Last Saturday, after another one of those weeks where I was reminded of the constant threats to Black life in America, I was done. Exhausted. Emotionally dented. Wondering if spending the next several weeks drunk was a legit coping strategy. That’s when I came across an invitation to a Healing Hike with Outdoor Afro. I love hiking, but I’m not exactly an outdoors woman. I went anyway, and I am so glad I did.
What’s Outdoor Afro? It is an organization, headquartered in Oakland, CA, with volunteers all over the country, that leads outdoor excursions for Black people. It is a social club, a hiking group, a network of Black folks encouraging and supporting each other to get outside and experience nature as a way of taking better care of ourselves, our communities, and our planet. There are local groups in many major cities, with events monthly, if not more often, each planned and lead by a volunteer leader.
For the healing hike, we did an urban excursion, hiking through some of the open space still available in San Francisco, of which there is a surprising amount. There were a lot of hills. A LOT. But there were also plenty of pauses for water and snacks (BYOS: bring your own snacks, is a basic tenet of my life). There were about a dozen of us walking, ranging in age from mid-twenties up to early-sixties and across all kinds of physical fitness levels. One of the Outdoor Afro volunteers was assigned “tail” duty, so even when I was the slowest walker, there was someone with me to chat. That relieved my concern about not “keeping up” with the group, and made being slower just a matter of fact. It really felt like inclusion of people with different skill levels was part of the point.
Wandering under the eucalyptus trees, I talked to fellow hikers from DC, Philly, and Atlanta — it quickly became clear that for many young professionals, this wasn’t just a way to get outside, it was also a way to combat the isolation of being Black, away from home, and working in majority white offices all day. As we walked, we talked. At first about who we were, how many kids we had, but as we got to know each other, we started to heal, and unpack our worries about police brutality, “all lives matter” co-workers, and President Obama’s replacement. Over and over we said:” I’m just so glad to be with us, you know?” The company and the peace of being surrounded by greenery unwound the stress of the week. At the top of the Mt Sutro Open Space Preserve we paused to breathe the foggy air and really think about why we were there. We came out to socialize, surely. But also to remember that nature is always there to welcome us. Black joy exists in the wilderness too.
We wound our way down the far hillside, continuing to find hidden treasures along the way:
At the end, over coffee and fresh fruit from a local farmer’s market, we got Black and nerdy and exchanged book recommendations. I explained Pokémon Go to the uninitiated. We shared the best places to get your braids done. We bought fresh flowers and boarded the bus back to our starting place, winding our separate ways home. We changed the narrative for ourselves that day, for just a little while, and it was perfect.
For more information about Outdoor Afro, and to find a group near you, head to www.OutdoorAfro.com. Hiking with Outdoor Afro was a perfect way to step away from the noise of daily life and get some perspective. It was made doubly specially because I could share it with like-minded folk and we could comfort and sustain each other. I was reminded that parks and open spaces are mine too, and that anytime I want to unplug and unwind, there are people I can go out and share it with. I can always go outside.