She’s Using Outdoor Joy to Build Inclusivity and Tackle Veteran Trauma (Vedia Barnett, founder of Black Vets Outdoors)

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Vedia Barnett humans outside

We know heading outside helps us all sort through the junk of life — a tough day, actual trauma, relationships, whatever. And veterans know spending time in nature also has special power over the wounds of military service.

For Vedia Barnett, a disabled Black Air Force veteran and founder of the nonprofit organization Black Vets Outdoors, spending time outside has extra power. She’s seen it work to heal the double trauma carried by those who carry both the burden of military service and the weight of racism. In this episode she talks about:

  • Creating a sense of belonging outdoors
  • Why reaching out and supporting Black veterans is important
  • The power of heading outside for everyone

Join us as we explore the transformative impact of nature on veterans, the incredible resilience and camaraderie found within veteran-led groups like Vedia’s — and how you can make an impact for them, too.

Some of the good stuff:

[3:33] Vedia Barnett’s favorite outdoor space

[4:01] Vedia’s outdoor story

[4:40] About Vedia’s military service

[6:18] Yes, to join the military, she really did have to sign over custody of her son

[9:08] Vedia’s work with veterans

[11:06] How does going outside help veterans?

[14:06] Why a sense of belonging matters outside

[16:44] Do military veterans experience healing outdoors differently from other people?

[20:03] All about Black Vets Outdoors

[22:38] Why outdoor affinity groups are important

[25:00] Simply finding outdoor joy

[29:02] How spending time outside impacts the Black veteran community, specifically

[32:00] The impact of historic trauma

[35:18] How Black vets can access the group and how allies can help

[43:12] Vedia’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Visit Black Vets Outdoors
Connect with Vedia Barnett on LinkedIn
Join the Humans Outside Challenge
Follow Humans Outside on Instagram
Follow Humans Outside on Facebook

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: You know that feeling you get when you spend even a little bit of time outside? No matter how challenging it is to get out there, spending time in nature is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz and this is another episode of Humans Outside. Join me as we hear from fascinating outdoor minded guests and use the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to push us outside daily. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are, while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

If you’ve been listening to Humans Outside for very long, you know every day is Veterans Day in my house. That’s because not only is my husband, Luke, a disabled U. S. Army veteran who still serves in the Alaska Army National Guard, but discovering value for his healing from a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder is what sent us Outside to start with.

It’s how I got started chasing my own outdoor time experiment. And it’s why we ended up having this podcast for you. In short, Working with veterans to find healing outside is why Humans Outside started. It’s why it exists. So yeah, I love the subject. The Veterans Day holiday offers a very convenient date on the calendar to take a hot second to talk about the what and why of healing outside, and to hear from other veterans who have found the same thing we did and are now working to share it with others.

That’s why I’m so excited to speak to today’s guest, Vedia Barnett, a disabled Black Air Force veteran who found healing for herself outdoors, then made it her personal mission to share that power through the Sierra Club’s veteran program, Military Outdoors, and specifically with other Black veterans by founding her non profit, Black Vets Outdoors. She’s also a board member of Minority Veterans of America.

Today, Vedia is going to tell us her own story of healing in nature, the powerful way she’s seen nature impact others, the challenge and importance in bringing this message to Black veterans, and how we can support this important work for ourselves and on behalf of others. Vedia, welcome to Humans Outside.

Vedia Barnett: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be

Amy Bushatz: T hanks so much for joining me. I we’ve been talking a little bit here before recording. I am riding a struggle bus today. I don’t know what’s going on with me. I don’t know, man.

Vedia Barnett: Hey we all have them.

Amy Bushatz: But this is such an important topic and, like I said, really close to my heart because Veteran and veteran stuff and veteran ness and healing from war and using the outdoors to do that is such an important core part of our story here at Humans Outside and of my family’s story.

It’s just, it’s something that’s really, really close to our hearts.

Vedia Barnett: Mine too. I come from a family of, veterans. My dad is a Vietnam war vet. My mom is a, uh, Marine vet. My husband’s an army vet and my daughter is a brand new Coastie vet after serving seven years.

Amy Bushatz: Congratulations, mom of a Coastie vet. That’s very cool. and, and if had we a different podcast episode that we’re recording right now, I would have loved to hear about your mom being a Marine. That’s incredible. you know, for people who are listening to this and don’t know that much about the military services, female Marines are still sort of a rare breed.

And so for your mom to have been a Marine. That’s going back some time. And, yeah, that’s, that’s incredible. Okay, but we digress. We start our episodes of Humans Outside imagining ourselves with our guests talking in their favorite outdoor space. So, like, if we were hanging out with you somewhere outside that you just really love, where would we be with you today?

