A Change Has Come: Black Folks Camp Too
The Unity-Bolstering Company collaborates with Public Lands on New Apparel Line.
In the outdoors, “Everyone, everywhere, is welcomed.” That message is getting more mileage than ever now thanks to Black Folks Camp Too (BFCT), which is making a difference in the lives of millions by encouraging more people of color to get outside. Black Folks Camp Too’s mission is to remove fear, add knowledge, and—like its name suggests—to invite more Black folks to camp, too. The company’s core, operating belief is one of transformative conversion: Once Black folks become more active campers and begin enjoying the outdoor lifestyle, it will help break down barriers to build stronger ties within families, and to nature, plus increase unity in the outdoor community and beyond.
That’s the thinking from founder Earl B. Hunter, Jr., an experienced business leader recognized for his outgoing personality, work ethic, and non-traditional approach to building relationships. Heading BFCT draws upon his previous executive roles, especially his most recent at outdoor gear and RV manufacturer SylvanSport, where he grew the business from $1 million to $17.5 million in sales in four years, visiting RV dealerships and events across the country to spread the camping word. After getting the idea for BFCT while on a camping trip with his son, spawning his first outreach efforts to the RV industry, Hunter has since fostered partnerships with the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s Go RVing campaign, Tentrr, America’s State Parks, Leave No Trace and other outdoor brands such as Public Lands, Oboz Footwear, and Farm to Feet.
Public Lands caught up with Hunter between camp trips for more insight on his business helping more Black folks get outside.
On getting the idea from a camping trip:
The idea for Black Folks Camp Too was inspired in 2017 when Hunter took his 7-year-old son, Dillon, on a three-month camping trip across the U.S. and Canada, visiting 49 campgrounds in 20 states and provinces, visiting RV dealers as Vice President of Sales at Sylvansport. During that time, he says, they saw only one other Black family camping. He and Dillon were invited to visit Kampgrounds of America (KOA) headquarters in Montana, and he was featured in a RV Industry Association article as an outdoor leader “shaking up the RV industry” — highlighting his efforts to make businesses more inclusive of the African-American community. “That’s where the whole idea came from,” Hunter says of his camping trip with his son. “I didn’t see any Black folks enjoying the lifestyle and few working in the industry, which drove me to say, ‘Something has to change.’”
On the importance of the BFCT mission:
BFCT’s job, says Hunter, is to educate: “We’re not here to twist arms, we’re here to twist hearts,” he says. The education mission at Black Folks Camp Too is threefold. First off, the company wants to make sure outdoor industry leaders are educated on why many Black folks have not participated in the outdoor lifestyle. Next, the company assists the industry by creating more sincere, meaningful, measurable and sustainable solutions to educate more inexperienced consumers. But the company also works to educate what Hunter calls “the current lifestylers”—the predominantly white base that uses the outdoors regularly—on why Black people haven’t been using parks, trails and public lands. “Many of us have generational fear and lack of knowledge about the industry and the lifestyle,” Hunter explains. “My great-grandmother told my grandmother, who told my mother who told me, ‘You don’t belong in those woods…that’s where lynchings, cross burnings and intimidation took place.’” In addition to that generational trauma, Hunter says there’s another reason the outdoor recreation space is so white-dominated: “The industry never really invited or welcomed us.”
Photo: Black Folks Camp Too
On the idea for the Unity Blaze:
The Unity Blaze is the campfire symbol in the center of BFCT’s logo. “Blazes are internationally recognized as beacons of navigation and connection,” Hunter says. “The Unity Blaze forges bonds across all aspects of adventure and beyond. When folks see it, they know that they’re safe and welcomed and that the person or business displaying it is visibly and intentionally making the statement that they treat everyone, everywhere, equally.” “I wish we didn’t need a symbol, but we do,” he adds. When we all get around the campfire, we find that we have more sames than differences. Your race, age, and gender do not matter…we all have something to say around the campfire.”
On BFCT’s Digital Education Initiative:
The key to BFCT’s mission: Make the outdoors more accessible to more Black folks by educating them on how to use recreational resources. The group’s Digital Education Initiative uses social media (like its recently released first short film, Night of Unity), film series coordinated with both South Carolina State Parks and North Carolina State Parks, plus partnerships with organizations like Oboz Footwear to create an educational film series on feet and footwear care for outdoor lifestylers. “There’s an exponential effect of educating a single person, who can then educate others,” Hunter says. “One of the greatest things we can also do as a company is educate and encourage current outdoor users to invite and welcome people of color into the outdoors.”
On being a business instead of a nonprofit:
Hunter is quick to emphasize that Black Folks Camp Too is not a nonprofit. “We emphatically love saying that we’re a business,” he says. “Being a business is going to ensure that we’re sustainable in the marketplace.” While BFCT is sometimes misidentified as a consulting firm or a guiding company, the best way, Hunter says, to describe the business is as a, “world changer.” “We have an opportunity to change the world and we’re going to do that through the outdoors and campfires. This is not a regional vision or even a state vision—this is a world vision.”
On the group’s Unity Blaze partnership with Go RVing:
Taking advantage of Hunter’s past role in the RV manufacturing and camping industry, BFCT introduced a program to educate hundreds of RV manufacturers and dealerships across the country to become officially “BFCT Unity Blaze-Certified,” meaning they’re committing to, “Treat Everyone, Everywhere, Equally. Race, age, and gender does not matter, everyone is invited and welcomed to enjoy the RV lifestyle.” BFCT has recently partnered with several RV dealers in North America, including 28 dealers who fly its Unity Blaze flag. To become a Unity Blaze-certified dealership, employees are encouraged to complete a three-chapter digital education course with an accessible, conversational approach offering actionable advice that can be easily implemented to help educate RV dealers to invite and welcome more consumers to go RVing.
On BFCT’s Collaboration with Tentrr:
Recently, BFCT partnered with Tentrr to help inspire those who are first beginning their journey outdoors, or who have limited camping experiences. Tentrr is a leader in ready-to-go camping set-ups, facilitating fully equipped sites throughout much of the United States with sites in 40 states from coast to coast as well as Puerto Rico—an ideal partner to help new adventurers. The BFCT – Unity Blaze stamp- approved Tentrr campsites nationwide are expected to “treat everyone, everywhere, equally.”
On BFCT’s Collaboration with Farm to Feet and Oboz:
BFCT also announced a collaboration with sock maker Farm to Feet to create a new three-quarter-length technical hiking sock to promote BFCT’s mission. The sock features the BFCT Unity Blaze and is available at Public Lands stores as well as at both organizations’ websites. BFCT has also entered into a partnership with Oboz, putting its Unity Blaze and the slogan, “Put a little soul into your step,” onto its EVA, trim-to-fit O-FIT Insole Plus. A larger rollout for the sock and insoles, whose sales benefit BFCT (in part), is planned for August 2022 with in-store displays (including BFCT shirts, hats, water bottles, and more), plus educational material on BFCT’s mission to encourage more unity in the outdoor community, “changing the world…one campfire at a time.”
The more collaborative the action together in inviting others to the conversation, says Farm to Feet GM Matthew Brucker, the more momentum generated toward a diverse trail experience. “Our collaborations are centered around including everyone into the outdoors, just as Public Lands states in its mission,” says Brucker. “Wherever the trail leads you, invite others to join you along the way!”