Exploring the so-called “great outdoors” might not be at the top of your bucket list, but it might need to be. Black women have been finding peace, sisterhood, and adventure through exploration in nature for centuries. Communing with the outdoors has been found to have health benefits such as reducing stress, supporting a healthy lifestyle, increasing focus, and boosting emotional wellness.
And while there have been ongoing challenges and travesties related to racism and sexism related to land and the outdoors, today, there’s a growing trend of groups cultivating a love of the outdoors among Black women that are bringing culturally inclusive activities to the forefront, particularly when it comes to camping.
In fact, research has shown that the number of Black campers is growing to be more reflective of U.S. demographics. In 2020, Kampgrounds of America (KOA), the dominating company with a massive system of campgrounds across North America, found Black people represented 12% of campers, and 60% of first-timers were “non-white.” (For context, that percentage was once in the single digits).
Friends Shunte' McClellan, Cayela Wimberly White, and Jocelyn McCants are taking things to another level with the Melanated Campout Experience, bringing “culture to the woods,” and facilitating a transformative and inclusive journey to enjoy the beauty of nature and the connection of community.
Hosted by Melated Cares, a nonprofit "created to curate culturally conscious events to encourage BIPOC to embrace the outdoors," their most recent event brought hundreds of diverse campers together to enjoy golfing, restaurant meals, yoga, guided fishing, lip sync battles, and more with the backdrop of scenic lake views in Georgia.
We caught up with two of the co-founders, McClellan and White, to talk about what sparked the venture, how camping has enriched their lives and friendship, and why more Black women should embrace experiences in nature:
Michael Rhea's Photography
xoNecole: What sparked the idea for the Melanated Campout Experience?
Cayela Wimberly White: I’ve always liked to go camping. When I was in college, I’d take people camping. We would go to the woods.
I was [also] in 4H, and I’d go camping with them. … And even my grandparents, going to the country in south Georgia, as a matter of fact, and being outside. My grandparents actually had an RV, and we’d just go out and play in the RV. It just happened naturally over the course of life. And a lot of times, you would go out and you wouldn’t see people who looked like you, so [when I saw] others who looked like me, I’d get excited. And so it just went from there.
Shunte' McClellan: One weekend [Cayela] tricked me into coming. She was like, 'Oh, yeah, come on out. We’re going to have a good time. It’s going to be an intimate experience, and I don’t think you’ve given it a fair chance.' I am a pretty adventurous person anyway, so I took her up on it, and it rained. It was a little chilly. It was football season. We were still able to go to the grounds. I still got to know Cayela and some of the other people in the group intimately because we were not distracted.
I got to sleep in a hammock for the first time and just the whole experience— didn’t know it could be like that. My fear was that we [were going to be] outside. There’s going to be bugs. It’s going to be hot-—this or that—and I had already previously put roadblocks up. It was Cayela’s interference that said, ‘Hey, you should try it. Instead of saying no, at least go one time so you can experience.'
It only took one time in the rain, and I still felt like this is the best—best sleep I’d had in a long time. I thought I knew Cayela, and just getting to know a different side of her personality—it was just amazing.
"I got to sleep in a hammock for the first time and just the whole experience— didn’t know it could be like that. My fear was that we [were going to be] outside. There’s going to be bugs. It’s going to be hot-—this or that—and I had already previously put roadblocks up. It was Cayela’s interference that said, ‘Hey, you should try it. Instead of saying no, at least go one time so you can experience.'"
CW: We were in the North Georgia mountains at a private campground—a rather small campground with about 30 sites or so. We rented out the loop at the end …and we were the only people who looked like us. And with us having that time together, even though we were the only ones looking like us—we still had a good time.
SM: [We thought] we have to share this experience with as many people as we know. So, our first intro into this was going to be our friends and family. We were just going to rent out a campground and just introduce everybody to the great outdoors…
We brought things we were excited about. We like to play games. … We had kickball and volleyball. We like to dance, so we had DJs. I didn’t know I liked to fish until that intimate time with Cayela, so we said, ‘Let’s show people how to fish.’ So it was like, we’re going to do some traditional camping stuff but put our own flair on it.
During that time, we knew what we wanted to do. We had [our] experience [as friends], and we had Cayela. She does event planning, and we tapped into that side of her talents as well. The first year [of the Melanated Campout Experience], was it perfect? It wasn’t. It rained that year— the same like that year Cayela tricked me into going—and guess what? Those same people in year one fell in love, too.
We’d rented a huge event tent…so we made sure our core activities didn’t get interrupted. We had people under the tent, and we fellowshiped the whole weekend and had an awesome time.
xoN: How were you all able to expand Melanated Campout to a successful venture in terms of growth of attendance and in business?
SM: One, just to talk generally about viability, this is year five for us. Our first experience was a little over 100 campers in 2019, to over 400 today per event. I think how it’s been viable is that we all, in our own right, have a certain skill set. We have a project manager from IT, and Cayela and I are both engineers. She’s a director on the corporate level. I’ve done Lean Six Sigma process improvement stuff.