Vedia Barnett: Oh, that’s a great question. I love anything sandy, beachy, but in the woods. So like if I go for a hike, I always try to hike somewhere where there’s a waterfall or what have you, so that I can get the best of both worlds, the water and the greenery of the trees. So yeah, that’s where you will find me.

Amy Bushatz: All right, let’s go there. I’m excited. Okay, now you told us about your family’s history of service, but how did you become someone who likes to go outside? What’s your outdoor story?

Vedia Barnett: So my dad, he was really keen on making sure we had experiences that he didn’t have, growing up. He grew up poor, Black he was a paper boy, in a predominantly wealthy white neighborhood, and he always said, whatever they’re doing, I want to do one day. He said this at like 10 years old. And so, fortunately during the time when I grew up, you know, my dad was able to, we got a camper and we went camping a lot.

We did kite flying. We went to the beach a lot. So he really wanted to make sure that, you know, me and my two brothers, that we had those outdoor experiences. so that’s where I got started.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And if you don’t mind, but only going as far as you’re comfortable, can you tell us about your military service and, and give us some insight into how outdoors specifically has impacted your healing and work through your disability? Would you mind telling us a little bit about that?

Vedia Barnett: Sure. Sure. Sure. So I joined the, uh, the Air Force back in the nineties. I was a single mom with a new baby and, one of my uncles was a Navy recruiter and, he suggested that I go into the military to, you know, put myself a little further, ahead in life. So I signed over custody of my daughter to my parents, went into the Air Force, served at Lackland Air Force Base, Wilco Hall Medical Center, and experienced some trauma there just with bullying. And, that was the first time I’ve ever seen death. And part of my job was processing, bodies. and so after I got out of the military, I, I didn’t even realize that I was a veteran,to be honest, it wasn’t until maybe 10 or 12 years later, my dad was like hey are you going to, you know, restaurants on Veterans Day? And I’m like, for what? I just had no idea, you know, that this was a thing. and so that’s when I, I woke up that I was a veteran. But I, and, And part of that also was, you know, wanting to be able to connect with individuals. So going to various VSOs, didn’t see people that look like me, being a woman. and so I found other ways of connecting. And one of the ways was Black Girls Run. And so joining them, I trained for my first half marathon, then did two marathons, two triathlons. and so that’s what got me back outdoors. And I’ve been outdoors since.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So a couple of things just to back up for people who don’t know very much about military culture. Yes, you can be a single mom in the military, but it is extremely difficult and you have to have what’s called a family care plan. This is in modern times now, and that looks like having a very specific plan for who’s going to take care of your kid if you’re deployed or anything like that. Was that the case in the 90s? Was it? I mean, you mentioned signing over custody of your daughter to your parents. What did that feel like? Or was that the only option that you had there?

Vedia Barnett: That was the only option back then was to sign over custody. I did have a family care plan, but you know, yeah, that was the only way I could go in.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, yeah. And today it’s a little bit different, though no less challenging for sure, that they are they’re hm maybe a little bit friendlier- a little friendlier to families, I’m not going to stretch that too far. You also mentioned going to VSOs, those are Veteran Service Organizations, and these are like clubs, I guess you could say, for veterans. Some of the traditional ones do very much tend to be, not only no women, but no black individuals, just a bunch of old white men is kind of the stereotype. I would say that’s changing a little bit too, but not at the time for sure. And still,

Vedia Barnett: Yeah.

Amy Bushatz: Working on it. So to say the least.

Vedia Barnett: Mm

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And, since you also mentioned Veterans Day meals, I was over at Military.Com for a long time. I was their executive editor. I left that role this past summer, but I will tell you right now the highest performing story that thing, piece of content on that website is their list of free Veterans Day meals and discounts. I am not kidding. It is an incredible group of reporters who is working super hard to like, write really high quality news and then and then Veterans Day comes, and the thing that people like the most is this free list of meals, because, I mean, who wants to turn down free dinner? I mean, sign me up, right? So, I can’t even be mad. But if folks are listening to this, you are a veteran, and it is around Veterans Day. I’m just saying, Military. com’s got that big old list of that stuff, and, I mean, hate on it as much as you want, but there’s nothing like a free meal. I’m, for me, so I think that’s me. Anyway. Okay.

So since you started working with other veterans, how have you been spending time, in nature and how have you seen nature impact them? You mentioned running and triathlons, but you’re working specifically with veterans here and Sierra Club Military Outdoors Program, it focuses on a lot of different nature stuff, but it’s not specific to like the fitness thing. So talk to us a little bit about the program and about how you’ve seen spending time in nature impact the people around you.

