Melanated Campout brings Black joy to the great outdoors
Melanated Campout co-founders Cayela Wimberly White Joselyn McCants and Shunte’ McClellan share what makes their culturally curated camping experiences so special.
When campers arrive at Melanated Campout in Wrightsville, Ga., they are offered a “whole new experience” where they can “meet a whole new family,” and build a community that will “jump in and say, ‘hey, let me help you pitch that tent’ or ‘come get some food.’”
However, this camping dream wasn’t always a reality, as theGrio learned during a Zoom interview with Wimberly White, McCants, and McClellan, the trio who founded Melanated Campout and continue to pour into its evolution.
It was initially Wimberly White who gave birth to the large-scale camping idea, soon asking for support from her friends and co-founders, McCants and McClellan. While Wimberly White had been camping for years, it wasn’t until her 36th birthday at Red Top Mountain that the threesome decided to invite an extended group of friends and family members to camp together for the first time.
To have “everybody at the entire campground that day” resulted in a special and unforgettable experience for them all, so Wimberly White was inspired to plan more camping trips with even more “melanated campers.” After an October 2018 trip near Helen, Ga., McCants, McClellan, and Wimberly White agreed they’d had so much fun that it was time to officially expand their crew of fellow campers by doing something big—creating Melanated Campout.
While the Melanated Campout community welcomes everyone, this gathering is particularly designed with Black people and people of color in mind. McClellan explained that it’s important to challenge the stereotype that camping is “only for white people.” As previously reported by theGrio, the growing Black outdoor enthusiast movement is grounded in encouraging Black and Brown people to allow themselves to find solace in nature. To that end, McClellan describes Melanated Campout as “an opportunity for joy” where campers can unwind without having to “worry about everything.” The collective mission is for Black and Brown people to “fall in love with the outdoors.”
Melanated Campout shows campers an exhilarating time with an assortment of activities designed for various interests. McCants told theGrio that among the campout’s offerings, recreational options include “yoga, karaoke, fishing, hiking, water battles, slip and slides, [and] night parties” featuring “two of the baddest DJs in Atlanta.” With a curated list of “elite camping options,” McClellan assures us nothing is done halfheartedly.
Melanated Campers choose between a tent, van or RV for a “dry camping” experience, which means they’re responsible for bringing their own water and electricity (via power bank, generator, or inverter). While bathrooms and showers are included, meals aren’t. However, meal plans are available for additional purchase.
The organizers also invite small business vendors of color to sell on their “Vendor Row,” free of charge to the proprietors. From African jewelry to handcrafted soaps, there are always souvenirs for campers to take home. And for each co-creator, vendor and collaborator, the Melanated Campout experience isn’t just about a few days of fun; it’s about uplifting the community—which also means supporting Black businesses. Always looking for ways to improve, the organizers also host “Empowerment Sunday,” where they ask attendees to make suggestions on how to enhance any component of the camp, following the experience.
As Wimberly White explains, listening to input is not only a great way to crowdsource much-needed feedback, but a way of “bringing comfort” to people who often don’t get it by camping alone. The sense of belonging Black and Brown visitors get when camping with “their own people” can be a formative opportunity that may not be offered elsewhere.
It’s hard to imagine the incredible amount of work that goes into planning a large-scale campout that will accommodate approximately 100-200 campers. With so many faces and events to plan, the co-creators also make an effort to form real connections with their attendees. It’s an effort made especially worthwhile for McCants, McClellan, and Wimberly White when their guests explain the impact the camp has had on their lives.
While the Melanated Campout permits guests 21 and older, most attendees are between 35 and 55. Coming from all walks of life, each adult has their own specific reasons for signing up for the three-day event. Stories of bonding, healing, peace and playfulness grow and evolve each successive year the camp is held.
“One lady was saying that she drove from Connecticut for 15 hours and it was worth every minute of the 15-hour trip,” Wimberly White shared. “She didn’t realize how much she needed the community feeling. She got here and her guard came down and her heart opened. I was like ‘oh wow’—she had another family.”
For some, visiting Melanated Campout may be about a simple break from city life—but for others, it’s so much more. The co-founders recalled meeting a woman who came with her adult children and shared that she had been diagnosed with brain cancer; she has since passed away. But during the campout, she and her family were thankful for the allowance to just “be,” without having those few days be centered around her illness. Wimberly White described it as a time for them to “make memories” and take a break from worry.
The trio also mentioned another woman who didn’t realize that she had “devoted all her time” to raising her son—until he took off for college. Looking for a new hobby, she came across the Melanated Campout online and signed up. McClellan smiled as she said, “[the woman] met a cutie at camp and was just having a good time. We love those stories.”
From day one of the first camp, the threesome began collecting precious memories from campers—even while campers were already asking when tickets would go on sale for the following year. According to McClellan, after aiming to end each camping season on a high note, guests are often pumped for the next year’s festivities.
Under normal circumstances, campers from California, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and more areas of the U.S. might never otherwise cross paths; Melanated Campout brings outdoorsy types from all over together to celebrate the joy of camping and connect with a newly designed event each year.
The 2022 Melanated Campout runs from August 19-21 in Wrightsville, Ga. Regular and VIP tickets are available now online, starting at $85.
Danielle Broadway is theGrio’s daily lifestyle writer, as well as a screenwriter, journalist and activist from Stockton, Calif. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from Cal State Long Beach with bylines in the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Black Girl Nerds, Allure, USA TODAY, and more.
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