The best thing we could do is what I pride Cayela and Jocelyn in nurturing me in this skill: customer service. At the end of the day, people bought into what we were doing because of how friendly we were, we were very accessible in the beginning, and we made sure that we provided excellent customer service.
What ended up happening is that each year, when [a participant] had a good experience, the best gift we could have for growth is word of mouth. So, yes, we spent money for marketing in year one and year two… but the biggest, when we started tracing and tracking where we got the most bang for our buck, was word of mouth. We actually tracked that in our sales, [asking participants] "How did you hear about us?"
Moving on to today, people hear about you, companies hear about you, and [they] want to be part of the movement—getting their brand in front. That’s how we’ve been able to scale up and be profitable.
"We spent money for marketing in year one and year two… but the biggest, when we started tracing and tracking where we got the most bang for our buck, was word of mouth. We actually tracked that in our sales, [asking participants] ‘How did you hear about us?’"
xoN: What are benefits you’ve seen in your life from enjoying multiple camping experiences?
CW: For me, it allows me to take a step back and decompress and just disconnect from the hustle and bustle.
SM: For me, once I started getting more involved in camping, it propagated in other areas. I need to be present. I need to enjoy this. I remember my first time fishing, and I [said] ‘I ain’t touching no worm!’ And it’s like, ‘Well, how are you going to eat?’ And the sense of accomplishment of catching your first fish. Just knowing that, I’m shero now. I just caught this fish. The joy that I get is hearing other people’s [good] experiences.
xoN: What would you say to Black women who might be apprehensive about camping?
CW: That’s a great question because we hear that so much from our Black sistas. It’s ‘You do everything else.’ [Laughs]. The first thing when you say [something] to somebody about camping, it’s like, ‘Black people don’t camp.’ … You run corporations. You run a business. You run a family. You might be a single mom. You might be a caregiver. You do everything else, so this is something you can do, and you’re doing this for you.
Featured image by Michael Rhea's Photography
In xoNecole's series Dope Abodes, we tour the living spaces of millennial women, where they dwell, how they live, and the things they choose to adorn and share their spaces with.
Annisa LiMara has called this space her home for two years. Her Atlanta sanctuary, which she aimed to give the look and feel of something you'd see in the glossy pages of Architectural Digest, embodies her vision of "stunning, yet functional and cozy."
"My home is a reflection of my brand, The Creative Peach Studios, and I am the 'Creative Peach,'" Annisa explains. "It was so easy to reflect who I am and my personal story in my space. When you walk into my home, you know that it is Annisa’s home. I’m so proud of that. So grateful."
On the journey to becoming a homeowner, Annisa looks back on her experience as a "rough one," detailing that she officially started house hunting in March 2020. It had become so expensive to rent, and the 30-something lifestyle influencer decided she would rather invest the money she spent renting into owning a home. However, nine days into house hunting, her search was put on hold for a year. The following year, in 2021, the process of finding the right home and going under contract took a total of four months.
"The resell route didn’t work out, so my realtor suggested a new construction home, which turned out to be the better option," she tells xoNecole of her experience. "Although it requires more patience, it turned out to be a much easier process and a lot easier to maintain since it’s brand new."
As it turns out, the open floor plan three-bedroom two-and-half-bath would prove to be a blank canvas for Annisa to flex her creativity and design skills.
As a new construction, she watched the townhome get built from the ground up, and due to the "cookie-cutter" nature of new builds, Annisa knew immediately that she would change everything about it. The best part about it? All of her updates were cosmetic, so transformation could occur without having to do major renovations to achieve the look and feel she desired.
"The first things I updated were all the lighting, adding built-ins around my fireplace, and installing wallpaper in my bedroom, office, and dining room! I also had board and batten installed in the upstairs loft to make a statement and the kitchen island," Annisa details.
"Lastly, we painted the loft a soft blush pink, the kitchen island is a gorgeous terracotta, and added contrast with black on the doors, fireplace, and stairwell banisters."
In total, she spent $15K in renovations (plus the cost of furniture and decor). And although she says the second level of her home is a "work-in-progress," two years in, she considers the transformation nearly done.
Annisa defines her decor style as "organic modern meets midcentury modern with a touch of boho," and with thoughtfully placed touches like plants, warm tones, and organic textures, her perspective can be felt throughout. "I found my point of view as a designer in my work and as I worked on my home, so it all came together organically based on what I was naturally drawn to."
"The organic modern meets midcentury modern with a touch of boho' is definitely my signature style. You’ll always see greenery, warm tones, brass, and rattan or wicker in just about every room. My color story is based on my brand [The Creative Peach Studios] colors: blush pink, ivory, olive and sage green, terracotta, and nudes," she adds.
It was her brand colors that would be the jumping-off point for her approach to decorating and styling her space. That, and a picture she had of what would become her sofa from Albany Park. She recalled her decor decisions, "It was their olive Park Sectional Sofa, and I knew instantly I wanted it, and it aligned with my brand colors naturally, so it was a no-brainer."
By drawing inspiration from Pinterest, favorite design brands like CB2, Arhaus, and Souk Bohemian, and through her work, Annisa allowed herself to be guided by her signature style as well as her instincts when making decor and color choices for her own home. "Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason; it just feels right."