Vedia Barnett: Sure sure, sure. So the military outdoors campaign that we run has two facets. There is an outings component where we have volunteers in seven different states that run programming for veterans that could be something as simple as pole walking. So we have a volunteer that’s all that she does. And so you know, that, that’s for veterans who may have some type of mobility issues. So pole walking is great for them. But then we may have like in Michigan, there was a ice, a ice climb, you know, so it just depends on, on where people are. And then the second part of it is, I work on the legislative policy side. So I do about 90 percent of my work is policy work, which is helping, states as well as federal policies be, brought to our legislators.

So there’s Transit to Trails and Senator Cory Booker introduced to Congress, which will impact veterans who don’t have readily access to nearby nature or green spaces, making sure that they get on a bus or a train they can get somewhere to enjoy nature. So people don’t really consider nearby nature, which can be a park in your neighborhood or what have you. When people think of spending time outdoors, they’re thinking they got to summit a mountain or, you know, go kayaking and things of that nature. But it’s something as simple as, you know, going to your, your nearest state park or, you know, a local park in your community, county, town. and so what people don’t understand is a lot of those are, there are barriers to access.

One can be financial. Someone may just not have the funds to purchase a state park pass. It could be a mobility issue. So say for instance, there’s a beautiful park near you, but if it’s gravel, if the trail is gravel and you use a wheelchair, then you, it’s just something you cannot use. So that’s, that’s what I work on is accessibility legislation, ensuring veterans, of varying body abilities can enjoy the lands that we, you know, took an oath to serve and protect.

Amy Bushatz: H ow do you see this access to these places or the experiences in these places impacting folks? And how, how do you see that impacting you through the lens of working through military service? And, and some of the things that you mentioned earlier, those, traumas of dealing in the hospital and of working in this space- how do you see nature impacting people processing that?

Vedia Barnett: Well, research has shown, um, there’s plenty of research out there that shows that anyone that spends time in nature, at least 30 minutes, there is a significant impact in a sense of belonging, peace, calm, purpose, things of that nature. but also for those who experienced trauma, such as veterans, when they’re in a veteran led or veteran specific group, there’s a sense of camaraderie that, that, you know, I can’t really explain, what that is like. It’s just, you know, when you’re a veteran, the veteran, there’s just a different, relational experience than it is with someone who has never served in the military.

So we found that there’s increased camaraderie. And one study, about addiction found that when there was a peer group, those afterwards, and when they did, you know, surveys and things of nature, there was a reduction in their consumption of whether alcohol, drugs, what, what have you, because they had a buddy, a battle buddy, afterwards that they can keep in contact with.

So, I mean, the research is out there. We definitely see it. I myself, I experienced a stroke in 2019. That was my way of getting back to healing and spending time outdoors. And so, you know, my dad has PTSD. He, you know, was a volunteer with AmeriCorps Senior Corps, outdoors , and working at a state park and so that’s helped him as well.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah I mean, I think and, and this is, this is my experience, so please correct me if, you know, or share your experience too, space. heading outside creates a space there’s everyone sort of on, I don’t know, equal footing, if you will, because you’re all in the same, literal same space and facing the same challenges there.

So like from the basis, like from just nobody knows each other, you’ve stepped out there, you’re all similar you get there. The space is the same, you’re there with it. And then when you have a group of people who have a shared background, who are facing a shared challenge at the same time, so let’s say the space has some things in it that maybe don’t feel good, right? It’s cold, or it’s steep, or, you know, it’s, it’s challenging in some kind of way. Now you’re there with people who understand your background and you don’t have to explain it. And,

and I don’t know about for you, but for me as a caregiver of a military veteran and, and as a military spouse, you know, we carry our, our own sort of service baggage around Um, it’s different obviously from a veteran’s, but it is, it’s it’sNot having to detail that is a really big deal because that is so exhausting.

Vedia Barnett: Yeah, absolutely. And it does, like I said, it gives a sense of belonging. So you’re all there kind of like, uh, struggling together. and then you also want to see each other succeed. And that’s the beautiful thing I’ve seen. You know, I’ve been on hikes where, you have a petite woman grabbing the hand of, , this burly guy who may notbe as confident and help him along and, you know, no one’s leaving anybody behind. So it definitely gives a sense

of belonging as

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Which is a sense that you have in the military. You know, as a military spouse, you’re surrounded by people who are all dealing with the same nonsense at the same time. As a veteran, or a military member, rather, in theater or in the hospital, you’re all dealing with all of the same inputs at the same time.

Okay. Well, those are zero star inputs. Like, they’re traumatic, and they’re tough, and they’re things you don’t want to repeat in the future. When you take this group of people outside and you’re tackling things that are still coming at you and discomforts or challenges, but they’re not challenges, hopefully, in a way that are, have a long term trauma associated with them.

That’s not always the case outside. Sometimes stuff can happen. You’re like, I wish I hadn’t experienced that. But typically, right, it’s, you’re getting inputs and you feel this bond. with someone else because you overcame something that was not in and of itself traumatic in nature, but you did it together and there’s something to be said for group suffering.

