Toyin Ajayi left apartment life for good on Jan. 22, 2021.
Since that day, Ajayi has been living in her camper at a Black-owned campground in southeast Georgia as a nomad. Unlike traditional nomads, who migrate together as a tribe seeking food or pasture for livestock, modern nomads trade in the 9-to-5 lifestyle for the flexibility of exploring their purpose on the open road.
Ajayi’s journey toward nomadic life began in 2018, when she bought her first rig – a 1984 Chevy Horizon. But she had to let the #vanlife go after the vehicle broke down less than a year later. She continued daydreaming about being a nomad, unsure what her nomadic journey would look like. There are many types of accommodations for mobile living. A tent, RV, van, jeep or houseboat will do.
Then as COVID-19 ravaged the globe in 2020, Ajayi had an epiphany which led to the purchase of her first camper.
“I just remember the end of 2019 and kind of being really green about everything. We all had so many plans about what we were going to do in 2020,” Ajayi said. “Once the pandemic hit, I was like, ‘Wow, you can’t keep making these plans and not living them. We don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring.’”
Living in nature is part of Ajayi’s larger mission in life. Just four months after leaving her apartment, Ajayi launched an app for her brand Outdoorsy Black Women, a social network where Black women can safely connect and celebrate each other as they experience the playground of nature. The app allows users to build a profile and includes forums, quizzes and a book club focused on Black women authors. It also has groups, like Owtdoorsy for LGBTQ+ people who love the outdoors.
Almost 1,200 stargazers, waterfall chasers, campers, hikers, bikers, gardeners, surfers and other outdoor enthusiasts are using the app so far.
“Black women are amazing, and they’re doing so many dope things in the outdoors,” Ajayi said. “We’re really happy to have Black sisterhood and a space for us to enjoy and encourage each other to be even more amazing.”
Snow Black and her adventures outdoors
Born in England, Ajayi recalls frolicking in her aunt’s London backyard, where she learned to garden and care for nature’s creatures. Her family gave her the nickname Snow Black, based on Disney’s Snow White, for the way she nursed sick animals until she could get them to the vet.
That love for adventure continued when Ajayi’s family moved to Atlanta when she was five. She played with the neighborhood kids in a creek behind their apartment complex, picking up snakes and feared being scolding by her parents whenever she got her leopard-printed jeans wet.
Nature remained Ajayi’s space for fun and solace into adulthood. Her favorite activities include hiking, especially near waterfalls. The sound and feel of water bring her peace. She did her first skydive last year. After dropping out of plane from 15,000 feet, Ajayi now wants to sky dive in every state she visits. And that’s after she takes up hang gliding.
Living as a nomad and her adventures outdoors have taught her to be more flexible.
“Don’t be afraid to live your best life,” Ajayi said. “You don’t have to compromise and fit into a mold that society has made. Do what works best for you.”
‘Black people are outdoorsy’
Ajayi wants to make sure everyone enjoys the freedom she has discovered. Outdoorsy Black Women is Ajayi’s solution to the many issues she noticed in recreational spaces.
Problem one: The lack of representation outdoors, which lead people to associate outdoor activities to whiteness. Not only is there an absence of Black people in outdoor commercials, Ajayi said, but also a lack of Black people enjoying the outdoors. A study by the U.S. Forest Service points out that Black Americans make up 13 percent of the population, but accounted for one percent of national forest visits. White Americans were overrepresented, making up 63 percent of the country’s population but over 90 percent in visits.
There are historical roots to this issue. Legacies of Black trauma exists in nature. When Black people were gaining political power and citizenship during Reconstruction, white mobs retaliated through acts of racial terrorism in the woods. Black bodies murdered by white supremacists were hauled out of rivers swollen and disfigured. Black people slaved over crops and cotton fields. This trauma stretches into the present day. Black nature enthusiasts have expressed fears of going into the woods alone and not coming back. Then there is the murder case of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man whom white men murdered while jogging in a Georgia suburb in 2020. His killing has been deemed a hate crime.
Ajayi is helping Black people repair their relationship with nature through the healing power of community. For Ajayi, the question isn’t if Black people want to be outside. It’s do they feel safe?
“Black people are absolutely outdoorsy,” Ajayi said. “Black people love a pavilion. Even at the Black-owned campgrounds, they’ll do cookouts and people will come and play cornhole or whatever. So we do spend time outdoors, but we just do it in our own way.”
Problem number two: Black people risk encountering microaggressions when they do enter into predominantly white spaces. Before Outdoorsy Black Women’s existence, Ajayi sought community in mixed-race social media groups focused on nature. She noticed the lack of empathy and understanding towards Black women members. Ajayi said this was especially true during the former presidency of Donald Trump when Black women asked questions in the group about where they can camp safely and whether those campgrounds were free of Make America Great Again flags and not located in sundown towns. Their concerns were minimized and invalidated, Ajayi said.
“People would comment, ‘Why do you have to asks that? It’s no different than being a woman,’” Ajayi said. “And the thing is, being a Black woman is different than being other types of women. We have our own struggles we have to deal with.”
So Ajayi created a Facebook group in August 2020 called “Black Women Camp,” drawing more than 1,000 members within three months.
“We were already looking for each other. We really needed the space and say, ‘Oh, I’m not alone in this,’” Ajayi said.
That Facebook group evolved into Outdoorsy Black Women, which not only features Black-owned campgrounds and farms but also Black owned wineries, bed-and-breakfasts, spas, nail techs and hair salons.
“As a nomad, and as Black women nomads, we needed to know where we could go for certain things like where do I go to get my hair done when I’m in another state,” Ajayi said. “So, it was really about building a trusted resource.”
Dope Blackness online and outdoors
Outdoorsy Black Women is evolving into more than a virtual space. Tickets quickly sold out for Outdoorsy Black Women’s inaugural Wine and Waterfalls event taking place during Mother’s Day weekend in Helen, Ga. The all-inclusive retreat offers lodging accommodations that suit attendants’ comfort levels with nature. Veterans can pitch a tent or hook up their RV/campers, while less seasoned nature enthusiasts can book one of the cabins or glamping options.
Attendants will be enjoying a guided waterfall hike and morning yoga. The event is sponsored by outdoor retail giant REI as well as several Black-owned businesses, like Black Girls Sunscreen. Ebony Wine and Spirits, a Black-owned winery in Charlotte, N.C., is sponsoring the paint and sip. Pop the Cork, a Black-owned wine tour company, is planning a vineyard tour.
“Even though Outdoorsy Black Women is a social network, I do want to use the platform to make sure we are promoting and working with as many Black-owned brands, specifically Black-women owned brands whenever possible,” Ajayi said.
There are more events being planned, like a twerk-and-hike and a horseback riding event at a Black-owned ranch in Georgia.
As far as the future of the brand, Ajayi is thinking she can help those beyond outdoorsy space. Black entrepreneurs have spoken up about navigating the lack of Black representation and racism in California’s Silicon Valley. Ajayi believes she can provide them with a space to test their talents.
“I would love to be an alternative for them to go to and say, ‘Hey, I get to build this Black social network that’s for us,’” Ajayi said.
No matter how big the brand gets, Ajayi said she’s never going to sell Outdoorsy Black Women to a white-owned company. The brand is by Black people, for Black people. And she wants to keep it like that as she finds more ways to give her people access to nature.
“Outdoorsy Black Women is a fun space, but I really want it to be a space that makes a difference,” she said.