CHANGEMAKERS: Chev Dixon Helps Create the Next Generation of Adventurers

Image: Lynda Shenkman

By Shana Cesaire

This past summer, OAFF Community Partner, Level Six, partnered with a unique organization that has created a program focusing on giving underprivileged youth the opportunity to explore outdoor activities and have their own adventures. That program was Hudson River Riders, run by the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club in Yonkers, New York. Level Six teamed up with them to help raise funds with all of the proceeds going to the program to help buy supplies such as boats and paddle boards, as well as take trips away from the city upstate to a lake.

The adventurer behind the idea for this collaboration is the director of Hudson River Riders and Level Six ambassador, Chev Dixon. We caught up with Chev to talk about what inspired him to team up for this raffle and discuss what the youth program means to him.

Hudson River Riders, under a different name at the time, started off as a paddling program in 2003 to introduce new people to kayaking. They offered lessons and instruction to the community for free. Over the years, the program has transitioned to focusing on the youth and educating them on the water and the environment. Chev got involved with the program as a teenager

“I was hanging out by the river one day looking for something to do. I just so happened to meet a guy running the program,” he says.

Image: Lynda Shenkman

“I didn’t even know how to swim back then.”

Chev, who was a recent high school grad at the time, soon fell in love with the water.

“After a week of paddling, I quit my job to become a volunteer.”

In 2016, Chev had a different vision for the program. He suggested that they stray away from the conservative way of doing things and branch out beyond paddling. The president of the organization eventually gave Chev the opportunity to create his own program, hence the program now known as Hudson River Riders.

The program now prides itself on providing recreational access to the Hudson River for underprivileged youth. Not only do these kids get to experience everything the river has to offer, the program also empowers them and urges them to become leaders in their community.

“Paddling is the avenue we use to get kids out there, but the program is not limited to that,” says Chev. “They go out to their community and lead clean-ups. We teach them to understand the issue of rubbish, it’s impact on land and how it ends up in the river. We teach them about the sewage system and the rain-water run-off system in our community.”

“They learn about small things you wouldn’t think about. We’re really teaching them about responsibility. It’s about building awareness and consciousness in people in order to keep our community clean.”

Chev has also started incorporating hiking into the program, and hopes to get more of that happening this winter, as it’s become a favourite of the youth participants.

Image: Craig Moss

This summer’s partnership with Level 6 was inspired by increased awareness of police brutality in North America by Black Lives Matter, triggered by the string of murders of African-Americans such as Georgy Floyd and Breonna Taylor. 

Recognizing that many of the youth who participate in the Hudson River Riders program are black, Chev felt that he needed to do something to help his community. Being an ambassador for Level 6, he thought this would be a good opportunity for the company to give more than a statement.

“I have a platform, and I have a voice in my community,” he says. “I’ve experienced racism in the outdoors and if it was up to a lot of people, I would have never learned anything about the outdoors because people were sometimes rude to me as a kid. 

“I thought I had a responsibility to let Level 6 know ‘I’m an ambassador. What are you going to do? I don’t want you to write a statement. Show me what you’re willing to do.’”

Kevin Cook of Level Six proposed doing a raffle. Chev agreed and it ended up being a great success, raising an amazing $6230 USD for the program.

According to Chev, getting black youth involved with outdoor activities should be a priority. 

“It should be at the top of the list. These kids live in a city they don’t completely know about if they don’t know about the water” he says. 

“It’s by design that black people are not given access to the outdoors.” 

By giving black youth in the city the opportunity to experience outdoor activities, they are being introduced to new possibilities that may end up determining their future.

Image: Lynda Shenkman

“If they start getting interested in trees, they might become naturalists. They found out they’re interested in animals? They might become a vet. They’re keen on the water and everything we put in it? That might be a future chemist in the making.” 

Chev’s final thought is that exposing these children to the outdoors would improve their overall quality of life.

“If they were to be exposed more to the outdoors, the home life of some of these kids and their life in the community would be better,” he says. “Being active outdoors gives peace of mind and cleanses the spirit. It heals you.” 

“Black kids should not be put in concrete jungles where they may become a statistic. They should take up space outside because it belongs to them.”

Image: Craig Moss

Read more about Hudson River Riders here

Check out Chev on Instagram: 

Click here to visit Level Six’s website.

If you liked this story, be sure to check out That’s Wild at OAFF this year – a film about three underserved teenage boys from Atlanta who travel to Colorado to attempt to climb 12,000 ft snow-capped peaks. Watch the trailer here.