­tu­al­ly expe­ri­ence the world out­side of my less-than-ide­al begin­nings. But I occa­sion­al­ly won­der what if. What if I’d tak­en that chance? What expe­ri­ences did I miss out on? Hope­ful­ly the chil­dren affect­ed by Bri­an Pau­paw and Hoods to Woods will nev­er have to ask those questions.