So,

Vedia Barnett: Right.

Amy Bushatz: yeah, I don’t know. Do you experience that as well? Like, when group suffering, I mean group challenge, right? Like, I go for a run. The weather’s terrible. I’m there with other people. We all went for the run. Then after the run, we’re like, wow, that was bad.

Vedia Barnett: Right, right, right. Absolutely. And then, you know, we have the stories afterwards to share.

Amy Bushatz: Right, right,

Vedia Barnett: You know, you have that as well. And that’s something that I’ve learned just watching my uncles who were Korean War veterans and things of that nature. Every time they got together they were sharing stories. So, you know, I think it’s really important too, that everyone, regardless of your background, what you look like, who you are, we all have some common, similarities that we can share.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Do you think that military veterans experience this outdoor healing uniquely, that, that their trauma responds to the outdoors uniquely because of that tradition of having a buddy to your, a battle buddy that you mentioned earlier, right? Like you mentioned in the context of going outside, but that’s also a military thing that when you’re in a conflict, you have someone to the right and your left and you’re doing it for them.

Vedia Barnett: Yeah, I got your six concept is huge in the outdoors. And it does, it does for me when I experienced that, then I wanted to turn around and give back because I wanted other veterans to experience what I felt. You know, do I have days where, PTSD is kicking my butt? Absolutely. But I’m able to then reach out to, you know, people that I’ve connected with. Through my outdoor activities and, rely on them to help get me back to where I need to be. And it’s always often, did you get outside today? If you haven’t girl, put your shoes on, go get you about 30 minutes of air. And then, I’m able to kind of get back on my feet.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, absolutely. I love that because it’s , there’s so many challenges that veterans specifically face, but what you just said is also so highly relatable for people who are listening to this who are not veterans. You know, everybody struggles with some sort of past trauma or hardship that they’d rather have not dealt with.

And like, you don’t have to be a veteran to have those problems. And going outside is a way to soothe or work through them for everybody. And so like, PTSD is more prevalent among veterans, but it is not exclusive to veterans, right? And so you can be tackling these things, guys, and have these, have a challenge in your life come up , people have hard days.

I have hard days, right? We have hard days and maybe sometimes you don’t know why. And the outdoors is there for you to, just like you just said, get your butt outside, go outside for 30 minutes, get some air and just really have some space to process that. I will tell you right now. I had Yes, two days ago? Well, I just got some emails I didn’t like, okay? Like, some people turned me down. Like, I got some rejection, okay? Like, I’m working on this project. People didn’t do exactly what I wanted them to do. Annoying. I went outside, and I have a hot tub here in Alaska. I went outside and soaked slash sulked in my hot tub for a good…

Vedia Barnett: That’s a nice way to do

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, right for like a good 20 minutes and it was kind of chilly like it was raining a little bit I wasn’t digging going for a walk. Although I did sit there and think you should go for a walk. That’d be good right now. But that was my moment where I gave myself that time to sit out there and process and just look at the trees for for a minute and or two or ten or whatever it was and have that moment. And I just think that’s such a relatable thing that when you’re faced with these challenges in life, whether this is work pressures or whatever. We like to say, oh, I don’t have time for that. But you do. You have five minutes. You have 10 minutes. Instead of doom scrolling or just sitting in your chair being upset about something, get some air.

Vedia Barnett: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Amy Bushatz: Time for a little break so I can tell you about the Humans Outside 365 Challenge. Want help building your own outdoor habit, some cool swag, and even a finisher medal? The Humans Outside 365 Challenge is a great way to get started. Get outside every day for a year with exclusive help. All you need to do is visit humansoutside.com/challenge. Don’t get left out. Go to humansoustide.com/challenge to learn more now. Okay, back to the show.

So your organization, Black Vets Outdoors, focuses on Black veterans, obviously. It’s in the title. What prompted you to found that? Give us a little bit more background about that.

Vedia Barnett: Yeah. So, in, in these outdoor veteran spaces I’m typically maybe one of two women So I was shown up to a lot of spaces and, you know, I’m kind of looking around. And, you know, I was raised that, take up space wherever you are. So, you know, I take up space wherever I am. But I’m typically always the only Black woman in, in veteran outdoor spaces.

So let me be clear about that. And so because I’m doing work to impact the lives of veterans, and I go to these veteran spaces and I don’t see people of color in these spaces who not only have the trauma of having experienced, I hate to say it this way, but you know, the military is a different beast.

Like there’s so many things that go on in the military. You could not do in a civilian world. So you have individuals who not only experienced the military, but then also experienced discrimination and biases. And so they’re, they’re at this intersection where they have double trauma.

