What can we in the outdoor and tourism industries do to drive more minority participation? In this episode, we explore the minefield of diversity in the outdoors, and talk about why it's important to begin the discussion, even if you're not completely comfortable with the potential outcome.
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Hosts: Mark McKnight and Ana Connery
Producer: BJ Smith
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Alicia: I’d say about nine years ago, I started to do my outdoor things like running and biking. I was pretty overweight and had decided I wanted to, you know, lose weight. And I lived really close to a really great park in Louisville, so I would go walking over there a lot.
And then started getting into running because we have a pretty great running community. Then got a little bit into trail running and more into hiking. And being from Kentucky, we have great state parks, but I just had never really grown up going to the parks.
You know, as a person of color, one consideration is always, like, is this a safe place to go? Kentucky obviously has a lot of stereotypes that come with it. And, you know, I think sometimes as a person of color growing up in urban area, you just believe, like, I don't know, going out into rural areas in Kentucky, is that safe?
Mark: Welcome to "RootsRated Labs."
Ana: Where we explore the intersection of travel and the outdoors. I'm Ana Connery.
Mark: And I'm Mark McKnight. We just heard from her Alicia Hurle, and I'm really excited to introduce you all to Alicia.
Alicia: My name is Alicia Hurle. I'm from Louisville, Kentucky, born and raised. I'm a community organizer with Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, which is a statewide grassroots organization. So we’re multi issue, so we work on environmental justice, economic justice, getting people empowered and registered to vote.
Mark: When we first got to talking, she brought up that she was into the outdoors and that she had been a trip leader with Outdoor Afro.
Alicia: It's a national organization focused on inspiring black people's connection to nature and really kinda changing the image of people of color in the outdoors. So I lead monthly activities with folks in Louisville, so hiking trips, biking trips. We’re planning birding events, fishing, things like that.
Mark: I was really excited about that because we had heard from a previous podcast guest that we needed to be talking to Outdoor Afro. I really wanted to get Alicia in the studio, so I got her to come into the office, and we talked a little bit about her experience and how she got into Outdoor Afro.
Ana: I'm so excited to hear from Alicia, Mark, because I feel like this is a market that has been so neglected by the outdoor industry. In fact, there's quite a lot of markets. It's not just blacks or Hispanics. But there's tons of markets that just kinda feel like they're left out a little bit from the outdoors industry. And I know that Alicia is one of those who have taken on this cause and are really trying to make it a much more inclusive experience and kind of remind marketers that there is a really strong viable market out there for them to go after if they just kind of felt like they were a little bit more welcome.
Mark: I think that's kind of the key takeaway from this show. I wanna make sure that marketers who are listening know that there are things that they can do to actively speak to diverse audiences. It's a matter of understanding how they wanna be spoken to and just taking the time to actually become kinda fluent in this issue.
So, today, we're gonna hear from Alicia and speak to the Outdoor Afro side of things. And we're also gonna hear from Mercury Mambo, an ad agency actually that specializes in this.
I was really excited when I met you, to hear that you're involved with Outdoor Afro, because I was actually interviewing the president of the Outdoor Industry Association, Amy Roberts. And she had recommended that I speak with Rue Mapp who started the organization. And so it was really cool to meet somebody who actually had some experience with it. Can you just tell me a little bit about how did you find out about it? What was kinda your first experience with Outdoor Afro?
Alicia: Yeah, I found out about Outdoor Afro when they formed a network in Louisville, Kentucky, about, I wanna say, three or four years ago. So it's kind of early in the expansion of Outdoor Afro. And Rue Mapp, the founder, actually came to Louisville and talked to folks about Outdoor Afro and what it had to offer.
My co-leader, SteVon Edwards, launched a network in Louisville. And then, you know, I just became involved as a participant at that time and did a few events with them. But I ought to be honest because a lot of them are early morning on the weekends, and I wasn't participating quite as much. But then, last year, SteVon put the word out that Outdoor Afro was looking for new leaders. I was really enticed because they were actually meeting at Yosemite, and so I was like "This is my time."
So decided to go ahead and apply, and I was actually pretty competitive. And you do a video interview and an application and then, you know, give references and stuff. So I was actually lucky enough to be chosen to be a leader in Louisville and went to the national training at Yosemite and then kinda started from there. So it's been a really great experience.
