Writer Baratunde Thurston discusses his new PBS series ‘America Outdoors’

We take a sneak peek at a new PBS program, "America Outdoors," which is premiering on July 5. The six-part series is hosted by bestselling author and outdoor enthusiast Baratunde Thurston. Student Reporting Labs podcast host Zion Williams spoke with Thurston to learn more.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Finally, tonight, a sneak peek at a new PBS program, "America Outdoors," premiering tomorrow, July 5.

    The six-part series is hosted by bestselling author and outdoor enthusiast Baratunde Thurston.

    Our own Student Reporting Labs podcast host Zion Williams caught up with Thurston to learn more.

  • Zion Williams:

    Baratunde, it's so nice to meet you.

    Baratunde Thurston, Host, "America Outdoors": It's nice to meet you too, Zion. Thanks for having me here.

  • Zion Williams:

    Can you tell me a little bit about your PBS "America Outdoors?"

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    Oh, yeah.

    This show, I think of as "America" — dramatic pause — "Outdoors."

    And so I got to interact with Americans of all different kinds in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as they pull up the crabs that they're raising, in the mountains of Idaho hiking with refugees, or the Appalachian Trail with a woman who set the record there, surfing in L.A. with more Black people than I have ever seen on surfboards at one time in my life, and with a lot of indigenous nations in their lands, and seeing how they interact with the land, which is something that we're all trying to relearn, even as we have discarded so much of their history and pretended they don't exist.

    So this show is humbling, it's thrilling, it's a little dangerous, and a lot of fun. The show is a lot of fun. I'm really — I learned a ton.

  • Zion Williams:

    That's good. That's good. I'm glad.

    But what do you want your audience to gain from watching that show, from watching "America Outdoors"?

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    I want us to remember that we, with all of our differences, still share common ground, literally.

    We share access to these beaches, to these trees that help us breathe, and that sometimes it's easier to connect when we're not actively trying to do that. So, I want people to see each other. I want people to see this show and be like, yo, America is big, and it's wild out there, and it's beautiful, and look at all these different people finding shared value in this common ground.

  • Zion Williams:

    I think it's important that you actually go and see people without social media, without that…

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    Oh, yes.

  • Zion Williams:

    … without the Internet, without that — really those distractions.

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    They have — they come with filters.

  • Zion Williams:

    Yes.

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    Practical, actual and metaphorical filters. And that can skew our perception.

    The other thing I'd say is, the show is also a show about climate and about the climate crisis indirectly. Again, the show is about politics indirectly, social issues indirectly.

    But there was nowhere that I traveled with this crew that wasn't deeply affected by climate change. In some places, it was literally hard to breathe because of smoke. In other places, there were no fish because the water was too hot, and it was cooking the fish.

    It was really painful at some moments and then really beautiful and humbling in others to remind myself of what it is we're trying to preserve, which isn't just nature. It's really ourselves.

  • Zion Williams:

    Of course, I know this question has been asked a lot about young people.

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    Yes.

  • Zion Williams:

    But what advice do you have for them in embracing their identities?

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    Finding yourself through nature, I encourage it.

    And I encourage you to be very broad in your definition and interpretation of what that means. You can be in the outdoors in your front yard, on your stoop, in your backyard, on your walk to school or to work or to practice, just sitting by the river. You don't have to get in it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Baratunde Thurston:

    You could just be by it. Just touching a tree can be very profound and allow us to slow down.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tune in to "America Outdoors" tomorrow evening right here on PBS. Check your local listings.

    And you can listen to the "NewsHour" Student Reporting Labs podcast "On Our Minds" wherever you get your podcasts.

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