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Let's Get Out There: Making space for people of color to feel comfortable in the outdoors

Portlander Pam Slaughter started "People of Color Outdoors" after being harassed because of her skin color. She considers the group a safe space to build confidence.

PORTLAND, Ore. — In this week's Let's Get Out There, a KGW series, we're headed to a place that's a great spot for outdoor beginners: Whitaker Ponds Nature Park in Northeast Portland 

“This is a beautiful place…It's small but it's a wildlife refuge, and I get a lot of peace when I come here,” said Portland real estate broker Pam Slaughter.

In the 1990s, Pam remembers thousands of tires, even appliances being pulled from the water.

“Some people love things that are just brand new and perfect, and some people love things that are restored, from almost being gone to being restored, and brought back to life,” Slaughter said.

It’s nothing grand or exotic, however Whitaker Ponds now thrives. 

Pam wants the same thing for people of color who want to get out there and explore, but don’t know where to start. She started the group “People of Color Outdoors” as a safe space for those who have felt marginalized and even harassed while enjoying the outdoors. Last year, POC Outdoors hosted thirty events during the pandemic.  

KGW tagged along while Pam led a bat walk for a group of eight. She acknowledged it would be more of a nature walk thanks to the late sunset.

“We probably won't see one this time,” she said. “But we're going to talk about bats, I'll show them where the bats come from.”

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

Don’t think of these outings as field trips, they’re educational—and Pam is guaranteed to teach you something.

“It was 30 minutes, and we learned so much,” said Brenda Alvarado. “We were able to identify stuff so you're not just walking around saying, ‘I see trees!’”

Brenda is Mexican, she participated in the walk with her niece Abi for their first outing.

“I had some problems in years past with being harassed because of my color,” said Pam. “It kept me from really enjoying spaces that were away from home for a long time. But eventually I started going back out, you know, it's something I can't live without being out in nature.”

She understands others have had similar experiences. This isn’t a generic outdoor group, it’s a safe space of healing for people of color to connect with nature and maybe more importantly, with each other.

“I think the thing I love the most is that it includes children, it's family friendly. It's not just adults only,” said Whitney Pettigrew, a self-described nature enthusiast. “So we're teaching these littles from a very young age, up to teens up to adults about nature about preserving nature, the importance of protecting our animals.”

Pam hopes to reach as many people of color as possible to help build confidence and community.

“There are a lot of groups that are trying to get good work done because, you know, it makes a difference in the quality of life,” said Pam. “My dream will come true if I come here and I see you here with your own families.”

Let's Get Out there airs once a week on KGW's 4 p.m. newscast and The Good Stuff, which airs at 7 p.m. We're including viewers photos for this series. You can text your photos to 503-226-5088 or post them on the KGW Facebook page.

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