And I’m looking at research every day that says, Hey, getting outside helps eliminate that, but I’m not seeing us outside. So for me, I said, you know what, I’m going to create. A nonprofit to fill a need. and since creating that I’ve had so many veterans say, I’ve been looking for something like this where I can show up and people look like me and I don’t feel uncomfortable, in a, in a, in a space that sometimes isn’t even welcoming, especially, you know, with the, with the way the United States and the polarization is right now, there are some veteran spaces where I go in and I’m get back in my car and I’m like, I’m out.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So, I mean, to your point about the military having things that don’t happen anywhere else, I cannot think of another job right now where you have to give up your child to join it. So, right? Like, um, that’s crazy, , just a standalone thing, right? But so common, especially when you join.

Um, so there’s that. And then what we were talking about just a few minutes ago of having a space where you don’t have to explain yourself, where you don’t have to say, like, this is my background, where you don’t have to have the conversation we’re having right now, right? Where we are, like, diving into why this matters.

You can show up there, be fully you without any sort of like, here’s why this matters to me. Here’s the things that I experienced. Like, you can look at somebody in your space with you and be like, yeah, she knows mm-hmm. Yep. Or he knows Yeah.

Vedia Barnett: Yeah. And, and even, and even the, you know, the, the, the language. So I just taught a workshop on the importance of infinity groups and infinity groups mean if there’s an LGBTQ infinity group or there’s a paralyzed veterans affinity group, the language, I can show up to a paralyzed veteran affinity group, and I may not know all the language and the vernacular that they’re speaking that, that pertains to their, their particular disability.

Same thing with the LGBTQ veterans. There are some vernacular or terms that I may not know. So. I’ve even had pushback from people saying, why do you do something for women veterans? We’re all veterans. And I’m just like, okay, well, there’s different things that women veterans have experienced in the military, you know, that meant it just doesn’t happen.

And then the same thing, you know, as, as, as a white individual was showing up in spaces here in the United States, you don’t have to think about your skin color when you show up to a space. Unfortunately, that is the case for a lot of individuals. So for me, this affinity space, it fills a need and a void where Black veterans don’t even see themselves. I mean, you can look at a lot of advertising for outdoor groups and, and even, apparel companies and you don’t see people of color, you don’t see disabled individuals. so for me, it was really important to make sure that there was a safe space for black veterans to show up in, in the outdoors, you know, in their authentic selves.

And the other thing I wanted to do with Black Vest Outdoors is to not focus on trauma, but focus on joy. And I think a lot of times we don’t, I, it’s very rare to hear people focus on joy when we’re talking about veterans. It’s always about the trauma, the trauma, the trauma. But let’s talk about joy. Let’s talk about, you know, bird watching. And like, I have two bird feeders in my backyard. I have a screen in patio and I sit out there and I watch the birds squabble and I see the squirrels and you know, so it’s, it’s about joy. And those things bring me joy. It’s, it’s nothing fancy. I don’t have to get dressed up to do it.

Amy Bushatz: Oh, but that’s such a good point. I mean, you’re right like we’re even sitting here talking about trauma right now. Such a good point. And I, I mean, you know, I’ve done a lot of like veteran group stuff through my job at military. com, but I’m just like through my life because I’m married to a veteran and have been, have been in this space and you are a hundred percent correct that it is all like people sitting around.

complaining about their trauma, doing trauma stuff, you know, like grumpy veteran, grumpy veteran, right? And there’s like so little joy for just being in an experience with other people who have a shared commonality and can really join you in this moment where you’re all coming at this with like carrying sort of the same thing and then experiencing the same thing through a lens of enjoyment and joy.

Vedia Barnett: Yeah. And I even think about just spending time doing nothing.

Amy Bushatz: Mm.

Vedia Barnett: There’s this discourse about laziness and people, especially once the pandemic hit about people not wanting to work and no, people just want to breathe. They want to experience joy. They want to experience their whole selves and their whole body, whatever their body may look like, or you know what their body abilities are.

And joy should be part of that. Like, I think we should be talking about pleasure and joy more often. I call myself a pleasure activist. You know, because when I grew up, it was work, work, work, keep your head down, grind, grind, grind. And now that I’ve experienced a stroke and, you know, recover from a stroke, I’m like, no, I need to take time for joy. And it’s okay to do that.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Oh, I love that. Because even, I’m thinking like, even a few moments ago where I told you I went outside and had my soaking sulking time, and then I was like, oh, maybe I should take a walk. That’s me saying I was feeling unproductive. That I should have gone and done something and been active for my body, you know, like burn some calories or something.

That the pleasure of sitting there and enjoying that space was somehow less than doing the other thing. Mmhmm.

