Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú: Final Report

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On Sunday September 16th, Fresh Tracks completed its fourth regional training of 2018. Over three days in the sun-drenched sacred spaces of Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, we used cultural sharing, leadership development, and outdoor exploration to see ourselves and each other - and the future - with new perspective, new hope, and new ideas for action.  

We are grateful to our supporters and partners whose investment in Fresh Tracks is enabling us to build a platform for positive social change driven by - and for - young leaders in communities across the country.  

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The Southwest and Intermountain training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico brought together young leaders from urban, rural, and tribal communities in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. The Native participants represented a diverse range of tribes, including the Cherokee, Crow, Colville, Coeur D’Alene, Muscogee Creek, Navajo, Nez Perce, Northern Cheyenne, Salt River Pima Maricopa, and White Mountain Apache nations.

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Together, as staff, trainers, and participants, we used interactive workshops and the natural environment to work across cultures toward three core Fresh Tracks outcomes that have become part of the program DNA: cultural excellence, interpersonal leadership, and civic engagement - all tools to empower young leaders to transform hopes and dreams for a better world into concrete plans for community action.

You’re using the outdoors to reflect on who you are as people, develop your leadership, and create change. And that’s powerful.
— Kristen Ragain, Philanthropy & Community Partnerships Manager at REI

On Friday, Fresh Tracks staff, participants, and trainers gathered in Albuquerque before driving north to Abiquiu. There, we took time to recognize the Indigenous people who lived on the land long before Ghost Ranch was built and began forming the community that would become a family over the weekend.

 Kristen Ragain of REI signs the Fresh Tracks Community Contract on the first day of the regional training in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

Kristen Ragain of REI signs the Fresh Tracks Community Contract on the first day of the regional training in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

The heart of the regional training took place on Saturday. At Ghost Ranch, we were honored to welcome Kristen Ragain, Philanthropy & Community Partnerships Manager at REI, who affirmed the critical need for a youth movement fueled by a desire to drive positive social change and shared how finding the outdoors on her own terms propelled her to a career that resonated with her values. She also highlighted REI’s Force of Nature initiative, which empowers women  to explore experiences and careers in the outdoors. For the participants, Kristen’s message reinforced a Fresh Tracks tenet: the outdoors is a platform where people of all cultures and backgrounds can unite around common goals.  

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During the three-day training, Fresh Tracks participants explored several essential components of leadership including personal narrative, leadership styles,  civic engagement, and community organizing. One word packed with power became a rally point for Fresh Tracks: disruption. Fresh Tracks Evaluator Dr. Sharoni Little of the Strategist Company and the USC Marshall School of Business  began her implicit bias training session with a discussion of what it means to disrupt systems of inequity in our work and communities.

Dr. Little then asked participants to share how they would work to disrupt bias back in their communities. The answers were varied, but all inspiring:

Create more unity. Be an ally. Speak up when I hear something wrong. Hold people accountable for their words. Stand up to racism. Support other people’s causes. Remind myself that I’m only seeing 10% of someone. Don’t assume privilege. Be a local advocate. Have hard conversations with people. Raise strong children.

These responses point to the action behind the Fresh Tracks outcomes. By challenging the status quo and pushing back against bias, the participants have the power to collectively disrupt not just bias, but entire systems of inequity.

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The Fresh Tracks participants left Ghost Ranch with plans to do much more than disrupt implicit bias. On the final day of the training, they unveiled action plans for programs, campaigns, and coalitions that could become vehicles for true change in their communities. Here are several of the community action plans presented to a mock panel of philanthropists and policymakers:

Environmental Science Summer Program

This summer program would provide high school students with classes, labs, and excursions to help them connect to and prepare for college. Tribal leaders and other mentors would lead workshops focused on building relationships with the land and developing life skills, including study skills and financial budgeting.

High School Mentor Program

By partnering  with universities, banks, transportation services, and local businesses, the High School Mentor Program would address a need for tools to help high school students learn about higher education. Volunteers would gain leadership experience by helping high school seniors transition to college, giving mentees opportunities to develop important skills (e.g. resume writing and interviewing) while working with local governments to improve access to transportation (a barrier to education for many young people).  