As somebody that does a lot of outdoor activities solo or, like, with small groups, it's been really fun to get out with a big group of people, especially people that don't go hiking, that don't really get outside, and being able to kinda create that safe space for them and get them to do things they wouldn't normally do. So that's been a really great experience.
Mark: Ana, I grew up with...and we've actually heard from my mom in the first episode of RootsRated Labs.
Ana: Rosie, shout-out to Rosie.
Mark: Yeah. That was really fun. S1he was awesome. She grew up actually doing way more outdoor activity than I did. And then I've kind of gotten more and more into it, and I even do it now, you know, as a career. But for people who didn't grow up with this background in the outdoors, I'm just kind of asking the question to you, what was your experience with the outdoors, Ana?
Ana: Well, I grew up in Miami in a Cuban family. So my brother and I were first-generation Americans. And it's interesting because my mom has a lot of many wonderful things, but super athletic and into health and fitness, that's never really been her thing. But when I look back on my childhood, I remember a lot of family outings to state parks for picnics with other families. And, you know, we'd sort of set up shop under a pavilion, and everybody would grill or bring food. And the kids would be running around doing all kinds of things throughout the park while the parents pretty much sat around and chatted and drank and ate.
But the point is that we were exposed to the outdoors, but we weren't really kind of encouraged to sort of embrace it in terms of health and fitness. Traditionally speaking, I would say that the Hispanic culture is just not super athletic in the sense that you don't grow up in families where your dad's a runner and your mom's a kayaker and they're totally into the outdoors. They might be into fitness, of course, and they're super into sports, which is totally different.
Mark: As we continue this conversation with Alicia, she talks about kinda the darker side of this, which is also that there's a sense that it may not be safe for black people to go into some of these state parks.
Alicia: I’d say about nine years ago, I started to do my outdoor things like running and biking. I was, you know, pretty overweight and had decided I wanted to, you know, lose weight, and lived really close to a really great park in Louisville, so I would go walking over there a lot. And then started getting into running because we have a pretty great running community. Then got a little bit into trail running and more into hiking. And being from Kentucky, we have great state parks, but I just had never really grown up going to the parks.
And then, you know, as a person of color, one consideration is always, like, is this a safe place to go? Kentucky obviously has a lot of stereotypes that come with it. And, you know, I think sometimes as a person of color growing up in urban area, you just believe, like, I don't know, going out into rural areas in Kentucky, is that safe? But, you know, started going to more state parks and seeing how...you know, these are country folks, and they're friendly for the most part. So I began exploring that a lot more. So, you know, once I did that, kind of seeing Outdoor Afro as a place that I can spread that to other people has been like a really great place to kind of grow that.
Definitely, safety is a consideration. Kentucky is not necessarily known for a ton of hate crimes, but I think things come up. I think, obviously, in this political environment we’re in now, it's become rising to the top even more than before. So I just think that we grow up hearing a lot of things. I mean, there's that past that I think your parents kind of tell you about when... I mean, in Louisville, for instance, there was only one park that black people could go to, and that's still the park that most black people in West Louisville still congregate at, even though there's a bigger park down the street. So I think, you know, you kind of grow up learning that there's, like, spaces that aren't necessarily safe for you to be in. So I think, definitely, when you travel, you're always aware.
Like, when we went to Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky a few years ago, and we went into Corbin, which is the closest town. And we ended up having a great time. But we learned later that Corbin, at one point, had been, like, the most racist place in Kentucky. There actually is a documentary about how...it was a sunset town, so, you know, like black people were not supposed to be there after sunset. So, you know, like, we learned that after. And that's within, like, people's lifetime, so it's not as if this is such a far-removed history.
Mark: I actually was talking with a neighbor of mine, who is actually our city council member for the neighborhood where I live, and it's a historically African-American neighborhood. But the park right behind my house, he told me when he was growing up was a all-white park. And it’s a city park, and it was not available to him. And he and his friends would actually sneak in after it was officially closed, and, like, play in the park that they weren't technically allowed to play in. And it's crazy to think there's somebody who is alive…and he doesn't seem that old. I mean, he's probably 70. But he doesn't seem that old to me. And he’s somebody who remembers that. It's crazy to think about how far we've come.
