Location: Highbanks Metro Park, 9466 Columbus Pike, Lewis center, OH 43035
Tell me about Black Women in Nature.
Black women in nature was started in 2020 (the first year of the pandemic). It was shortly after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the increase in the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of black people were not feeling safe and feeling isolated because of the pandemic. We wanted to create a safe space for black women to feel that they could show up as their full selves to find some sense of calm, healing, and community. We all felt like we gathered that from being in nature. We wanted to provide a space for other black women to come together to experience that as well. Within our sessions we start with meditation, a little bit of gentle yoga, go on a hike; then, end with dialog. Our dialog is connected to a theme. For example, when we started in the fall, we talked about the fall being a season of transition. As the leaves are changing and falling off, we processed the changes we go through as black women and the emotions that come with that. At each gathering, we have a unique theme that we connect to.
In addition. Ivory’s background: she is a yoga instructor and a meditation guide. My background is, I am very passionate about health and wellness. I am a body building competitor. It might not seem like it but …
Sidebar: She said that because she is on the thin side. But let me educate you, there are many different body types that compete in body building competitions.
Where I was going with that is both of us are really passionate about helping black women and specifically the health and wellness aspect. We know all the health disparities. We really try to focus on reconnecting black women in our ancestral roots in the outdoors. Every time we are out in the outdoors, the way that we see it, it is connecting us back to who we are as a people and our appreciation for the land. That is a component of what we experience when we are together. We infuse that in the dialog.
We rotate to various metro parks. We try to be intentional visiting the different metro parks. We will be looking at hitting the different trails in central Ohio. We are really trying to help people connect to the land. We are trying to provide access. That can be a barrier sometimes in the black community.
You mentioned that connection is a part of what you do. Is the group “cliquish?”
Whenever we meet, we ask, “Is this your first time?” We always have at least five new people who are joining us. We get a variety of different people that will come out and join us. That is the beauty of it. You are meeting different people. I don’t know about you; but, I don’t like cliquish stuff. That is not the energy we want. We get new and different people coming into the mix every single time we get together.
We try to be intentional about making space for people to share. One of the activities we do is, “Go talk to someone that you haven’t talked to yet.” We do different things to help people who are new meet someone. We get a lot of positive feedback that people feel connected and welcome. We have not received any feedback about being cliquish.
Is this “big woman” friendly? Sometimes smaller people make larger people feel uncomfortable.
We have had black women from a wide range of ages, body type, experience with hiking or yoga and non-experience with hiking or yoga. I don’t think we have ever walked over 2 miles before. We are being more intentional in communicating the difficulty level of the trail. We give people a heads up on how to dress and what to wear. We have had a wide range of ages from youth to some elders in their seventies join us. I think we do a great job of making this a beginner friendly space for wherever you are on your journey of hiking or yoga. We do about 15 minutes of gentle yoga. As a yoga instructor, I am mindful of the different variation of poses. We are intentional in creating space for people to join us wherever they are on their journey with wellness, hiking and all those pieces.
We are intentional on taking breaks. Sometimes, we are the one leading the session and we need a break. If my back hurts and I need to sit down, I sit down. Ivory was leading sessions at nine months pregnant. We infuse breaks throughout. We pause. Let’s take a moment, collect ourselves. Maybe, we will have a little dialog with each other. We always come together at the end to talk about the experience. We like to sit down at the end and take a breath together. That also invites that pause.
Sometimes people do not identify with who they are. What if a person comes and they believe they are a black woman; but, they are an Asian man or something else? Is it who you are in your heart or do you turn them away?
We have trust with folks. Our group is called Black Women in Nature. We invite gender inclusive and gender expansive folks. Like people who identify as trans or gender fluid, we welcome them into the space. I think people know our intentions for the space. We have not had an experience, where for example, a white man showed up. If someone comes to the space and visibly they look like a white woman, we are hoping that people understand what we mean when we say “black women” but, we understand that visibly people can show up and have lighter skin and still identify as black woman. We welcome you into the space. We can tell if people are not honoring the space and being disruptive and disrespectful. We would address it in that situation. We know that people may physically look different than their racial makeup.
When we designed Black Women in Nature, we were very intentional. If you look at the racial gap in the outdoors, it is huge. If you look at the historical context, we have not always felt safe in the outdoors. That is just the black experience. To your point Ivory, if someone comes to the space and visibly they don’t appear to be, I can’t assume. We have to be careful in making assumptions. Now, if one of our members or participants were to come and voice a concern, then we would have to look at that and address it. We have yet to have that situation arise. We don’t apologize for it. We are very intentional about making sure that people understand that this is a safe place for black women and it is by design.
How do women find out about your events?
The two best ways are: our Instagram and Facebook page. We have had Instagram the longest. We just launched our Facebook page. Anytime we have an event we post there. We encourage everyone to check it out. For those who have attended events in the past, we send out email periodically. Following us on social media is the best way to find out about upcoming events for Black Women in Nature.
Is there a fee?
All of our regular meet ups are donation based. People can pay what they can. We also host retreats. The price of the retreats depends on what is being offered. We try to be mindful of making this available to our community. Those are a case by case depending on the situation.
Is there a suggested donation?
We haven’t stated a suggested amount. We recognize that people are in different spaces financially. That should not keep people from being able to experience the sessions and wellness. That is why we make it donation based. At this point, we don’t have a suggested donation, pay what you can.
We want to create sustainability for Black Women in Nature. We are looking at grants and merchandise. That is what we are thinking about in being able to offer these donation based meetups.
Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you think I should have asked you? If so, go ahead and answer that question.
This is a welcoming space for black women. One of the things that is moving for us is, at the end of the session, someone always says, “I have been looking for something like this. I have always been the only one in these nature/environmental groups. I have done it because I love it; but, this brings a new experience to be with other black women who also understand the complexities of my experience as a black person.” It is heart warming and it reminds us why this is important. It keeps us motivated.
If you identify as a black woman and you have a desire for sisterhood, to explore nature, come out and join us at a meetup. Take a chance. For some black women, there could be reservations about being in nature alone. We have found through conversations with our participants that to be a barrier for many black women.
Sidebar: I think it is great that they recognize and have created a space to address the safety reservation. I personally don’t walk, ride, skate, etc. on secluded trails alone.
We provide that safe space for women to come together to take up space in the outdoors. It is interesting. Every time we come together, you should see the looks that we get. In part, it is probably because people can’t believe that we have a group of twenty something black women out here enjoying nature peacefully as sisters. That is what we are about. We encourage anyone who has a desire or is curious, to come out and join us. I guarantee that you will walk away with an amazing experience and new sisters as well.
My take on Black Women in Nature:
I loooooovvved it! I didn’t observe anything cliquish about this group. This is the first time that I handed someone (AJ Jones) one of my cameras to take a picture of me participating in an event. I enjoyed the time allocated to walk and talk with other participants in general and the suggested focus conversation in groups of two or three. This is a group that I plan to join in nature in the future.