Affordable Regalia for Native Women

Wearing traditional clothing and regalia often helps Native women feel more connected to their cultures. However, traditional regalia can be prohibitively expensive. This cause-driven enterprise would engage Native artists to design apparel that would allow Native women to express themselves through culturally-meaningful clothing.

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#Don’tDefineUs

The concept for this powerful social media campaign was rooted in pervasive misconceptions about people from communities of color: that Native people still live in tipis, or that youth on Chicago’s southside are apathetic about addressing violence and substance abuse. Coordinated social media outreach would confront these stereotypes and start a broader conversation about the importance of cultural awareness.

Campus Coalition to Restore Connection to the Land

The vision for this project is a coalition of students devoted to building stronger connections to the land. Tactics include beautifying campuses and creating space for native plants and herbs to grow; bringing back oral traditions; and giving campus communities opportunities to learn about native plants and the history of the land on which campuses were built.

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The Fresh Tracks regional training at Ghost Ranch concluded with a closing ceremony that underscored another Fresh Tracks tenet: we are all in this together. Every participant and trainer is now part of a national network of like-minded leaders with real plans to bring real change to their communities. While the training may be over, their Fresh Tracks journeys have just begun.

Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú: Day 3

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The Fresh Tracks Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch is complete, but for participants, trainers, and staff, the journey has just begun. The young leaders who came to Abiquiu, New Mexico have new skills to implement community action plans - and many may return to help lead future Fresh Tracks trainings.

We’re invested for you for a lifetime. We are here to support you. The future is up to you.
— Juan Martinez, Vice President, Children & Nature Network

Thank you again to our supporters and partners who make every Fresh Tracks training possible, to our guest speakers for sharing their time and wisdom, to the trainers for bringing their positive energy, and to the participants who represent so much hope for the future. You are all part of the Fresh Tracks family.

Stay tuned for a full report on the final training of 2018!

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Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú: Day 2

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Day two of the Fresh Tracks training at Ghost Ranch began with a morning hike to Chimney Rock and ended with a celebration of culture and community around a campfire. The time in between was a shared journey to leadership marked by words of wisdom, self discovery, laughter, reflection, and joy.

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In the morning session, Kristen Ragain, Philanthropy & Community Partnerships Manager at REI, saluted the Fresh Tracks participants for “using the outdoors as a platform to learn about yourselves and to create change” and talked about the work REI is doing nationally to build more on-ramps to the outdoors for all people. Her closing note included three pieces of advice: Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. And get outside as much as you can. Thank you to Kristen for spending the weekend with us in New Mexico and to REI for being a generous, long-time supporter of Fresh Tracks.

We’re all from different places. We all have different upbringings. Despite all the differences, we all have something in common: intention. A fire and a desire to create change - to make our families proud. Don’t let anybody put that fire out. Help each other grow. We have your back.
— Nikki Pitre, Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute

After working to develop their personal narratives and understand their “Leadership IQs”, Fresh Tracks moved to the low ropes course, where participants worked together on a series of challenges requiring teamwork, communication, patience, and humor. Debriefs after each challenge highlighted the connection between the morning workshops and the ropes course as the groups recognized how a blend of different leaderships styles is essential to group success - how drivers, relationship masters, architects, and motivators all play a role.

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As night fell and the stars peeked through the light clouds, Fresh Tracks hiked up the hill to a campfire, still energized from the Implicit Bias workshop led by Dr. Sharoni Little of the Strategist Company and the USC Marshall School of Business (and Fresh Tracks’ Evaluator). Around the fire, participants shared stories, poems, games, and heirlooms passed through generations, each carrying a powerful story of tradition, reverence, and connection to the land.

The only thing with the power to follow an experience like that around a fire - s’mores.

Check back soon for a report on Day 3!


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Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú: Day 1

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Fresh Tracks arrived in New Mexico with a cohort of young leaders from all across the Southwest and Intermountain regions. We’re grateful to be at the gorgeous Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, where our opening program was lit by a magnificent setting sun. For the next two days, against the backdrop of red cliffs and blue skies, we’ll build a community through cultural sharing, leadership development, and outdoor exploration.

