Portraits of Allyship: Chris Perkins
As the ever behind-the-scenes ally to Teresa Baker, Chris Perkins has used his privilege for the growth of The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Chris Perkins, logistics lead and co-founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge (The Pledge), which connects outdoor brands with inclusion advocates to advance representation for people of color, is the personification of leveraging one’s privilege for the benefit of others. Over the past few years, he has consistently worked in nurturing relationships with leaders from diverse backgrounds. Most notably, he has supported activist Teresa Baker in the development, launch, and day-today of The Pledge. Perkins described his work with Baker as “Teresa being the very public face of the work, that strategic mastermind behind the work,” while he is just trying to do everything in his power to support her vision.
One may wonder why it’s not easy to find Perkins on The Pledge’s website. It’s because he refuses any spotlight for his work in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space. He even rejects remuneration for his involvement in The Pledge. Naturally, Perkins tried to be excluded from this article. This is how he has chosen to decenter himself to make space for others. But as a cisgender white man raised by outdoor guides, Perkins has dedicated a share of his privileges and resources to advancing conversations and initiatives for other communities.
“Part of the reason I reached out to Chris, in the beginning, is because I felt he would push me to do the work, but he wouldn’t question how I do the work,” said Baker. She had identified Perkins as a potential collaborator because she could tell in his work that “he wasn’t trying to promote himself, he was trying to get the message out because he knew, with the privilege he walks in, that he could speak to an audience that perhaps wouldn’t be open to hearing those things from us people of color.” Baker also considered that she had to build an inclusive team if she was to get people to believe in inclusion.
Working in DEI for people of color is not just intellectual labor; it is also emotional. “Chris really takes on people when I’m done with them. Chris is the one that will see a conversation through when I walk away. He brings patience, but he also brings the understanding of how privilege works in this industry.” Baker acknowledges that thanks to what Chris brings to the table, The Pledge will reach more CEOs than it could otherwise.
Perkins wasn’t always an active ally. His journey started materializing when he first connected “with folks who experienced the outdoors very differently, people for whom outdoor recreation really felt more like a privilege than a right.” He specifically evoked (paraphrased) words from environmental justice organizer Janet Valenzuela which give him perspective: “When you talk about public lands, you’re talking about Grand Teton, Yellowstone, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, these places that are so pristine and restorative, and you know, some of the best recreational opportunities in the world. When my community talks about public lands, that means going outside and confronting the toxic fumes from the meatpacking plant down the street. Going outside is not restorative. Going outside means we’re not safe.”
What started with an idea and an initial commitment from Marmot in early 2018, The Pledge has now grown to over 180 companies and nonprofits of all sizes committed to the work of DEI. And none of it would have been possible without the work of Chris Perkins.
On why everyone needs to practice allyship
“Everyone needs to practice allyship because it is a prerequisite for a functional, inclusive, democratic society,” said Perkins. ”We’ve had centuries of exclusion, oppression, forcible removal from public lands, and legislation that says white people mean more than other people. Everyone has to be an ally in that context.”
On the challenges of practicing allyship
“Being able to be comfortable with discomfort is definitely a trained practice. And one that I think naturally comes a bit easier to folks who’ve been involved in outdoor recreation,” said Perkins. “Because a lot of what enables the joy that we experienced recreating comes through a bit of discomfort. I also am pretty clear with myself that I can’t be good at everything at once. I’m the sort of person who would rather be pretty darn good at one thing. And in this case, that’s supporting Teresa in whatever way I can.”