How the "portland POC hikes" group began
The roads were closed, Apple maps was against him and Rikeem Sholes was ready to turn around and give up —that's when he finally found the trailhead to which would be the start to the end of his 52-hike challenge. Also, his initial reason for starting his "POC Hikers" group.
The trail was 3 to 4 hours of tranquility and not a single person in sight, only the moss-covered ground and enormous trees to keep him company as the fog battled with peeks of sunlight through the limbs. Rikeem had known nothing about the hike prior, just a brief rating he had seen on his hiking app. "It looked like a postcard just for the Pacific Northwest," the hiker said describing his experience. As Rikeem reached the end of the trail, he was rewarded with the rushing sound of a waterfall marking the finish of his yearlong challenge in 2017, but not the finish of his relationship with hiking.
"Portland POC Hikes" is a Facebook group containing over 600 members in the Portland, Oregon area led by Rikeem Sholes.
"I don't even like hiking that much" Rikeem chuckled as he trailed through his thoughts on how he, a southern boy from the inner-city of New Orleans, found himself in the Pacific Northwest along with becoming a familiar face in the outdoor community. Rikeem's roots and experiences are massive developmental factors in his journey to this expansive group.
Rikeem grew up in what he would call a "quintessential southern black family." They were religious, low income, went to mainly public schools, and had a lot of family members nearby. All he knew at that age was the strong black community he had around him and supported him.
From New Orleans, Rikeem went on to San Diego and joined the Navy so he could eventually attend college and become the biologist he is today. His family cared so much for this success that they had advised him not to move back after leaving the Navy, knowing that he could achieve so much more than the area that mainly had violence, danger, and police corruption left to offer.
Rikeem knew he wanted to go into Marine Biology from an early age, inspired by the nature historian David Attenborough watching the broadcaster go to places like the aquarium in his documentaries and shows. His younger self clung to the topics even though from what he knew, no one who looked like him or who was around him did anything of the sort.
Fast-forwarding to his workplace as an adult, he still finds himself being one of the only people of color in the room — giving him an immense amount of pressure to essentially be the 'model minority.'
With the little guidance he had entering the field, Rikeem takes the chance to mentor other people of color that enter this career path when he can. Show them the ropes, be their confidant, and just help them be as successful as they can be. A theme that coincides with his leadership role in the outdoors as he not only leads hikes but teaches those with him about the nature that surrounded them.
The outdoors is typically thought of as white spaces Rikeem says. "That's white people shit," is a phrase that he had grown up hearing from his family when the topic of camping or hiking would be brought up, which echo's through his head to this day. It's a toxic mindset and narrative that he wants to help change.
Seeing companies and organizations rally behind people of color going outside and their attempts to create appropriate representation, Rikeem still sees the pushback from others due to being the admin of a group dedicated to pushing people of color outdoors. Other leaders in the area that Rikeem has conversed with have seen the same.
"Just realizing that it's very white here [Portland] and that I'm not gonna get that same fix of just being around a bunch of black and brown people like I usually did in the bigger cities, I was going to have to make an effort. Part of making an effort was why I started doing these groups you know. I tell people that all the time," Rikeem says. "You're gonna have to go to a specific place you know and find them when they're specifically there."
Not tackling outdoor recreation until his mid-20's, his experience started to grow tremendously within the climbing community he became a part of first climbing in places across the world. In doing so, he quickly found the hikes (also known as the approach) into climbing sites increasingly difficult. To build stamina, he started the 52-hike challenge.
It's basically making an oath to yourself to do 52 hikes in a year, others make their own rules, but a general consensus is that the hikes must be more than 2 miles. He started to knockout hikes every weekend he could. Hike after hike, weekend after weekend he noticed that once again, he was the only one that looked like him out on the trails, and the baby steps to what now would be the "POC Hikers" group began, although obtaining accountability partners for him to go on his hikes wasn't a hurtful incentive either.
The first trial run of gathering members of the BIPOC community (black, indigenous people of color) stated on Meetup.com, a group hosting site allowing an easy way for people to meet others through shared hobbies or activities, but Rikeem was not the originator of the group, Portland native, Pamela Slaughter was.
Pamela's once Chicago native family created roots in Portland after the Vanport flood during WWII, relocating hundreds of black families from the housing project town. Despite this tragedy, her family developed a love for the outdoors that she would take on herself.
The outdoor enthusiast wanted to keep this interest in the family and would take her kids outside on her own until she encounters what one can only call an "ugly experience" with some skinheads on a trail. She didn't feel safe, nor did she feel as she could do this on her own anymore, taking the kids to only structured camps and environments as the only solution she could think of.
She met Rikeem originally through a disbanded Portland chapter of "Outdoor Afro" another organization dedicated to diversifying the outdoors with black individuals. Over time she began to be asked by other people of color if they could join even though they weren't black. They were just like her on that day with the skinheads, nervous, and looking for a safe space to enjoy the outdoors.
Rikeem approached Pamela with a plan.
"What if you started your own group?" he asked. "I'll run all of the outings myself until you're ready to get started," and that's exactly what he did with the group now called "People of Color Outdoors." It allowed Rikeem to step into a leadership role and explore his place in the community without having to be the actual organizer.
"Rikeem is the kind of son, every mom would be proud to have," Pamela said with endearment for her once organization partner. "I'm very proud to be associated with him, he's a great peer."
Rikeem's energy and leadership is enthralling to others, which has brought him the community that he does have, although he is a self-proclaimed introvert. There is something about being outdoors that just breaks him out of his shell and wants to take in everyone around him.
After Rikeem finished his 52-hike challenge he took a few months off. He wasn't exactly a hiker, to begin with so why push it? Little did he realize hiking, at least leading these groups became a part of his identity that he had built in Portland.
"Getting people together has become part of who I am."
Jumping back into hosting hikes again, Pamela's group was suited more for entry-level leisure activities so Rikeem eventually decided to break off into this hiking only group. As mentioned earlier, there were many steps. He tried his own meetup group on the hosting site, a trial app backed by Nike, and eventually landed on Facebook.
It was a slow start. Some hikes having a solid number of people and others having none, but none of this stopped Rikeem from showing up. Over time Rikeem developed regulars that would also become friends of his. There were no ulterior motives like the 52-hike challenge anymore. The community is what kept this group going strong.
"Seeing people come together really build that kind of community in this space, it stopped being just about the hiking and more about making connections," the hiker says. People building a connection longer than just a hike is what truly is rewarding about this volunteer position.
Ultimately, what started as a scheme for others to keep Rikeem accountable ended with him being able to provide and receive education, friendship, and most importantly a safe space for BIPOC's to gather and recreate.