Ana: It's crazy to think about how far we've come. And it's also crazy to think about the fact that that really wasn't that long ago if there is somebody still alive today that has those memories, you know?
Mark: I think that's the warning, as I look at today's political climate and talking about building a wall. Not to get too political, but, seriously, we have to be careful because it hasn't been that long, but we have to be really aware of the fact that these are public lands, and they are owned by everyone.
Ana: Right. And they belong to everyone.
Alicia: What I also really appreciate about Outdoor Afro is that I get to meet other people of color in my community that I wouldn't otherwise be connected to. I just did a hike a couple weeks ago. And I was talking to one of the participants who's new to Louisville. And she mentioned participating in a hiking group, like a meet-up group called, like, Louisville Hikers, and how it just was not a friendly space for her. Out of the huge group of people, only two or three people spoke to her and really tried to engage with her.
So just the thought when she came to our Outdoor Afro event that she was like welcomed and that we created the safe space. And, of course, you know, everybody was open to talking to her. So that's been really cool to hear feedback like that that people have tried other groups, and it hasn't been as friendly and welcoming and that we can offer that to people.
Ana: This is an industry that has marketed itself almost too much to those that are true enthusiasts, meaning they're a little bit more hardcore. They've got gear. You know, they make plans on a regular basis to go out there and hike or bike or camp or maybe even push the envelope further and go climbing and do much more sort of adventurous activities. And so all of that time spent, marketing primarily to that group, not just alienated blacks and Latinos and other communities, but it kind of alienated everybody who didn't fit in that mold.
Now, here we are, where we're not only trying to include women, but we're trying to include minorities that are no longer the minority. And there's all these other groups that are kind of in the queue, ready and willing, saying, you know, "What's not to love about the outdoors? Why do you think I can't do this?" And to them, I think that it's intimidating to a lot of people, because it's been marketed as such an adventure playground for so long that they think, "Oh, I'm not gonna, you know, go there and just take a walk. The only people who go camping there for the weekends are the hardcore ones who are gonna, like, build their fire and, like, do all this kind of stuff that I've never done before." So the intimidation is there in multiple ways.
Mark: I will say that outdoor activities are not inherently easy to break into. When I talked with Rick Wood from the Trust for Public Land a while back, he actually talked about that and about how he pulls up to Stringer's Ridge, a protected area here with great mountain bike trails, and he's sort of looking to one side of the other and thinking, "Oh, that's a bike that costs more than my car." He's on this old mountain bike.
Even for white people who didn't start with a family history of the outdoors, there is this kind of sense of intimidation that other people know what they're doing more than I do. And so I think it's kind of universal in that sense. But there definitely seems to be a movement here to try to address it. There are a lot of things around getting kids outdoors and just getting people who are not familiar with the outdoors to go experience it as fun, and not as some big crazy kind of…
Mark: ...dangerous experience. Yeah, yeah, exactly.
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You know, we've talked about a number of different problems and kind of why groups like Outdoor Afro came to be in the first place. But I think it's really important for a show like this, where we wanna come away with actionable insights, to really dive in and think about what does a marketer do? Clearly, the number one thing is that you need to actually market to diverse groups.
Alicia: I feel like for people of color to understand that park systems are for them and created for them part of it is like how those are marketed. I think that's what Outdoor Afro is trying to change is really the imagery that we see when we see outdoor spaces. So if you're seeing billboards of like "Go to Grand Canyon," and none of those include people of color, then that is communicating this message that it's not really for you.
The interesting thing for me when I went out West, I went to the Utah parks, like Zion and Bryce. I mean, we counted, literally, like, eight black people the entire time we were out West at the national parks. But then we encountered tons of European folks who said it's marketed to them in Europe to come to the U.S., like "Come out to our park system. Go to the, you know, Grand Canyon. See all these things." And they would rent RVs and go out. And so we actually encountered more white Europeans than we did black Americans. I think the marketing of space is important. And, like you said, like, really communicating that the parks are for people of color, that they're for us.
Mark: One of the other things that she brought up that I think is really important is actually having somebody…she calls them a liaison of color.
