Evelynn Escobar Wants BIWOC To Celebrate Nature’s Healing Power
The Hike Clerb founder explains the importance of reconnecting to nature.
In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice. Here, Hike Clerb founder Evelynn Escobar explains the importance of reconnecting to nature and reclaiming spaces where people of color have historically been excluded.
High above the Los Angeles skyline, Evelynn Escobar is leading a self-love revolution — all you need is a good pair of sneakers, a jug of water, and a little bit of sunscreen. OK, a lot of sunscreen. After all, this radical movement takes place outdoors.
Crafting a safe space for Black, Indigenous women of color in nature, the 30-year-old changemaker has fostered a community of novice and experienced hikers alike. They call themselves Hike Clerb, and they’re making room for themselves in an environment where they’ve historically been excluded.
“Being in nature… it was such a huge release; it gave me the ability to sort of listen to myself in a way that I’d never had before,” Escobar tells Bustle of why she started Hike Clerb. “That paired with seeing the stares I would get at a place like Zion National Park and sort of feeling othered in a place that I did not think that I would feel that way. These were big tourist destinations, and then I got there and realized how homogenous and white the outdoors are.”
Escobar started Hike Clerb in 2017 with a desire to celebrate the healing power of nature with other Black, Indigenous women of color. It has since blossomed into a community of more than 25,000 people united by their love of the outdoors. And, as of 2021, Hike Clerb has established groups in Toronto and New York City, with plans to expand more in the coming years.
Below, Escobar shares the way nature has helped her, how she validates herself before big meetings, and her advice for dealing with burnout.
Can you tell me a little bit about your career trajectory?
It’s definitely unconventional. I went to [Virginia Commonwealth University] for broadcast journalism, and I did two different internships for nonprofits in D.C. When I graduated, I interned for the first lady, Michelle Obama, in her Office of Scheduling and Advance. Most recently, I was the social media manager at Undefeated, [a sneaker store and apparel brand]. Now I am fully on my own as a creator and the founder and executive director of Hike Clerb.
How did you first become interested in hiking?
I grew up in Northern Virginia, but [hiking] wasn’t something I really explored there. I didn't go hiking until I visited L.A. That's where the seed was planted; I would visit [my aunt] and I looked forward to hiking with her. Once I moved to L.A., I had already done most of the major trails and that's what piqued my interest to go further, which led me down the Hike Clerb path.
How has nature helped you in your life?
It's definitely been the biggest catalyst to get me to where I am now. With Hike Clerb, I didn’t set out to necessarily create this big organization, but I was able to listen to that sort of inkling inside of me and act on it. I definitely attribute that to being able to go into nature and use it as like this amazing healing modality, but also in a sense of sort of reclaim[ing] the land for myself, being Black, being Indigenous, and really being able to reaffirm myself and solidify a connection to my ancestors.
How can nature help someone, especially if they’re coming to Hike Clerb, where you’ve built this community where they can feel safe?
I feel like [nature is] truly one of the most powerful healing modalities. There are all these scientifically proven facts — it helps lower blood pressure; it helps with depression, mood, anxiety. It’s like, literally life-sustaining. One of the biggest objectives is getting out there, and once you're there, then you can figure out what that means for you. It's really beautiful to be able to be like a steward of life in that way.
Why is inclusivity so important in hiking, especially for this community?
From the beginning of the colonization of this country, of pushing out the native people on this land, outdoor recreation was never positioned for people who look like us. Especially not women of color. So, it’s really about reclaiming our power in everything that we’re doing, and by reconnecting; we are truly creating this big sisterhood that has been really beautiful to see flourish… I want to get other women of color to show that we are out here, that we’re taking up space, and also facilitate the space for healing. [Hiking] did so much for my own personal healing journey; that was honestly the underlying importance of why this needed to be done.
What’s your favorite thing about hiking?
I love how exploratory [hiking] is. And also how empowering it is. It’s so reaffirming of your abilities, of your potential, as a human being. And just so fun. It takes you back to being a kid and going out and playing and enjoying the journey for what it is.
How has the pandemic affected Hike Clerb and your ability to create a sense of togetherness during this time?
We were already doing this work before the pandemic hit. It almost was like a perfect place, a perfect time situation because all we could really do was go into nature. It sort of ignited this like reconnection that people were having. We kind of experienced our own boom of new eyes, new members of our community who wanted to be involved in some sort of way.
The pandemic has led to burnout for a lot of people, with longer work hours and more demands at home, especially for parents with young children. How would you suggest someone dealing with the signs of burnout help release some of that pressure on themselves?
I feel like a lot of us get stuck when we're burnt out, like we're just paralyzed because we don't know how to move forward. Think of yourself as a plant. Plants need water, sunlight, air; as human beings, we need nourishment, space, time, all these things to fully be ourselves. Schedule in time to do nothing, so that you have the space to have that shower idea or whatever it is. If I didn't have that space, I wouldn't have had the idea for Hike Clerb. It's so important that we give ourselves downtime because it's just as necessary as you know being “productive” or in the execution phase.
How do you pump yourself up before a big meeting or presentation?
I'm definitely a big affirmations person. I'm also very into meditation, so probably popping an open meditation on and just calming myself down. I think validating myself; imposter syndrome is a huge thing, but you would not be in that room, you would not be asked to do what you're doing, if you were not uniquely prepared to be there. So [I try] remembering that.
That’s good advice. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
In general, the encouragement that I have received to just stick to my gut, follow my intuition, to honor who I am, my story, and the people who have helped me to get this far is something that always sticks with me and something that I carry with me in anything that I do. I think that has made the biggest difference in being able to get to this point. [It’s] sort of that notion of lifting as you climb and honoring those who helped support you.
Who do you go to for advice?
No. 1 is probably my therapist because I pay her for that. But, two, I have a lot of great friends who are also mentors to me. Just having people like that in your court that you can use as a soundboard when sometimes you're stuck on something is just so necessary.
Who was your role model now versus when you were younger?
I feel like I have the same role models [as when I was younger]. I grew up loving Oprah, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson. I think now I've just added more badass women to the list. Now there's Issa Rae, Michaela Coel. Basically, for me, it was always like bad*ss Black and brown women doing their thing, living unabashedly themselves and being bold, just fully embodying who they are.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Honestly, I give my younger self advice all the time because she is my North Star in everything that I do. Looking back on it, [my advice] would definitely be like, “you got this, like you, you literally have it all in you.” I think as a kid, you're always sort of searching for that validation and it would really be reaffirming to her that she has absolutely everything that she needs and that she's awesome and that she's gonna grow up and be really cool.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.