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How The Co-Founders Of Melanated Campout Are Changing The Narrative On Black Camping Culture
Life & Travel

How The Co-Founders Of Melanated Campout Are Changing The Narrative On Black Camping Culture

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.

For more information on Melanated Campout and future events, visit their website, or follow them on Instagram.

Featured image by Michael Rhea's Photography

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