Lifestyle vs Labels
As an African American woman I find myself constantly at a cross section of my label and my lifestyle; a place where the imaginary list of things society says I do or do not do defines my likely life experiences. Assessments about who I am or where I will fit-in are sometimes made based on whatever group or label someone puts me in. These judgements are not excluded to strangers or people whom exist outside of my “label”, but instead encompasses almost everyone. I have spent my lifetime with people outside of my friends and family looking at me strangely when I discuss something that seems to exist beyond my label, like my love for NASCAR for instance. But at the same time, I have had close friends and family give me the same strange look when I talk about wanting to buy a kayak. We have become so conditioned to make decisions about a person’s lifestyle based on what we assume about their label that we limit an opportunity to connect and discover.
So what does this have to do with parks and recreation? ... A lot. Because social equity and equality are becoming increasingly important, it is necessary for us to explore and discuss some of the more nuanced ways equity and equality present themselves in our work. As parks and recreation professionals we have the benefit of exposure to a wealth of people with an assortment of interest and experiences; through community engagement, networking, programming, facility use, and even as a part of our work group. How we choose to engage with others is shaped in part by conclusions we have drawn about who they are based on a label. It is naive to suggest that we simply not make assumptions about others or ourselves based on labels; it is impossible, we do it every day, all day and without thinking. Rather, a better practice may be to acknowledge that the label exist, then be intentional about how we make decisions and plans based on lifestyle instead.
To be intentional about focusing on lifestyles, we open to expose and open to explore. Being open to expose means, exposing others to opportunities despite a label. We use feedback from the community to create programs and events that are of interested to them. However, there is value in introducing a community to activities that they may not have considered or that may have been out of reach. This is where equality and equity in parks and recreation is important. An example of this is an outdoor program we offer for teens in high crime, high poverty neighborhoods in Greensboro. Offering a group of 12 to 17 year olds a chance to participate in kayaking, archery, fishing, or camping for the first time creates an environment of access and opportunity. These teens did not know lakes existed in Greensboro or that they were available to them. They did not believed people who looked like them or people who are living in poverty went camping or kayaking. Now, not only do those same teens have an appreciation for the outdoors, they are eager to experience new things.
Being open to explore is more personal and means we are open to exploring the “imaginary list” that may be associated with our labels and finding ways to recreate beyond it. In 2015 I had an opportunity to travel to Italy. As I was preparing for this trip I made a list of all of the things I wanted to do. I knew Mount Vesuvius was in Italy but never considered it to be something I would do. Why, because it was so far from my imaginary list of things I was supposed to do that I could not believe it was accessible to me. When I received my final itinerary for my trip, Mount Vesuvius was on it. On the day I visited Mount Vesuvius I stood at the top and looked over into the volcano, at that moment I thought about what an opportunity I would have missed, had I stuck to my imaginary list. If we as parks and recreation professionals expand our experiences to activities beyond our labels, we are then able to share those experiences with others. If we limit our experience to cultural norms, gender expectations, age limitations and other label “constraints” we are also limiting the experiences of the populations we serve. If I were not open to exploring the outdoors myself, I would not have been open to exposing teens who share my label to the outdoors.
I challenge each parks and recreation professional who creates and implements programs to be intentional about thinking from a lifestyle first perspective. Acknowledge that a person may belong to a label, but that their label does not define how they choose to recreate. I also suggest diving deep into your own label and exploring how that may shape your experiences. Be deliberate in finding, participating and sharing your experiences in order to enhance how you engage your community. Discussing how assumptions made based on labels can influence our interactions, is a start to addressing social equity and equality issues in parks and recreation.
About the Author
Chamreece Diggs is a Facilities Coordinator for Greensboro Park and Recreation. Her experience includes working with special populations, youth, administrative, marketing, project management, recreation centers, and special events. Chamreece prides herself on being create, adaptable, resourceful, and progress driven while working in parks and recreation. She received her Bachelors Degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Recreation Administration and earned Masters of Business Administration from University of North Carolina at Greensboro