In 2015, Orvis created the Breaking Barriers Award to honor individuals who have gone above and beyond to introduce the sport of fly fishing to a more diverse audience. Past recipients have created programs for inner-city youth, under-served veterans, women, Alaskan natives, breast-cancer patients, and children in foster care.
Last Friday night, at a gala event during the annual Orvis Guide Rendezvous in Missoula, Montana, Orvis COO Simon Perkins presented the 2019 Breaking Barriers Award Tracy Nguyen-Chung, the founder of Brown Folks Fishing.
Here’s how the organization describes itself:
Brown Folks Fishing cultivates the visibility, representation, and inclusion of people of color in fishing and its industry. BFF is both a space to build community and a movement to expand access. We work at the intersection of race, media, and fishing as a gateway to conservation.
Our movement is led by a team of anglers of color whose professional backgrounds include: strategic marketing, PR and communications, photography, documentary, outdoors industry, wilderness guides, education, culinary arts, visual and digital art, and conservation. Ambassadors lead initiatives at local and national levels.
The daughter of refugees who fled to the US during the Vietnam War, Nguyen-Chung grew up in Portland, Oregon, and her parents’ love of the outdoors was ever present. Her father, who grew up fishing in Vietnam, taught her to fish when she was six years old, but she dropped the pursuit as a teenager. It wasn’t until she later moved to Los Angeles that Nguyen-Chung decided to revisit the sport.
The deeper she got into fly fishing, the more she recognized the need to diversify the face of the sport, so in spring 2018, she launched Brown Folks Fishing, which has since grown into an organization with a dedicated, multidisciplinary team of ambassadors leveraging innovative media platforms to diversify the face of fishing. Collectively, the BFF team has a following of more than 30,000 on Instagram alone, and they continue to strive to build capacity, access, resources, and community for anglers of color.
Other Brown Folks Fishing members in attendance were Autumn Harry, Erica Nelson, and Faith Briggs. Along with the rest of us, they heard Nguyen-Chung give this moving acceptance speech:
Thank you Simon and the team at Orvis – Jaimie, Julia, Jackie, Chrissy, Phil, Tucker, Abbie, Maggie – for listening, supporting, and amplifying. I’m gratefult to be in community with you.
I want to acknowledge that we are gathered here today on the ancestral lands of the Salish, Kootenai, Kalispel, Blackfeet, and Shoshone people.
My father is an immigrant and a refugee. Fishing was a way for him to connect back to a homeland that, for a long time, he didn’t know if he could see again. Through him, I’ve come to understand that fishing has always had deep and complex roots in our communities. And because of those layers and complexities, everything throughout all of our work with Brown Folks Fishing has a conservation component, because it comes back to our survival. We tell stories because we are aware of the power dynamics that impact which storytellers and audiences we most regularly see and validate.
These things are part of a tacit and central understanding with the anglers in our community. I’m inspired by them everyday and I hope that when you hear their stories, you will be too.
I want to thank the many black, indigenous, and people of color who have pioneered these storytelling spaces in the outdoors before us. We Make the Road by Walking. I also want to recognize that Brown Folks Fishing wouldn’t be what it is without the team of ambassadors that lay the foundation for our work. A few of them were able to travel here today – Autumn, Erica, Faith – please stand. Thank you for your depth, your voices, and your excellence. I see you and I appreciate you. Thank you.
To get a great look at how Nguyen-Chung’s vision is growing, follow Brown Folks Fishing on Instagram.