The JEDI Council: J(ustice) E(quity) D(iversity) I(nclusion)

By Omar Martinez

Omar Martinez was born in Nicaragua at the tail end of a revolution. His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was four years old. After pursuing a brief stint in aspiration of professional soccer glory, he quickly realized his talents were better suited to social justice and activism. A long and winding path brought him to Northern Arizona University, where he earned a degree in Cultural Anthropology and was introduced to the landscape of the Southwest. Omar works as a Grand Canyon river guide and is continually spellbound by the magic contained within those walls, and the incredible privilege it is to work there.

It seems like all of a sudden we realized we were all looking at the same picture and seeing different things. Interpretation has a lot to do with perspective, background, and proximity. Similarly, the uprising in anger about police brutality toward Black people in the United States might seem to some like a recent addition to a picture seemingly complete. Instead, we are collectively realizing those flames were always flickering, with some of us blind to them and others burned by heat.


I think part of the difficulty lies in understanding each other on a spectrum of knowledge. Without getting lost in the reflexivity of each perspective, we are collectively having a conversation that some people are sick and tired of having while others did not realize it was a conversation at all: how to acknowledge and dismantle the systemic racist structures that have existed since the conception of this country and have continually permeated the fabric of our society. Discriminatory housing practices, lack of access to health care, militaristic police tactics and brutality, and disproportionate death rates during a pandemic all are effects of structural racism. The outdoor industry is not immune to these structures.


I have been privileged to call myself a river guide the past decade. The genuine joy and magic connections that can be made with wilderness as a backdrop keep me coming back to outdoor adventure again and again. In that same breath, this could possibly be one of the most discombobulating times to be a guide. Our indigenous neighbors are currently suffering the highest COVID-19 rates in the country, Black Lives Matter protests are happening almost daily, and we are entering a new economic recession. Leadership on national levels is nonexistent. In this setting, commercial Grand Canyon river trips are slated to launch later this month. This is just a small piece of a larger convoluted pie.


In the spring of 2019, the team at Grand Canyon Youth invited me to be part of a coalition of people dedicated to the creation of space for inclusive and diverse thoughts to be heard and implemented within GCY the outdoor industry. The JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Council was born. The Council is taking a mindful approach to learning how to communicate the multiple perspectives of underrepresented populations. The council’s goals include (but are not limited to): understanding and decreasing barriers to diversifying the guide pool; creating a safe and inclusive work environment; and gaining a better understanding of how to engage authentically with youth from a variety of backgrounds. There is still a lot of work for Grand Canyon Youth to do as an organization; however, the JEDI Council aims to be a catalyst for leadership decisions and ideas promoting diversity in the outdoor industry and educational programs. Grand Canyon Youth has stood as a pillar in Northern Arizona for years as just that kind of industry leader.


Now more than ever, the JEDI Council is imperative. After acknowledgment of a problem comes undertaking actionable items that can carry meaningful impact. We must arm ourselves with language to deconstruct patriarchal thought processes. Instead, we begin with declarations followed up with action. For example, organizational budgets should include JEDI components, such as how money can support Black- and POC-led projects and programs.


As a guide, cook, storyteller, teacher, and student on the water, my existence is mostly dependent on ensuring people enjoy a safe and fun vacation. It is a marvelous way to interact with complete strangers in the most humbling of environments. I love being a guide, especially an adventure guide. But where are my stories, where are my heroes and father and uncles? My skin, hair, and constitution are made for these lands, yet I see no one to emulate. That is part of the important work of the JEDI Council. We have a long way to go, but it is an important first step.

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