Vedia Barnett: And we have to change that narrative. Especially as women. We are constantly, you know, caregivers of not only our children, possibly a partner, possibly elderly, aging parents. And then on top of work and what have you. And we, I used to feel guilty when I would sit down and, you know, read a book or what have you, like, I’m like, okay, there has to be laundry or there has to be something I need to be doing.

But like I said, now I’m, I, I put that in, you know, I’m just like, okay, Friday from this time to this time, I’m doing nothing but you know, if it’s soaking in my tub or whatever, putting that on the calendar and making sure that I’m taking care of myself.

Amy Bushatz: Oh, that’s so good. I’m imagining the people listening to this podcast right now, like, listening to it in their car or sliding it in during a walk or something, instead of just taking the time to listen to something that they find hopefully informative and fun. But I hope, guys. But also, like, how often do I do that?

Right? I never just listen to a book or just have a slice of time that I feel like I’m doing something just because I enjoy it. I multitask or I schedule in things with the idea of completing a goal. So I’m like thinking about this book I’m reading right now. It’s not a book to educate me in any way.

It’s a it’s a fun book, right? But I’m like very goal oriented about it. Like, okay. I’m at 35 percent and today I’m going to get to 38 percent before bed and reading that book, I swear to God, reading that book is on my to do list. Okay? It’s not just a, okay, like, this evening, I’m going to do whatever I feel like for an hour or two and, like, just have joy and rest and, and take a beat. It’s, okay, I’m scheduling in doing this thing that’s supposed to be fun, and also, so help me God, I will complete the task.

Vedia Barnett: Right, right.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Why? Why do we do that to ourselves?

Vedia Barnett: I have, uh, our culture is,We live in a capitalist society, and so our capitalist society tells us that if we’re not constantly doing something, we’re not productive. And it’s okay to not produce something.

Amy Bushatz: Hmm. Mm hmm.

Vedia Barnett: But we, you know, we’re ingrained in that from the time our children start school. Even kindergarten, you have to produce, produce, produce, produce, produce.

And so I’m hoping that, through Black Vets Outdoors, that we can unlearn having to produce and learn to experience joy.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. How, talk to me more about Black Vets Outdoors. How have you seen your outdoor work in the policy sector or just the work through, you know, that this, like, building this groundswell of this habit of heading outside for this stuff- how have you seen that impact the Black veteran community specifically?

Vedia Barnett: So to be honest. Amy, it’s a hurdle. I’ve had individuals tell me that’s not something that we do. Say, so say for instance, something like skiing, you know, you’ll hear that’s what white people do because that’s who we see doing it. So there, so there’s, there are hurdles to, eliminating cultural biases within the culture.

So that comes from education. So I’m really happy one of the things that I’ve done on that we’ve done on the website is share organizations that are doing that. So there’s a ski club on there that, that, that started out as some Black guys who didn’t see other Black people skiing. So I’ve shared that.

So there’s, the fishing groups. There’s, there’s the Ebony Anglers that’s all Black women that do fishing. So that people can see themselves. So the first thing is breaking down cultural biases that we don’t do that. And then second is partnering with organizations that do do that. And then steering veterans in that.

So right now we’re in phase one where we’re educating and giving information and doing partnerships with organizations, and then hopefully in phase two, in about a year or so, we’ll actually be doing it ourselves. But you know, my thing is why, why reinvent the wheel if there’s others already doing it? And I could just steer veterans to organizations that are already doing it with people that look just like them.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. And this attitude of we don’t do that, it’s easy as, as a white person to say, well, that’s just the culture. Like, you know, that’s what people think. But that is, comes from a history of discrimination in the outdoors against Black bodies, against Black people. Um, everything from, uh, after the Civil War with reconstruction and sharecropping and taking away rights to forage and be in the outdoor spaces doing that for Black people, to segregated swimming pools.

So, you as a white person, might hear, Oh, Black people don’t swim. Or you might hear Black people say, We, you know, we don’t usually swim. Like, my friends and I don’t swim. That comes because they are, they’re, like, swimming pools were literally segregated. You couldn’t swim. This isn’t like a choice.

It might be a choice in this exact moment, because it’s now cultural, but it is not a historic choice, and it’s also not true. And so, what you’re saying is that you’re tackling these sort of deeply trauma rooted cultural beliefs, and saying, that’s, like, let’s identify why you say that. And then, of course, the other thing you mentioned is because then they don’t see people who look like them in these spaces, which goes back to the thing I just said.

So it just sort of, right, it just sort of, like, perpetuates itself. And what you’re trying to do is disrupt that narrative and say, okay, like, let’s stop that. And, and make it true that we do do this. There’s no reason we can’t or shouldn’t, it’s just we have to change the narrative starting today.

