Ahead of summer outdoor recreation season, our Discover the Forest campaign launched new PSAs encouraging parents and caregivers to take their families out to the forest to experience and reconnect with nature. The PSAs culminate in a singular ask: make the forest part of your family’s story.
Read on to hear from Joe Cepeda and Shabazz Larkin, the multidisciplinary artists who crafted the stories told in these new PSAs, and Lixaida Lorenzo, Executive Creative Director at David&Goliath, the agency that brought these PSAs to life, about the development of these stories and how this campaign aims to foster a sense of connection to and belonging in nature among Black and Hispanic families.
Leah Fagen: Lixaida, what was your intention behind this newest creative installment from Discover the Forest?
Lixaida Lorenzo: For this latest round of PSAs, Joe and Shabazz crafted culturally resonant stories and illustrations, respectively, for Hispanic and Black audiences, which serve as the basis of the PSAs. “Our Colors,” written by Joe, illustrates how nature inspires art and links us through generations. Shabazz’s story, “Am I A Tree?,” showcases the lessons that humans can learn from trees about how to live and grow. The full suite of assets (including TV, radio, print, outdoor and digital banners) are available in English and Spanish.
Additional stories and illustrations from Joe and Shabazz are in the campaign’s new Digital Storybook—a tool that allows parents and caregivers to upload their own family photographs into the work, creating a unique digital memory book capturing their experiences in the forest.
LF: Why is it particularly important to reach Black and Hispanic families with this message?
LL: The PSAs aim to reach all parents and caregivers, with an emphasis on fostering a sense of connection to and belonging in nature among Black and Hispanic families. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2020 Outdoor Participation Report, while participation in outdoor recreation has increased among Black and Hispanic Americans over the last decade, current participation rates still do not reflect our diverse population in the U.S. and Black and Hispanic Americans remain underrepresented outside. With this new round of work, we want to help ensure that everyone—particularly underrepresented groups—can envision making the forest, and time in nature, part of their story.
Joe Cepeda: In Latinx culture, the connection to our land may be there, but a great deal of people may not have access to nearby mountains, wilderness areas or other public lands. Also, free time and resources may simply not be available. But I’d like to think that access to that kind of outing is there for families and that time spent out in nature is seen as vital for all of us. I believe that you can’t help but want to be more of a caretaker for the planet once you get to know it at an elemental level.
Shabazz Larkin: Black people have been systematically left out of public lands. We have been uninvited for centuries. This is a remnant from our old Jim Crow past, and while those laws are being dismantled all over the country, they placed a wedge between public lands and Black people for a very long time. The issue runs very deep, and it’s so important that we create programs that attempt to restore this permission for black joy in our parks. That’s why it’s beautiful to see the Discover the Forest campaign working to overturn some of those inequities and foster a stronger sense of belonging.
LF: Joe and Shabazz, tell us about the insight and ideas behind your stories for the campaign and how you came to them, as well as a little bit about your art and illustration style.
JC: The stories I wrote for this campaign came partially through craft and partially from personal experience. My family has spent time out in the woods, in the desert and under starry skies. I hope audiences will be able to relate to the feelings we’ve experienced when we venture out—the perspective we get from looking out over a canyon or standing at the foot of a redwood tree. Nature reminds us that we’re stronger and more resourceful than we may realize, and we all need to do a better job of caring for the places we live.
SL: My illustrations are a reflection of the pan-African visual language that connects me to my ancestors and African history. Very different from prominent American culture, introduced by the colonizers, historically African cultures are steeped in the idea of one for all, rather than all for one. This is the principle of tribes. Often these “Tribe Vibe” faces, as I like to call them, are illustrated in clusters rather than a single figure. This is to reflect this tribal mentality and cultural nuance.
LF: What do you both hope that this campaign, and your stories, will achieve?
JC: I’m afraid I didn’t have a lot of childhood experiences with the outdoors. I grew up in a blue-collar urban setting, and we didn’t get out to see nature much at all. My first real experience with nature was a residential science camp—it was my first experience hiking, hiking at night with flashlights, digging for garnet gemstones, learning about local wildlife. It left a huge impression on me. I hope that this campaign, simply, inspires more people to get out there. The more we spend time in nature, especially for young people, the more we might have a greater respect for the fragile places we live. From our front yard to rock peaks, our planet is a limited resource, and we could have done better as its caretaker. Everyone needs to do better.
SL: I hope people will find trust in their joy—to go to the forest with no other intention but to play, adventure and follow their joy. Joy is a master teacher. It helps us become who we are. And for Black people, joy is an act of resistance. Time spent in nature is a great conduit for introducing joy into our hearts and lives. I also hope that this campaign reminds everyone that Earth is home for all humans. Little Black boys and girls need to know that protecting our Earth is their work, too. I hope campaigns like this help Black kids see they can take up this natural inheritance of the earth just as readily as anyone else.