Alison Mariella Désir on wellness and belonging in the PNW

In this Out & Back special episode, the outdoors activist talks to BIPOC and queer people who find healing in joy and nature.

When my family and I moved to Seattle, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew I wanted to raise my son in a place surrounded by nature and beauty. I knew I wanted our family to have a strong connection to the outdoors. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to find my people. And as host of Out & Back with Alison Mariella Désir, I was able to meet even more incredible people embracing the outdoors.

Our connection to nature is proven to increase our mental and physical wellness. But beyond that, it makes us care more about the world around us. In that spirit, I’ll be sharing the stories of Black, Indigenous and other people of color in the Pacific Northwest whose mental health has been positively impacted simply by getting outside.

Unfortunately, in the United States, BIPOC have historically had limited access to recreation and the outdoors. Policies of segregation and exclusion and ongoing racist and violent encounters continue to negatively impact our sense of belonging and safety in these spaces. And yet the outdoors remains a place of healing for us.

Last season I filmed with Jas Maisonet, who founded QPOC Hikers in 2019. They wanted to spend time outdoors in a way that not only felt safe but could also build relationships. Jas shared with me how the outdoors helped them discover their true identity as a queer person of color.

The joy that Jas brings to the spaces they create is so important, particularly in this moment when trans and nonbinary folks are facing attacks and legislation seeking to erase their existence. By providing safe spaces for queer people of color to recreate and show up as their authentic selves, Jas truly is helping to change the world. 

Similarly, activist and athlete Rosalie Fish has dedicated her life and her movement to advocating for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirits (MMIWG2S). Washington has the third highest number of MMIWG2S cases in the United States. However, thanks to the advocacy of folks like Rosalie, Washington was the first state in the country to create a statewide MMW/P Alert System, similar to Amber Alerts for abducted youth. Rosalie imagines a place where Indigenous lives matter and can move through the world without worry or fear.

While movement has a powerful and positive impact on one’s mental health, folks like Rosalie inspire me to continue to run for social justice as well as for my own personal well-being. 

Last season I also had the opportunity to try fly fishing with Giancarlo Lawrence, aka The Black Stonefly. Fishing with Gian showed me that running wasn’t the only way I could access a meditative state. 

With Gen Z being the most racially diverse generation in American history, there’s no doubt that the future of the outdoors depends upon us seeing ourselves there. The power of representation has never been more apparent, and people like Gian know that just one person can inspire an entire community.

I have met so many incredible people who are doing important work to welcome Black, Indigenous, and people of color into the outdoors. It’s more important than ever to spread the word about opportunities, share information about access, and see with our own eyes people from all backgrounds embarking on unique adventures. 

Black and brown people do all things – running, climbing, hiking, kayaking, farming, you name it. And we belong in all spaces. We deserve the joy that comes from these outdoor experiences. The outdoors is our birthright. I hope you’ll join me outside.


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