 Bob Mosher, Outdoor Programs and Experiences Coordinator for REI passes out water bottles for the Fresh Tracks participants.

Bob Mosher, Outdoor Programs and Experiences Coordinator for REI passes out water bottles for the Fresh Tracks participants.

Our adventure began in Albuquerque, where Fresh Tracks was greeted by Bob Mosher, Outdoor Programs and Experiences Coordinator for REI in New Mexico. Bob spoke about the importance of empowering everyone to enjoy our public lands, encouraged the participants to learn more about stewardship opportunities in local communities, and passed out water bottles for the Fresh Tracks crew - just the latest gift in a legacy of support from REI.

After dinner in the Ghost Ranch dining hall, Fresh Tracks moved to Chimney Rock for an orientation and icebreaker, capped by the creation of a community contract, signed by all present. The terms of the contract will set the tone for the training: positivity, respect, laughter, generosity, inclusive language, challenge by choice, and open mindedness.

 Fresh Tracks participants sign the community contract on the first day of the Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

Fresh Tracks participants sign the community contract on the first day of the Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

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Back inside after sunset, Fresh Tracks co-Founders Juan Martinez and Martin LeBlanc welcomed the group, shared a brief history of the program, and introduced Kristen Ragain, Philanthropy & Community Partnerships Manager at REI, who will be speaking to the participants Saturday. Erik Stegman, the Executive Director of the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute, expressed his excitement to “learn about you and what you can do for your communities.” Finally, Sarah Milligan-Toffler, Executive Director of the Children & Nature Network, a lead partner for Fresh Tracks, shared her personal connection to the outdoors and encouraged the participants to “embrace the moment.”

Stay tuned for more updates from beautiful New Mexico!

Sharing Cultures, Igniting Futures in Indiana

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Since early June, Fresh Tracks has impacted three diverse cohorts of aspiring and accomplished youth leaders representing urban, rural, and tribal communities in all regions of the United States.

That momentum continued over the weekend of August 10-12 at the Dunes Learning Center in the heart of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The third Fresh Tracks Training of 2018 brought together young adults from states and tribal nations all over the Midwest. 

States Represented: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, and Ohio 

Tribal Nations: Fort Berthold, Cheyenne River, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Navajo, Sicangu Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Gros Ventre, White Earth Ojibwe, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe, Standing Rock Sioux, Crow, Menominee

We are grateful for the generosity of our sponsors - Walmart Foundation, REI, Casey Family Programs, and the Newman’s Own Foundation - who are investing in the next generation of leaders and to our partners  - the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance at the Obama Foundation, and Opportunity Youth United - who collectively provide essential support on programming, recruiting, and strategy.

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 These sponsors and partners have made it possible to hold three regional training programs in 2018. And we are now recruiting participants for our fourth experience of the year, the Southwest and Intermountain Training in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

Exploring cultures together

The spirit of cultural sharing began at a pre-training gathering in Chicago, where CNAY Champion for Change and Fresh Tracks Trainer Anthony Tamez (Wuskwi Sipihk First Nations Cree/Sicangu Lakota/Black) hosted a welcome feast at the Chicago American Indian Center for staff and fellow trainers. Later, at the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve, urban, rural, and tribal youth paddled Herrick Lake and explored the outdoors together after being welcomed by a hand drum song from members of the Chi-Nations Youth Council.

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At a Cultural Share on Saturday evening, the participants shared meaningful aspects of their cultures, from jewelry, beadwork, Mexican ‘dulce’ candies, and weaving to spoken word poetry and a strategic plan presentation by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Youth Council that would set the tone for an inspiring session on the final day.

TURNING PLANS INTO ACTION

Fresh Tracks does not just train young adults to be leaders. Fresh Tracks gives young leaders the support they need to transform their dreams of change into action.  On Sunday afternoon, near the conclusion of the Midwest Training, the participants gathered together in Action Teams to pitch projects they had developed to a mock panel of city council members.

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 For the participants, it was an opportunity to practice the real-world process of persuasion. What does it take to convince decision makers that an idea meets the political, financial, and logistical criteria to to actually get implemented?