Vedia Barnett: Absolutely And historically, surfing, when people think of surfing, they think of Southern California, you know.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. These are my people. I’m from Santa Cruz, California. They’re like, okay, they’re like surfer guys, right? They’ve got like bleach bond hairdo. Yeah.

Vedia Barnett: There is documentation of surfing was done in Africa, you know, centuries ago as a part of, as a way of life. That’s how they fished and they provided, you know, recreation, same thing with kayaking. Kayaking came from our indigenous brothers and sisters in colder environments. But when you see kayaking now, you don’t even see indigenous people.

Amy Bushatz: No, we’re all like over here, me and my white folks are all over here appropriating every single thing you just mentioned. Like it’s our job.

Vedia Barnett: And the thing is, it’s just. You know showing that yes, we’ve been here. We’ve been doing this and to your point, swimming pools were were turned into parking lots and all types of Black beaches were stolen There were there was actually a Black beach that was was given back to a family, I think it was during the pandemic that was stolen from them. Uh, so there there were these spaces for Black and Brown -even lgbtq individuals had their had to create their own spaces because they were not welcome in the traditional settings. I mean, even our National Parks had a colored portion of the park and a whites only portion of the park. Like, that doesn’t even make sense.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. No. It doesn’t. It’s just, it really doesn’t, but it is something that we have to face down as a culture to say that it doesn’t make sense, but it happened. it doesn’t make sense, but ignoring it’s really not going to help us make it make sense now.

Like, let’s start addressing the problem instead of pretending that it’s not really a thing or dismissing it as not my problem problem, me, Amy, because I didn’t do that, me, Amy, but I’m still a part of that tradition as a human being. And now it’s, we work together as a society, hopefully, to make things better for everyone. And so now it is part of my work to be doing that.

So I’m wondering if you can tell us how one, Black veterans can access the support you’re talking about- you mentioned your website. You can talk a little bit more about that, maybe. Um, but also how non black veterans and outdoor lovers in general, so someone like myself, can support this work. I’m wondering if you have some ideas of ways that we can all work on this. But also if you wouldn’t mind sharing that access specifically for the folks you’re targeting.

Mm

Vedia Barnett: Sure. Sure. So, the website is blackvetsoutdoors. org. So they can go there. There’s a contact page. There’s also, information not only for the outdoors, but there’s information, for LGBTQ veterans. There’s information about how to access the VA, vA disability benefits. If there are law adjacent veterans, so those who have been incarcerated, there’s information and links there for them.

So I wanted to make sure that the website was robust, that I thought about what veterans may need, whether it’s a discharge upgrade, because they’re still veterans, even though, you know, and I think about this, people are being punished 20, 30 years ago in the military, and it’s like they’re missing out.

So part of the website, the important is the holistic part of Black veterans, which is disability, getting your education benefits. If you’re a law adjacent, veteran making sure that you have the resources that you need as well. And then there’s also information for our elderly veterans that people don’t even think about, you know, there there’s resources for them as well. So people can definitely go to the website, blackvetsoutdoors. org.

And then for allies, there’s also information, and then they can also reach out to me. And and one of the things that I would suggest is when people are hosting outdoor activities and events, you know, representation matters. so ensuring that, you know, you reach out to individuals.

For me, it’s really important, like I’m, I’m working on hosting an event, through my job and making sure that even the bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. That’s something people don’t think about. Can someone get their wheelchair through the door to go to the bathroom? Or can they get up? Is there a ramp accessible, for, for veterans?

So definitely, you know, those people who want to support, when you’re doing activities, just think, think about the holistic person and not just the body that you, inhabit. But also, you know, when we’re talking about disabled veterans, especially making sure that they can participate. Or if, and if your event or, you know, whatever you’re doing, they can’t, then that being able to direct them to other organizations that can support them.

Amy Bushatz: Right. Because not every space is going to be perfect for every body. You can go somewhere that isn’t going to be accessible to every disabled individual. It doesn’t make that place unacceptable in the world, you know, but it does create a barrier to the broader scope of people coming.

And so if you’re trying to create an event that is for all of these people, you need to think about that. And if you’re trying to create an event that is targeted at a specific space that isn’t friendly, so I’m thinking about certain trails um, these sort of outdoor experiences that not every body, actual body, can do.

Doesn’t make the mountain a bad place, it just makes it not accessible to all the people. And so, when you are creating something that you want other people to show up to, you have to think through. the breadth of people who are going to come or could come and whether this place is friendly to them. It does not mean don’t hike that. It means also have

Vedia Barnett: Right.

Amy Bushatz: other options that are friendly to everyone and so that you’re not creating an exclusive to only truly like um you know, like traditionally able bodied people who can haul themselves up a huge peak.