Some of the aspects of her home that she regards as her favorites include her bedroom and its little nook where her bed is positioned, the open upstairs loft, and the open concept because "it really allows you to see all of the details I put into the design all at once." Another of her favorite finds is a purchase she copped from the thrift store years ago.
"I have this little brown and gold chair that I picked up for $6 at a thrift store in Jersey six years ago. I couldn’t afford much in my little studio, but the chair was beautiful and unlike anything I had ever seen."
In addition to accent walls featuring blush pink and terracotta tones throughout the space, her gallery wall is another element that immediately draws the eye of any guest who enters. Annisa recalled a fond memory of a fine art piece she purchased from a Black woman artist when she first moved to Atlanta that she now prominently features in her living room. "It was a Black villager from her travels in Africa, and I fell in love with it because it felt like an ancestor I never met. I later found out that she was the sister of one of my very first design clients two years later," she shares. "Talk about a full-circle moment!"
Cultivating a space takes time and patience, and that is a sentiment Annisa echoes when advising people who are looking to infuse more of themselves into their own dope abodes through design. "It is not a race, and you’ll spend more money if you rush into designing without really being intentional about the vision for your space," Annisa concludes. "You just need creativity and patience to do it! And most of all, make sure you feel like it’s an oasis for you!"
For more of Annisa, follow her on Instagram @annisalimara.
Tour Interior Designer Annisa LiMara's Modern Meets Midcentury ATL Home | Dope Abodes
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You all know we're big on affirmations over here at xoNecole, and we know all too well the benefits of speaking life over yourself and positivity on your day. And we love that affirmations can be used to trigger career advancement, workplace confidence, and motivation as well.
Whether you're struggling with a stressful project, need that boost of boldness for managing teams, or just need a few bright mantras to take your already sunny disposition up a notch, here are eight powerful affirmations to add to your list, specific to career promotion, leadership, and development:
"Everything I need to succeed at work is right inside of me."
This is something that has been repeated to me many times in life, from the people who raised me, to in-office mentors, to interviews with super-successful women, to church leaders, and it's real. When I sit and lean fully into my own ideas, my own unique way of looking at life, and my professional training and educational background that nobody can take away from me, I know I can create something great and continue to pay my bills.
"I am worthy and will stand on what my unique talents and time are worth."
Many of us struggle with this, and even I have to remind myself that I indeed should speak up more, advocate for myself more, and demand more. We've all worked hard to get to where we are, so we actually do deserve our heart's desires when it comes to salary, recognition, awards, commissions, and quality of work life.
"I am completely capable of fearlessly and eloquently closing that deal."
This one is especially good when you're up for a promotion, have a big meeting you're leading for your company, or are trying to land a partnership, grant, or other expansion opportunity that will take your career to the next level. You got this, sis.
"I am a bold woman who leads with grace, compassion, and vision."
As leaders, we can't shrink at the sight of a challenge. Instead, embrace a bold confidence (even if you feel you're a bit delulu) and face those fears with the tools God gave us for combat. Grace, compassion, and vision always win in the long run, so if you can offer those things to people and your company, you always come out on top.
"I am the divine thermostat in the room—setting the temperature and the tone."
Alfred Edmond, Jr., my forever mentor who's an entrepreneur, author, and senior vice president, once told me this when I was having a super-emotional moment as an editorial manager: "Always be the thermostat. You set the temperature as a leader. Stay pleasantly solid in your tone and demeanor no matter what. You keep the power by doing so. You can't let every little issue rattle you as a leader." I was taken aback at the time, but his advice has served me well.
We don't have to always "match" the energy others give us—especially when you're managing teams, leading departments, or managing processes. Instead, you can set the tone and let people know, through your play-with-your-mama-not-me demeanor and professionalism. This way, no one can visibly lure you into embarrassing, unkind, or angry exchanges. As a power woman, that's beneath you. Period.
"I attract positive, growth-focused experiences because I am positive and growth-focused."
Again, sis, you deserve. When you embrace this truth, you often find yourself thinking positive, seeking out all things positive, and adjusting areas where the growth of positivity is lacking. I'm not big on "manifestations" that center on "attraction" being an ego-driven act of exclusion, "magic," or privilege— I'm more into prayerand allowing God to be the master of "attraction"—but when I think about this particular affirmation, it's something to remind us all to focus on ourselves in order to draw that same energy toward us.
And it's not that toxic positivity where we ignore very valid feelings of hurt, burnout, or disrespect. It's a foundational belief that despite the challenges many workplace environments present for us as Black women, we will always think highly of ourselves and prioritize gratitude while addressing both the good and the bad.
"I am fully capable of walking away from toxic environments and walking into those where I thrive."
This is a big one. No matter what your circumstances are, I'm a big believer in having the power to change them if they aren't helping you thrive through your purpose on Earth. Even if you have to create an exit plan that takes years to see to fruition, do it. Let's stop staying at jobs we hate or careers that just aren't a fit anymore. You can unapologetically chuck the deuces, embrace the unknown, be strategic, and enjoy the work aspect of your life to meet your lifestyle goals.
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