We Go Outside Too | How Grief Catalysed This Group’s Outdoor Solidarity
In 2020, runner and hiker Marlon Patrice lost his son Nasir, 17, to knife crime. Time spent outside helped Marlon come to terms with what happened, and it's this that sits at the heart of a new group he started
Almost 1.1 million people live within the true boundary of Birmingham city, with nearly 30% of the population being people of colour. Boasting an even greater ethnic diversity than London, the inner-city is a melting pot of people from all kinds of backgrounds; a true celebration of different cultures, traditions and lifestyles within urban limits.
Britain’s second-largest conurbation is surrounded by beautiful green spaces, the Shropshire Hills to the west and the Cotswolds to the south. Yet many of its inner-city residents have never been hiking in the countryside, let alone felt nature’s health benefits – a damaging spin-off from the deep rooted, systemic racism that simmers under the surface of the Midlands social, cultural and commercial centre.
“He was so thoughtful and popular, and always put others before himself. I never imagined this happening to him”
In 2020, passionate runner and hiker Marlon Patrice tragically lost his son Nasir, 17, to knife crime in inner-city Birmingham. “I never thought it would land on my doorstep,” he says, despite knife crime being a constant concern for his community. “He was so thoughtful and popular, and always put others before himself. I never imagined this happening to him.” Gripped by grief, he intuitively went outdoors to seek peace and process his overwhelming sadness. Getting into nature gave him space to pause and reset, to remove all distractions and face his trauma. It provided a gateway for healing.
Inner-city life can be so fast-paced, Marlon tells me, that nature provides a welcomed respite; somewhere to rest, destress, and work through powerful emotions like anger. “The outdoors and running honestly saved my sanity. They freed me to develop and grow both mentally and physically,” he says, talking about the restorative power and renewed agency he found in the hills around Birmingham. “Spending time outside helped me come to terms with the fact that my son’s passing was a situation out of my control. And that the only thing I can control is my mind and how I move forward.”
“Time outside helped me come to terms with the fact that my son’s passing was a situation out of my control”
Marlon has always loved running. He spent most of his youth running around the inner-city area of Handsworth, eventually joining the City of Birmingham Striders club to race as often as possible. Running provided a focus, somewhere to redirect his energy from the struggles of his community. Later, he spearheaded the Run Birmingham’s Couch To 5K Project with the Active Wellbeing Society to encourage the inner-city community to become more active. But it wasn’t until he was training for the Right to Movement Palestine Marathon in 2013 that he discovered the true vitality of the outdoors.
As the outdoors took on a deeper meaning and helped him work through his grief, Marlon noticed something else: a severe lack of people of colour spending time in green spaces. He often found he was the only Black runner at events, especially during trail running in rural areas. Still, the focus on his goals didn’t allow the lack of diversity to impact him then. This time, however, as the outdoors healed him, he recognised people all around him that desperately needed this space too.
The barriers for people of colour getting into the outdoors are rooted deeply in centuries of oppression, institutionalisation and systemic racism in this country. Phil Young, whose work focuses on diversifying the outdoors, says it comes down to a missing sense of belonging as the UK countryside is seen, almost exclusively, as a place for White English people. If people of colour haven’t seen their parents or grandparents in rural spaces, or representation in the media or outdoor industry, the feeling of exclusion can often form negative perceptions about the outdoors. It is often seen as somewhere alien and uninviting.
“Everything just flows when we’re outdoors. It’s like magic. We’re more open. We’re free”
Destigmatising the outdoors for people of colour is not straightforward work. However, shared, positive experiences in rural areas have the power to rewrite internal narratives of minority communities. Phil says that as a group, people of colour feel less vulnerable to the types of stereotypes and mental barriers that have stopped them from enjoying and reclaiming the outdoors as a space for mental and physical well-being.
During last year’s pandemic, lockdowns prevented many of Marlon’s community from spending time in green spaces during challenging times. Getting outdoors for them could mean travelling over two miles. In England alone, Black people are nearly four times as likely as White people to have no access to outdoor space at home, such as a garden. A disparity felt deeply last year, a time when the outdoors bolstered many people’s physical and mental health.
Marlon believes that connecting the Black community with the outdoors is an important solution for a more peaceful, inclusive, future where everyone can experience a sense of belonging. “We walk around with a lot of weight. But when we’re in nature, it’s like we drop everything and lean into our own nature. Days after hikes, we’re still talking about it, still up in the clouds. Everything just flows when we’re outdoors. It’s like magic. We’re more open. We’re free.”
That’s why he started We Go Outside Too (WGOT), a group aimed at providing a safe space for underrepresented individuals to unplug from inner-city life and connect with nature, while encouraging solidarity and unity within the Black community. Through activities such as hiking, they share new experiences and adventures outdoors as a form of resistance to life’s challenges and injustices. Marlon also plans to offer various wellness workshops to incorporate therapy with the outdoors and eventually provide mentoring. The goal is to aid his community’s overall physical and mental health, to restore hope and provide something to focus on, all while removing barriers to participation.
“We Go Outside Too is ultimately fresh air, a sense of freedom, a time to unplug, reflect and think outside the box – literally. I want WGOT to promote a deeper connection with nature by using it as a space to heal and ground ourselves. By promoting equality and inclusion in green spaces, we’re acknowledging our alignment with the natural world too. I hope that WGOT will show people, and especially the younger community, the value of the outdoors.”
“I want WGOT to promote a deeper connection with nature by using it as a space to heal”
Ultimately, Marlon wants to demystify the countryside for more people in the Black community and other minorities, saying that invitation, information and equipment are all barriers to participation. To do this, he’s started a GoFundMe 22 Waterfall Challenge, with a target of £15,000, to raise money for transportation, accommodation, food, clothing, walking boots and backpacks for the trips. Plus, health practitioners such as yoga teachers and sound therapists, to meet Marlon’s holistic vision for WGOT.
So far, with Covid’s restrictions, the group has completed four waterfall hikes around the Midlands. While the challenge has no deadline, they hope to visit the Scottish Highlands, the Brecon Beacons and the Lake District as restrictions ease.
Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.