Alicia: I think always having a liaison of color is really important. You know, I work as a community organizer of a predominately white organization. And it wasn't until I came into the role of organizer, the only person of color on staff, that I think people of color began to see that our work was for them, get successful to them because I can create that safe space for people that they can relate to and that they can see that this might have some relevance to their life. But I think it's hard to sell an all-white image to people of color that, like, if I'm only seeing that there's white people representing this thing, then I'm assuming that it's not for me.
Mark: She makes a really good point there, I think, which is…and it’s kind of the same point that I've made about millennials. You know, go hire some. It's not some weird, extraterrestrial species that you study from a distance. Just bring these people into the conversation and hire them. And, you know, if you're nonprofit, go recruit some members that don't look like you.
Ana: And there's lots of influencers. I know we throw that word around a lot. But there's so many people that, even if you don't have a huge budget that you can tap in the community, who they really wanna spread this message, whether they're gonna join as…you know, a seat on your board or, just frankly, as a contributor. But just the point is to bring people into the conversation that represent this market and know the ins and outs and will be honest with you about the right and wrong ways to speak to them.
Mark: As a white man myself, I understand there's a bit of hesitation to bring up some of these issues. And I think that's one of the things that we have ever come too is just start the dialogue, just start the dialogue. And it's okay to not know and to feel uncomfortable and to kind of be walking on eggshells to some degree when you start having these conversations. That's perfectly normal. But you need to go have the conversations. If you're serious about it and you start to make friends and have people around that are more diverse, it's a much richer experience of life.
Ana: Well, I mean, and there's nothing more uncomfortable than having a room full of white people trying to figure out how to talk to communities of color.
Ana: You know? I mean, if you're worried about it, that's way worse. So go ahead and reach out to somebody and say, "Hey, you know what? I'm probably gonna say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing, which is why we need you."
Mark: One of the things that we touched on before, but I think Alicia has some really interesting conversation around this, is the fact that, at least for black culture, there’s this burden of what came before, and there's this history of segregation in the United States. It's a sad state of affairs, but it's something that you do have to talk about. We have obviously Black History Month. I mean, I live on MLK Boulevard. There are a lot of kind of commemorations of what happened in the past. And I think it is important to discuss it and acknowledge it.
Ana: Yeah, I think, too often, people say, like, "Oh, that's in the past. We need to look forward." But to move forward, you have to understand the past.
Alicia: I think it goes back to that historic knowledge that were passed down to, like, even if there is no longer segregations in our parks, there's still this thing that kind of gets passed down to folks that, well, their parents don't go there because maybe they weren't allowed in that space, or maybe something happened where people knew it wasn't safe to go there. So you still kind of are inheriting that in a lot of ways. I mean, you know, there's definitely legitimacy to that, because if something violent happened or something, you know, it's like, yeah, that's self-protective in a lot of ways.
So I think, like, as much as with kids, we can have field trips and events and things that get them into these spaces. And, hopefully, they can inspire their parents to take them there in their free time. But I just think there is this sense that, you know, things aren't always the safest for folks of color.
I've thought a lot when I did my Outdoor Afro application about, like, how the black community changed drastically through the Great Migration, you know, of just like we are a very outdoor people, obvious for, you know, not the best reasons. But, you know, we are very connected to the earth and very connected to agriculture and the building of things and being outside. And how that changed drastically when people went up north for jobs and lived in a very urban environment with a complete lack of nature. We need to continue to connect to, like, we were people that were very grounded to the earth and very much, like, knew how to grow our own food and do all of these things and kind of getting back to that as much as possible, because that's only a few generations removed. Once again, that's kind of what Outdoor Afro is bringing to people.
Mark: Well, the fact that these organizations exist, like Outdoor Afro and then Mercury Mambo that we're gonna talk about in a minute, shows that there is a need for it. I think it's worth at this point turning to people who are really experts in marketing to diverse populations.
Becky: My name is Becky Arreaga. I am one of the partner and founders of the multicultural marketing agency called Mercury Mambo.
Ana: Mercury Mambo is a small agency in Austin, Texas. And they work with influencers in the Hispanic market that they connect with different brands.
Becky: Have been around for…going on 19 years working with great brands helping them find their authentic voice with this multicultural consumer.
