If your idea of camping is putting up a tent, sitting outside by a fire, finding a place to relieve yourself in the woods, hot, sweaty and predominately White, you need to head to Hutchinson, KS this week. That’s where the owners of nearly 700 high-end recreational vehicles have brought their rigs for the National African American RV Associations Annual Rally. The rally, based at the Kansas State Fairgrounds, began July 15 and runs through July 23.
You’ve probably seen the kind of vehicles we’re talking about. These 35’ to 40’ long mammoths driving down the highway. They’re self-contained units with bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and pretty much all of the luxuries of home. You’ve probably guess these jewels cost a pretty penny. However, what you probably didn’t know is that there a great number of African American RVers.
Well maybe their numbers aren’t that big compared to the general population. While African Americans make up 13% of the country’s population, according to a 2014 report by the Outdoor Foundation, they make up just 4% of campers. This “rarity” factor was a large part of the motivation behind forming the NAARVA in 1993.
Lemuel Horton, NAARVA president, told the Orlando Sentinel, he became interested in camping nearly five decades ago. At that time, it wasn’t easy to find campgrounds that would accept Black travelers. While times have changed, Horton says it’s still a challenge to find other Black campers during their regular travels. However, at NAARVA rallies, you’re among family and friends.
NAARVA was just an idea, until 1992, when the members of five RV clubs came together in Ohio. That year, the rally attracted 51 rigs, and the organizers knew they were on to something. The second year there were 87 rigs at a gathering in Michigan, but by 1997 – just four years later – the rally had grown to 400 rigs.
Based on their growing membership, in 2000 the association organized into four districts – South, East, West and Central – and local chapters continued to form. So campers now had three levels to connect: with their local chapter and their region’s annual spring rally. However the big draw remains the annual national rally.
Each year the national rally is held in a different region, and this year was the central region’s turn. They chose Hutchinson mostly because the fairgrounds was one of the few facilities large enough to accommodate the group. Typically, a local or nearby chapter plays host for the rally, but the nearest chapter, the MO/Kan Roadrunners, is based in Kansas City KS and Kansas City, MO. However a new chapter, the Wichita North-end High Rollers will get their charter during the Hutchinson rally. Both groups and other central region chapters and officers planned a spirit filled, family friendly convention that the RVers should be talking about for years.
Of course the rallies have a cultural flavor. There’s a bid-whist contest, skating, bowling, a trip to the casino, blues and jazz night, and a Sunday closing worship service. Each morning campers can join in a fitness walk and there are a number of field trips planned, including one to the Kansas Cosmposphere.
There is a wide selection and variety of optional seminars and workshops planned, for adults and children. There are craft classes for adults and youth, seminars on health and on taking care of your RV, just to name a few. This rally offers days of fun and relaxation, among friends with a similar interest.
But what people agree is the most fun, year-over-year, are the friendships that are made.
“You develop friendships with people all around the U.S.,” said Horton.
“You meet great people. It’s like your second family,” Dr. Sid Hobbs told the Sentinel.
Although some early arrivers rolled in as early as July 16, the rally’s official opening Wednesday evening included an opening ceremony, parade and reception.
The week will close out Saturday, with a Grand Gala Dinner and the next day campers will gather for a Sunday morning worship service before they bid their friends farewell, and hit the road for their trip back home.