Diversity Featured Voices from the river

How a little black box led to a healing experience

An African-American man fly fishes

By Joshua Crumpton

I am the founder of a hunting and fishing guide service in the heart of Texas, and as a minority in the outdoor community, the past few days have been very meaningful for me. I am humbled by the outpouring of support, love, and understanding from my fellow anglers and hunters.

At first, I was stunned as I watched my feed fill with black squares and saw the support from businesses and brands. I was overwhelmed. The experience broke down walls that hid repressed feelings. It was not just reading the stories and hearing the voices of others who look like me. It was also seeing that so many others who don’t look like me were ready to listen with open hearts.

The net result was that I smiled and cried many times yesterday.

I spent some time thanking leaders of the outdoor community for their show of support in this troubling time, including Chris Wood at Trout Unlimited, who asked me to take a moment to share part of my outdoors story with all of you.

I am the product of a bi-racial union. I am 45 years old and have lived a privileged life. I am fortunate. I can only begin to imagine what the world is like for other minorities who have been less fortunate. I grew up in a predominantly white world, without my biological father involved, with two white parents. So while I’ve never felt truly threatened, I have felt like I didn’t belong.

My maternal grandfather was an avid outdoorsman. He unfortunately passed away before I could learn to navigate hunting and fishing with him.

At the age of 12, I went to the local fly shop and bought a rod and taught myself to fly fish. Since a young age fishing has always been there for me and it has always been an escape. It never consciously occurred to me but somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I was bothered by the idea that I saw so few people like me out on the water. In fact, because my world was so white, I repressed that I had emotions about my color and lack of representation at all.

Hunting, on the other hand, was another story. I didn’t come to hunting until I was in my 30s. I had some strong feelings of prejudice directed at the hunting world. I thought hunting was only for white people and that most of them were racist. Let me say right now, I am sorry and I was wrong.

Once I started hunting I realized I truly enjoyed it, and for the most part I was accepted with open arms. 

I had to evaluate where these feelings came from, and it led me back to my youth in Texas. I was confronted with images of young men in middle school showing up on Fridays in camo and hunting garb ready to hit the fields. I knew that they were going to leave early from school and that made me jealous.

But to be truly honest, I had to dive further. I had to look deeper. It all came down to the idea that these boys were going off to spend quality time with a parent, most likely at that time their father. None of them looked like me. Resentment turned into prejudice.

I can only imagine that many other people, including those of the opposite gender, feel the same way. As a young man I wrote the sport off. But as a more mature man I joined the hunting world and crushed my prejudices.

Over the years I have heard off-handed racial slurs and jokes from fellow hunters or anglers and I have shrugged them off. I thought to myself, “Whatever, I’m tough. It’s OK, I’m OK.” I would rationalize it, thinking that it’s just a joke or that they didn’t really mean it or that they just don’t know better.

For the most part, those people with dated outlooks are thankfully in the minority, and most people in the community are great.

I fish in some remote places, where at times I’ve felt uncomfortable or unsafe, but I figured that was just part of life. I didn’t see many, if any, people who looked like me to model after as I was growing up in the fishing community. I would dismiss it and say to myself, “I don’t need heroes that look like me.”

Guess what? Yesterday proved me wrong.

The love, the openness, the support from the community, the voice of the organizations and the brands gave me the bravery to not only voice, but confront my repressed feelings of sadness, shame, guilt, and anger. It allowed me understand that it was OK to feel. I cried tears of joy, tears of pain, and I smiled at the world.

I am now on a road to personal healing. I want to let organizations and individuals know that what seems like the small kindness of a post on social media can be a big deal to an individual. Thank you to each and every one of you. I hope to see you out on the water or in the field.

Joshua Crumpton’s Spoke Hollow Outdoors is among the newest TU Business members. Welcome, Joshua!

Spoke Hollow Outfitters

Wimberly, Texas