Ana: And a few years ago, they started working with the Outdoor Industry Association on a study on diversity. So we went and reached out to Becky Arreaga at Mercury Mambo for her thoughts on this issue.
Becky: What they found was that Hispanics, in particular, are one of the fastest growing participants in outdoor activities. And as part of that study, we have then kind of gone on and helped really quantify it. So what you'll see in the report that comes out in the spring is a deep dive in terms of why Latinos participate. What are some of the obstacles to participation? What are some of the key activities that they find compelling, and why are those so compelling?
Ana: Can you give us a little bit of a preview of some of those findings?
Becky: Sure. I mean, the report is gonna be super, super comprehensive. So there's lots of different things that we touch on. One of the trends that we're seeing is definitely more people venturing out for health reasons, because there's obesity that's definitely a problem in our community. But, you know, we've seen enough science and research to say going outdoors, walking, hiking, those are all good things for not only obesity but heart health. So health becomes a primary concern, which is, you know, a great reason for any of us to get outdoors.
But I think kinda the most significant finding is that the reasons are Latinos are going outdoors is just a little bit different than in the general market.
Ana: One of the really interesting things I think is this familial approach to the outdoors, meaning that they like to do things in groups. They're very family-oriented. And even the way that they approach the outdoors is family-oriented.
Becky: Hiking and running are, you know, two of the top activities. And also seeing, you know, interesting camping. And, you know, again, I think that goes to kind of the…we can camp as a family and starting to have those family experiences.
Fishing, whether it would be saltwater or freshwater is high, indexing high, as well as biking. So road biking and mountain biking are in the top five, I'd say.
Ana: These are all different kinds of things that you would not likely do on your own. You're doing it with people you love. You're doing it with your kids. And they’re also things that you can even bring grandparents along too, which is a huge part of the Latino culture.
Mark: And I think that ties into what Becky was telling us about, the marketer's representation of the participants.
Becky: I think extending the invitation is always…you know, that's gonna be the first step, so how they extend it in an authentic way. So that's gonna go to kind of your media selection and your creative representation, you know, instead of just showing one biker show, you know, maybe a multigenerational group of bikers. That's gonna be kind of the first step.
And I think the second step from, you know, media perspective is that there's some really great ways to target this segment. And I would say your digital strategy is a great place to start, because Hispanics by nature of our index in social media, Facebook, for example, is one of the key places for not only staying in touch with family and community, but also that's where they get their news. So Facebook ad campaigns are great. Digital campaigns, digital advertising are also some great mediums to reach this segment.
Mark: How about the celebrity element? This seems to be something that's pretty unique.
Ana: Oh, Latinos love their celebrity culture. I mean, they really do. They are a huge connoisseurs of celebrity culture. And it plays a huge role in how they relate to your brand if you choose a celebrity that connects with them.
I mean, look what happened recently with Visit Florida. They had Pitbull, you know, whom a lot of people might think was controversial. But they did it because he's synonymous with a huge group of the population in Florida. And Latinos understand him. They know who he is. And they feel like he's one of them. And that feeling of being one of them is, I think, what resonates the most. And when you're trying to make people feel welcome, then that is key. It's really key to the conversation.
Mark: That's interesting. So you worked at "Latino Magazine" at one point.
Mark: Did you talk about the outdoors much, or was there any kind of an element of that?
Ana: You know, it's so funny because, at the time, I think that one of the sections that I was responsible for in the magazine was the health and fitness section. And it was always such an afterthought. Like, of all the things that that magazine focused on, health and fitness was really not top of the list.
I mean, they were also reaching a very young, early millennial woman at the time, I mean, probably before the term millennial was even around. But at the same time, again, it's just the culture that doesn't sort of see health, fitness, and the outdoors the way that perhaps the general market has seen it. And there's so many things that play a part in that.
Mark: One of the things that I have seen in the outdoor industry, I feel like climbing is one of those areas that celebrity culture is really powerful. I've seen these kids they just follow. And they're not people that have necessarily been around for a long time. You'll see kids that are 13 years old that just pop on to the scene and become real kind of stars inside of this little niche. You know, as a marketer, I think I would be looking for people like that.