Vedia Barnett: Well, or, or, or have partnerships. So we just did a cycling event in Seattle Washington, and God bless this organization is called Outdoors for All. And they showed up and provided all different types of bikes, hand cycles, tricycles. I mean, just everything for adults, all different bodies. And it was amazing to see all these different veterans using the various bikes according to their body abilities. So if you’re not able to do it, then partner with an organization that can provide.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, and, and I think it really comes back to this idea of thinking through who’s coming and who you’re trying to have come and, and, and, and thinking through who needs what you’re doing or who might want to access it and whether the thing you’re creating is is accessible to everybody. And just like having a presence of mind.

Vedia Barnett: Yeah. Yeah. Being aware, having a broader worldview. And I think, you know, being me being a Black disabled woman my worldview, I’m, I’m just like, okay, how can I include everybody, including, you know, my white friends as well. It’s not like, okay, you can’t come, but you know, help me find other resources that are, that are available that I may not have access to, and, and, you know, producing a quality, you know, outings or events for individuals.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, but I would also say, like, not every space is for every person. And so, like, I’m thinking of that from my white woman lens here, that when I come to an event that is created for and targeted at Black disabled veterans, um, or specifically female Black disabled veterans, and I am none of those things, I cannot come to this space with an expectation that you’re that someone’s going to bend over backwards to make this space the most comfortable for me. That’s ludicrous, right? And it goes, it goes, all of the way. So it’s having the presence to of mind to understand that, that there are spaces that hopefully are created for everybody, but not everything has to be about you.

And I think that’s especially important for people who are used to having spaces that are for them. and that are just historically their space, um, that it’s okay to be uncomfortable or it’s okay to, to let other people have spaces for, for their group. Like you, I don’t have to insert myself into every single situation.

Vedia Barnett: Exactly. Exactly. And being fully self aware, I think that is the other thing that I’m finding in some spaces. People just are not self aware because they’ve never had to be.

Amy Bushatz: Right- right. Like the whole world is my oyster. Okay, like I don’t need to take over your oyster, right? That’s ludicrous, but people act like that because they don’t understand. They don’t have that presence of mind like we’re talking about, that awareness to look at it from the other lens. And I’m not, I want to work on me so that I don’t feel like that. And that I understand, not every space is created to cater to Amy. And that’s totally, that’s not just fine, it’s, it should be that way.

Vedia Barnett: Yeah, right. I mean, even even for myself, you know, I understand I stand at a place of privilege, even economically. So I’m fully aware of those individuals who may not be in the same economic situation as me. So that’s why making sure You know, things that I do are near public transportation because I don’t want to exclude those individuals who may not have a vehicle. So you know, even for myself, people may say, oh, how are you as a Black woman in a place of privilege? Well, I have a, I have a car and my kids have cars. So, you know, but I’m very clear that there’s other individuals, even adults that, that may not be the case for them.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, like, I can afford to drive here. Like, sometimes, I think, like, it’s a sign of not understanding your privilege to think that you don’t, that people around, like, that, to not understand that there are tiers.

Vedia Barnett: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So. Whew. All right. Man, this is so, so good.

Would you mind walking us out of this conversation talking about maybe a favorite outdoor moment, like if you were going to wrap this whole thing in a bow and talk to us about a moment you have outside that you just love to think back to, it’s so meaningful to you. Would you describe that for us?

Vedia Barnett: So that was the first time I took my grandson to great falls in Virginia. And he’d never been on a hike. I think at the time he was three. And he saw a waterfall for the first time. And he just wanted to jump in. I’m like, it doesn’t work that way. You know.

Amy Bushatz: Not at Great Falls it doesn’t, that’s for sure.

Vedia Barnett: I’ll never, ever, ever forget that because, you know, he was able to, we saw a family of ducks and the baby ducks could not get on the get, get up out of the water. And he was so distraught and eventually after about 10 minutes each one was able to get up and, and follow their mama out the water. So I’ll never forget that because he was so fully invested in these baby ducks getting out the water.

I mean, he was just, just emotional about it. And I said, and he wanted me to help. And I’m like, I can’t touch them. You know, they have a mama. I’ll never, ever forget that because as a small, tiny, three year old human being, he had care and concern for another, you know, being, and that was just the most beautiful thing to me.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Oh, I knew that story was going to be good when you said you were with your grandson. So I, I saw, I saw that, that whole goodness come in, I gotta tell you. All right, Vedia thank you so much for joining us today on Humans Outside to talk about these really important issues and, and be vulnerable about this stuff. I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Vedia Barnett: Oh, thank you so much, Amy, and I’m so grateful to be here.

Amy Bushatz: That’s a wrap on this episode of Humans Outside, but hey, I need your help. Enjoy this show? Leave a five star rating or review or both wherever you get your podcasts. It makes me feel good, but it also helps others find the show too. Now, go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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