The husband-and-wife duo, Michael Speights and Dr. Aasha Abdill, are working to build and maintain an above-ground railroad to connect Black folks to safe, inclusive, and affirming outdoor spaces.
The couple chronicles their journey on Instagram under the handle @off_gridish. After many years of camping, the couple reportedly has endured uncomfortable situations while Black over the years, including having the police called on them and other Black campers.
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According to Black Like Us, they recently took a trip to a campsite and immediately recognized that the space was not the right fit for them to enjoy the outdoors.
The family’s experiences inspired the development of WayOut, an organization that provides a purposeful platform to share skills, resources, and good times while exploring the country and connecting with nature.
Through a website and mobile application, the WayOut Railroad connects Black campers, travelers, and nature-seekers with an “above ground” network of Black property owners, including farms, homesteads, and campsites that are safe and inclusive to Black history and culture.
“Safety is key, right. One of the things we want WayOut to do is create an above-ground railroad,” said Abdill, who left her job as a researcher and evaluator to spend more time with her family.
“Just in thinking about the Underground Railroad and the Green Book…These were organizations that focused on how to keep Black people safe in a country that won’t protect them.”
“We need to be able to go out and connect with nature and not have the baggage on us, the gaze, who’s watching.. . just questioning our existence when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Just living as human beings,” Speights said.
Along with their two teenage children, Speights and Abdill are currently traveling throughout the country in their Sprinter van. Inspired by the fearless legacy of the Underground Railroad, they are committed to charting safe spaces for Black people to truly enjoy the outdoors. They are now working on documenting their journey, in states Tennessee, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.
“We wanted to document [our experience] and have people know these are the spaces you can go to [and] not only feel safe but to feel wanted and where you belong,” Abdill said. “We’re excited by this. So, we’re doing it, and while we’re doing it, we want to give back to all the people who stay at home because they don’t feel safe traveling in this country. This is our land too. We have as much right to be here.”