Ana: It is, because I think that there's a sense of you've kind of entered into a special club, you know? I mean, climbing is a very specific sport, because it's considered one of the more adventurous, challenging things that you could take on in the outdoors. So you become sort of a member of the club, no matter what. But then when you throw in an uber athlete or a celebrity name, somebody that you really know and love and who you feel really represents you, then you suddenly feel like you're not only joining a club, but you're joining their club.
And for Latinos, it may not be climbing. It may just be, frankly, encouraging people to try out a state park on a Saturday for, you know, an afternoon or so. I mean, we don't have to do everything all at once, who can take baby steps to just kind of make this community feel a little bit more included in that environment.
Becky: You know, they wanna hear from their peers and from people just like them. So one of the things that we've done to address that is we put together what we call the Outdoor Influencers Network. And this is a network of socially active Latino influencers that are out there biking and camping and mom bloggers that, you know, love taking their family on picnics. And even a picnic is an outdoor experience for our consumers.
So what we are doing as an agency is creating these network of influencers so that when brands are looking for, again, that authentic voice, we've got the connections to help them do that. So, you know, we're always looking for outdoor enthusiasts, but also just people that enjoy the outdoors. You don't necessarily have to be a ultra-marathon runner, you know, to be considered an influencer in our segment.
Ana: What are some of the ones that you think are doing a really good job of that?
Becky: Yeah. I think there's a brand called Poler, P-O-L-E-R, that's doing it really, really well, a company online store called Huckberry that I just ran across the other day that is kind of spot on, a company called Topo, T-O-P-O, that I have been impressed with. Yeah, and there's, you know, just a whole wealth. There's actually a new company called GetOutfitted. What they do is they will actually rent you. So for people that are new to camping, instead of going out and buying all the gear, you can rent gear packages from them. So if you wanna take your family camping, they'll give you a family tent and sleeping bags and kind of set you up for success, or snow skiing or kind of any of the sports that you may not wanna go to the investment of buying all the gear until you realize that you enjoy it.
I think it's gonna take brands realizing, you know, the world outside of their front door is multicultural and is people of color and kind of venturing out to see those communities because in their day-to-day life, they may not see them. It's a conscious effort to say we've got to spread our arms a little wider and welcome this community.
Mark: We heard from Alicia Hurle from Outdoor Afro, and we talked about safety. We talked about creating groups of people that are like you to help really break down some of the barriers, this idea that you should hire or recruit people that don't necessarily look like you to purposefully make your company or your organization more diverse. And then, of course, there's a historical burden that goes along with especially African-American culture.
So I feel like it's time for marketers to address these diversity issues in the outdoors. And with the Outdoor Industry Association commissioning in-depth research paper basically about diversity in the outdoors, I think at the highest levels of the industry, there is a recognition that this is something that we need to talk about, and we need to get this dialogue beyond the occasional "Gosh, I wish we were more diverse." And it's time to actually start doing something about it.
Ana: It's time to give these communities I think a seat at the table when it comes to the outdoors. I mean, we started this by saying, "Look, the outdoors is for everybody." And it really should be. If there's anything that should be welcoming and unifying rather than divisive, it's the outdoors. I mean, they're there for all of us. So we need to make sure that all of us feel welcome.
Coming up on the next episode of "RootsRated Labs."
Luis: My name is Luis Benitez. And I'm the director for the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry for the state of Colorado.
Mark: You have summited Everest how many times?
Luis: Six times.
Mark: Tell me how does that happen?
Luis: How does that happen? Well, so the first time I went to Everest when I was 28 years old was as a guide for Erik Weihenmayer, the blind climber.
Alicia: We have another Latino, Luis Benitez of Colorado, one of the first states to create an Office of Outdoor Recreation.
Mark: Of course, we talked politics with him, but we also get some really interesting insider information on wilderness legislation, economic policy, and so much more.
Ana: This podcast is brought to you by RootsRated Media. We provide content marketing software and services to outdoor brands, DMOs, and anyone looking to reach active travelers. For more information, visit labs.rootsrated.com.
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Ana: This episode was produced by BJ Smith. Special thanks to our guests Alicia Hurle and Becky Arreaga. I'm Ana Connery.
Mark: And I'm Mark McKnight. Thanks for joining us on RootsRated Labs.
Music for this episode by Podington Bear