Four Months Ago – Or Was It Last Weekend?

By: Nkrumah Frazier, Outdoor Afro Leader, South Mississippi

It’s hard to believe that it has been 4 months since I spent 4 days on a mountain with a group of strangers. On Friday, April 19th 2013 a team of African American nature enthusiasts converged on a California mountain overlooking the town of Lucerne, CA and Clear Lake for a weekend of fellowship, conversation, learning and above all sharing and expanding a common passion of reconnecting to the outdoors.  This was the first ever Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (OALT) event. This is but one version of events (far from all inclusive) that happened that weekend.
My story began in Mississippi as I prepared to depart my home and my family behind. This was only the 2nd time in my 10 years of marriage that I was apart from my wife; Chelsea, for more than a day. To say that it was emotional and exciting would be a gross understatement. On the morning of April 18th I arrived at the Gulfport International Airport in Gulport, MS with my wife at my side. The excitement had already begun to build. We said our “goodbyes”, parted ways and soon after I was in the air on my way into the unknown.  I was on my way to meet 17 total strangers (all members of the OALT) with whom I was to spend the next few days of my life.
I got off an airplane at San Francisco International Airport on Thursday April 18 and soon was in the company of a total stranger (fellow OA leader Tan Scarborough) from Memphis, TN waiting to be picked up by our gracious host, and Outdoor Afro founder Ms. Rue Mapp.  I suppose you can call us all a bit crazy because in this day and age it’s true that you should never get into a vehicle with someone that you “really” don’t know, but that is exactly what happened. Three “strangers” ended up in a car in San Francisco headed to Oakland, California. However after only a minute or two we were laughing as if we were old friends that hadn’t seen each other in years sharing stories of “the good old days”. This immediate sense of friendship and camaraderie was a bit of foreshadowing for the entire weekend of activities.
Typical BirdersRue graciously invited Tan Scarborough and me into her home and offered us a place to sleep. Her sister also opened her home to an OALT member in support of Rue’s efforts. The following morning I woke up read my bible, prayed and took a few minutes to walk around outside and breathe in the cool crisp California air before everyone else began to stir in the house.  As with most households with young children getting the kids off to school was a chore.  I was relieved to see that my new friend had just as much difficulty managing young independently thinking children as I do in my own home.
Amidst all the morning commotion a very comical exchange took place between Rue and me. When the subject of breakfast came up Rue asked if I ate grits. I am a black man from south Mississippi; likely one of the very first places that grits were ever eaten and still one of the strongholds of “grit eaters” in this mighty nation. All I could do was give her my side ways glare of disbelief. In my opinion a more appropriate question would have been “What would you like with your grits?” but I digress. I was honestly and pleasantly surprised that she had grits in her kitchen!
That day; with several cars and 17 Outdoor Afros in tow, we traveled from Oakland, California through Napa Valley to the city of Lucerne on the shores of Clear Lake (the largest natural lake in California). From there we drove 5 miles up a mountain and eventually converged on our weekend destination at the Precious Forest Retreat. 17 Outdoor Afros; mostly strangers, arrived at Precious Forest and after only a few minutes of conversations, laughter and playful banter began to spring up. Most of the Outdoor Afros had never met any of the other team members aside from those in the San Francisco Bay area.
Home away from homeThis leadership training event was designed to be thought provoking, engaging and inspiring. All of the planned conversations, activities and presentations did just that.  We learned about how various organizations lead their outdoor programs.  Organizations like REI and The Sierra Club talked with us about the way that their organizations have engaged their respective communities and how/why their approaches changed over the years. Caroleigh Van Pelt Pierce; A representative from Klean Kanteen, stopped by to talk with us about their attempts to spearhead a movement to reduce pollution in the world, by reducing the use of plastic water bottles.
Individuals like Carolyn Finney, Nina Roberts and Raphael Allen shared their experiences, heartaches and the joyous moments of being an African American (and in many instances the only African American) working in a field related to the natural world.  These individuals were inspiring and enlightening but most of all revealed to me that my struggles as an African American were shared by others in other parts of the country. Admittedly my perspective was a bit skewed having lived my entire life in south Mississippi where racism has an uglier history than many other parts of the country.
A young lady by the name of Danielle Moodie-Mills came and spent the weekend with us to talk about community and civic engagement. Despite being completely out of her element on the side of a mountain with limited luxuries Ms. Moodie-Mills ingratiated herself with the group so much that I initially thought that she was one of the Outdoor Afro leaders. I later learned that she would be a pivotal key to our talks and engagement over the course of the weekend. Ms. Moodie-Mills talked with us about her experiences as a teacher and as a Washington lobbyist. She gave us “assignments” and too little time to complete them (for which I am still a bit bitter because as I was attempting to explain to her that weekend….You can’t rush greatness!) in an attempt to make us practice responding to difficult questions and situations in a positive yet engaging manner.
round table conversations
We came from all over the United States with very different backgrounds yet we all shared the same passion for the outdoors, and we all want to share that passion with others. This passion was the binding force behind the entire weekend. We all knew that everyone at the retreat was there for the same purpose. Over the course of the entire weekend there was no negativity. It felt wonderful to be among such a diverse group of African American professionals. As I reflect upon this experience I draw from the strength, experiences and positivity that was shared by all on the side of that California mountain. I look forward to leading many Outdoor Afro events here in south Mississippi.
OALT 2013