It is a little hard to believe the autumnal equinox is already upon us. But before we make the full transition to the next the season, the RATIO team would like to introduce you to the grand prize winner of our #RATIOstories summer contest: @BrownPeopleCamping.

Brown People Camping founder Ambreen Tariq is a “proud South Asian, Muslim-American immigrant” on a mission. Now that her photo submission of Arches National Park is a part of the RATIO online marketplace, a portion of all sales will benefit Boys and Girls Club of America while spreading Ambreen’s goal “to help diversify our public lands.”

Ambree at Arches National Park

As soon as you pull up her Instagram page  @BrownPeopleCamping you’ll see that Ambreen and husband, Nader Jameel, have wasted no time working their way through the National Parks and public lands of the United States. Taking time to be outdoors was something Ambreen’s family set aside time to do after they moved from India to Minnesota when she was eight.

As new immigrants we had a tough road ahead of us, but my parents instilled in me an appreciation for our environment and the many natural blessings God has bestowed upon us. Unlike others in my community, my family and I regularly went camping around Minnesota. We were so amazed that in this country public lands are kept clean, beautiful and open to the public.

Growing up an immigrant kid in Minnesota was socially difficult but my fondest childhood memories - moments when I truly felt at peace - was when my family and I were enjoying the great outdoors through camping and hiking. My parents worked a lot of hours to put food on the table, but they also saved up money to buy our first family tent (which we still have, more than twenty years later). And then we hit the road and started camping. Of course, we were the only family of color around at any given campsite, but for once it didn’t matter; it felt like nature didn’t belong to anyone and that we were all equal guests on that land.

At such a difficult time in my life when I felt like a stranger in a strange land, it was our public lands that gave me a new sense of empowerment. And I carry that empowerment with me today as an adult.

Though Ambreen cherishes the memories made with her family in nature that gave her a sense of empowerment in a foreign new home, she continued to recognize that the experience she had was unique for her community.

Ambreen and her husband, Nader Jameel

Ambreen and her husband, Nader Jameel

My husband and I got married a few years ago. I had just finished law school and started working for the federal government, and he had just enrolled in a Doctoral program to research cancer diagnostics. With my immense law school debt and his stipend, we didn’t have much of a travel budget. So, we saved up our wedding gift money to purchase camping equipment and over the last three years have been camping all around the Maryland and Virginia area, as well as other national parks around the country when we can afford it. Financially, it is difficult making camping a hobby, but the hardest part is that moment when we enter a park to camp or hike, look around and notice that we are the only people of color present.

But Ambreen is not willing to accept things as they are, even if it isn’t easy. As an advocate for getting more people of color to enjoy the outdoors, this change-maker is doing everything she can to reach out to those in and out of her community.

In my spare time, I also serve as the Director of Communications for Green Muslims; a Washington-DC based non-profit organization that focuses on being a source in the Muslim community for spiritually inspired environmental education, reflection, and action. I also spend a lot of time encouraging friends and family in my community to camp and hike and enjoy our public lands. My husband and I love camping and hiking, but often when we enter a campground or park we are hyper aware of the fact that we are the only people of color around. Enjoying the outdoors is equal parts enjoying isolation as well as building a sense of community with others who have an appreciation for our natural environment. Our public lands should be more inclusive and must reflect the diverse population and history of our country. So, I am on a journey to share my journey- encourage my community and other people of color to help diversify our public lands. In furtherance of that goal, I started a personal digital campaign to share my moments and experiences.

And thus Brown People Camping was born.

In early August, I started the Instagram account, @BrownPeopleCamping, to share my personal experiences and challenges as a “minority” identity in the outdoors. I wanted a space to amplify the issue as well as demystify and encourage other people of color to enjoy our public lands. In the short time since I launched @BrownPeopleCamping, I have gained more than 1,500 followers and have received an outpouring of support from friends and family, but mostly strangers who have reached out to me by the hundreds to encourage me and promote the campaign. People of color and allies from all across the country have shared with me stories and photos of their own personal experiences and struggles with the lack of diversity in the outdoors community. People who don’t even know us have opened up their homes and campsites and given my husband and I standing offers to come visit them. Within weeks, I have built a digital community and dialogue around an issue that has made me feel isolated my whole life. There is so much kindness and compassion in the outdoors community that I am confident that we can absolutely make our public lands more open and welcoming. I feel blessed and empowered by this unexpected level of support I have received, and am exploring ways to expand my project into a more dynamic storytelling series.

Interested in keeping up with Ambreen’s cause? Brown People Camping will be expanding even further in just a couple of months.

This coming winter, I hope to create a Brown People Camping Blog Series that will feature pictures and stories from people of color around the country speaking about their personal challenges, adventures, and passions for the outdoors. Through this storytelling series, we will harness the creative capacity and connectivity of social media to grow our community and diversify our public lands.

In the meantime, I encourage people to follow me on Instagram and reach out to me directly with any feedback or ideas for collaboration. And of course, if you have a story to tell, please share it using #BrownPeopleCamping. Let’s grow the community together and help diversify our beautiful public lands!

Arches National Park by Ambreen Tariq, creator Brown People Camping

You will be able to find her photograph (above) of Arches National Park on RATIO's online marketplace soon!

We are thankful to have partnered with Ambreen of Brown People Camping and her important cause. Keep up with their latest projects on Instagram @BrownPeopleCamping or visit brownpeoplecamping.com.