Written by guest blogger, Teresa Baker, founder of The Pledge and the African American National Park Event.
The first I heard of Akuna was over Instagram. A black man hiking trails for weeks at a time and planning to accomplish a goal that, on record, no other black man had accomplished, the Triple Crown. At the time, I had no idea what it was, so I started to educate myself and once I started looking into it, I thought to myself, damn, this would be one hell of an accomplishment. So I continued to follow his journey, paying close attention to his every social media post, hoping he knew that not only were hiking communities across the country watching and rooting for him, but a huge following of African Americans across the country who had never attempted to hike any trail, but were paying attention because they saw themselves in him. A black man attempting something that only white men and women had accomplished before.
I know some will say, why are you making this about race, the answer is simple, it is about race. It’s about a black man who is the first, ever on record, to accomplish such a task. I can’t express enough how important race is in this accomplishment, Akuna’s accomplishment.
I wanted to hear from Akuna what he thought of his journey. Was he scared, what did he learn about himself, how did his family feel about his trek, what were the difficult moments, and what would he do differently? So, I reached out to him, before he had even made it home and asked if he would answer a few questions, he immediately said yes. So, here’s part of the Akuna story.
Me: Why did you attempt the Triple Crown?
Akuna: I first started thru- hiking to help better manage PTSD and it worked so well for me. Along the way I realized that by sharing my journey, I could inspire fellow veterans with PTSD and POC (people of color) to explore the outdoor and this became my goal.
Me: What does your family think of your hiking explorations? Have they been supportive?
Akuna: My family has been very supportive. They can’t wait for my calls from town to hear about the people that I have met and the things that I’ve seen. A few of them have even started hiking a little bit themselves.
Me: Did you run into any racial incidents, racism, folks not friendly because you are NOT who they typically see on the trails?
Akuna: Unfortunately, I have. Mostly just the awkward stares and occasional eye rolls. The worse incident occurred last year on the A.T., a day hiker I walked up on looked back and said “ is football and basketball not enough for you people anymore” from there he proceeded to tell me all the reasons black people don’t belong on trail. This went on for some time and he refused to let me go around him. Once we got to the parking lot that he was headed to, he finally turned around to get a good look at me and said “hey I know you, my wife and daughter follow you on Instagram. Can I get a picture with you” which I completely refused to do.
Me: What type of support did you receive from Merrell and others?
Akuna: My Merrell family have been so good to me! Not only did they make sure I had great gear and footwear but they helped finance the journey. During the entire trip they encouraged me so much and all they asked, was for me to just be me.
Me: What is your advice to others from the African American community who are considering such a feat?
Akuna: To just go for it! Don’t be afraid to live your dreams. You may not know everything when you start and that’s ok. As time goes you will figure it all out and will find that the majority of the thru hiking community will be helpful and accepting. Just remember, on trail you’re not just a hiker. You are also an Ambassador for our entire race. People will judge the next POC they met on trails based off of their encounters with you. So, leave a nice path for your brothers and sisters who will follow after you.
Me: What’s next for you?
Akuna: I haven’t narrowed down the next adventure yet. Going to take some time to let this journey sink in and recover. Hopefully by November I will know where my feet will take me next. I just know that the crown is not the end of the journey.
Me: Who would you most want to hike the trails with and why?
Akuna: I have a few well-known hikers I would love to share the trail with. People like the blackalachian and Rahawa I think it would be a lot of fun and it would be one of the few times I would be able to hike with other people of color. But I would also like to take a few people from various underrepresented communities out on their first thru hike. So many people would love to get into hiking if they went with others who looked like them and knew what they were doing.
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