Shelton Johnson was born in Detroit in 1958 of African-American and Native-American parents. While living in Germany, where his father was stationed in the Army, Shelton, at five years of age, went on a family vacation to Germany's Bavarian Alps, and that experience in nature became his primary influence in developing his awe for mountains and the sky.
He began his career in Yellowstone National Park in 1987. and was featured in numerous parts of the Ken Burns documentary miniseries The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, originally broadcast on PBS in 2009. Shelton became the the "unexpected star" of the series and he attended a preview of the film at the White House that day, where he discussed the documentary with President Barack Obama.
He is an advocate for bringing minorities, particularly African-Americans, to the National Parks and connecting them to the natural world. He claims that "one of the great losses to African culture from slavery was the loss of kinship with the earth".
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