Last week, Outdoor Afro had a chance to chat with Audrey Peterman, author, motivational speaker, and founding organizer of the monumental Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia last September.
Here is the first of two parts of our delightful interview:
Rue: In the past several years you have cultivated a life where your interaction with natural spaces is a part of who you are. How did this happen?
Audrey: In a sense, it’s about returning to my roots. I grew up in the country in Jamaica, sitting on the banks of a stream in the woods to do my homework, walking miles with other children and adults to collect wood for cooking fires. So I always had an appreciation the wonders of nature, and the interconnectedness of things.
When I moved to New York with my 7-year-old daughter, Lisa, I still sought that contact with the natural world, organizing picnics in the local parks. Bear Mountain in upstate New York was my favorite. The really big reconnection came after I moved to Florida, met and married Frank, and we took off on the great adventure to “discover America.” We found so much more than we could have anticipated, and the grandeur of the scenery really impressed itself upon my heart – made me feel as if I was literally seeing the face of God, his perfection, His purity, His incomprehensible size. Some of the natural formations in the parks, like the Grand Tetons, are so high the tips are often covered with clouds, and the bulk is like a solid wall extending for miles. Acres of wildflowers of every color and description explode in the valley at their feet. I tell you, you can’t get tired from seeing so much beauty.
I take those experiences with me everywhere I go, and I see the face of God in the trees, in the skies, in the people. I am not thinking about the past, I am not thinking about the future. I am just in silent communion with God in the greatness of His creation – NOW.
Rue: You created the Breaking the Color Barrier Conference — What was your most surprising moment during the conference, and how have you been able to continue to hold the space for participants and the momentum it created.
Audrey: The most surprising thing to me was to see some of the leaders of the public land management system so awed by the intensity and passion that all the participants brought to the table, and the fact that there are so many people of color are involved with the outdoors in so many different ways. It just boggled my mind because we’d been doing this work for 14 years, and Iantha (Gantt-Wright) had connected people of color together with the public land managers and conservation groups in multiple conferences since the late 1990s. So how could these managers still be shocked to see the reality of it? I think that illustrates the essential problem: that we have eyes in power that will not see. And even though policy makers, corporations, and other organizers are exposed to the needs and opportunities for greater diversity in the outdoors, it still feels like progress is still very slow coming.
How have I been able to hold that space? I often remind myself – and my friends – that the Earth is rotating on its axis, pulling the moon behind it, hurtling through space. The same power that holds the cosmos in place, that created the Grand Tetons, also created me. So I just try to keep in harmony with that power and keep my vision clear with what we are trying to accomplish – a movement of people who consciously love and respect the Earth as our life support system, treasure it and see ourselves as part of one interdependent whole.
Read Part Two