One-by-one, each group addressed the panel, which heard a variety of proposals. True to the Fresh Tracks spirit, most Actions Teams were made up of both Native and non Native youth, bringing cross-cultural influences to each project, including: 

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  • A program that connects youth to the outdoors through gardening, develops math and science skills, models the importance of self care, and generates operating revenue from the sale of harvested fruits and vegetables.

 

  • A leadership camp to help Native American youth experience nature - physically and spiritually - as a way to give them purpose, exposure to the outdoors through hiking, camping, and fishing, and the means to bring nature back to the city by creating gardens and other urban outdoor spaces.

 

  • A school-based program to engage experts to develop environmental education curriculum in partnership with other community organizations. The premise: nature-based learning reduces stress levels and school violence and helps researchers expand the knowledge base about the alternative approaches to education - a community benefit for all.

 

  • An anthology of stories and essays by young indigenous writers that would be relevant for communities of color and educational for non-Native audiences. The CNAY Movement Builders Fellows who pitched the project noted that they have actually raised enough funding to cover the the costs of a small printing and to produce an ebook that will be downloadable on a suggested donation basis.

The panel responded with questions the Fresh Tracks participants might expect to hear in a public proceeding. How will this benefit the community? What is the source of your funding? Which community groups have pledged support for your project? The panel also pushed each group to consider critical points - from the strategic value of matching grants to the importance of using the language of the entities they were petitioning.

ON TO ABIQUIU

As the participants in the Midwest Training at the Dunes Learning Center return to their communities equipped with new skills,  knowledge, and connections to fuel their plans for action, Fresh Tracks is preparing for the fourth regional training of 2018 - in Abiquiú, New Mexico. Thank you to all of the sponsors and partners who are making these experiences possible.

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Midwest Training at Dunes Learning Center in Indiana: Final Day

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Fresh Tracks is not just about training young adults to be leaders. It’s about preparing leaders to take action in their home communities. That was the core message in a final-day session on community organizing led by  Fresh Tracks Trainers James King, Jr., Christie Wildcat, and Trenton Casillas-Bakeberg.

You can’t have community organizing without community.
— James King, Jr., Fresh Tracks Trainer

Working in action groups, the Fresh Tracks crew broke down the basics of community mapping, asked critical questions about institutions that claim to invest in communities, and explored characteristics of past and present community organizers - from Martin Luther King to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians Youth Council. Several participants also shared their personal visions for community impact.

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Later, the Fresh Tracks Midwest Training returned to the outdoors. Participants engaged in a “trust hike”, in which team members were blindfolded and communication was limited. This prompted them to rely on one another to safely arrive  at their destinations. As participant Michael Charles reflected, the trust hike taught leaders “to slow down when others don’t have what you have.”

The midwest training culminated in an exercise that tied in all the weekend’s lessons about identity, culture, community, and civic engagement. Groups of participants worked together to create a model program or resource that would improve their communities. They pitched their ideas to a mock city council made up of Fresh Tracks staff and leadership, who offered supportive critiques on each idea and approach. Participants walked away with tangible feedback that will help them make strong cases for the changes they’ll work on back home.

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We’re grateful to everyone at the Dunes Learning Center for the hospitality, to the Trainers who embody youth leadership, and to all the participants for their passion, energy, and commitment to improving lives. You’ve all given us great momentum as we prepare for the final Fresh Tracks Regional Training of 2018 - the Southwest and Intermountain Training in Abiquiú, New Mexico (September 14-16).

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Midwest Training at Dunes Learning Center: Day 2

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Cultural sharing. Leadership development. Outdoor exploration. This is what every great Fresh Tracks day is made of. Saturday August 10 - the second day of the Midwest Training at Dunes Learning Center in Indiana - was no exception.

When you leave here don’t let the movement stop. We need to better our families and do right by our people.
— Nikki Pitre, Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute

In the morning, Juan Martinez of the Children & Nature Network and Nikki Pitre of the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute spoke to participants about the driving forces at the heart of Fresh Tracks - building community, addressing systems of inequity, and pushing a movement forward. They each issued a call to action for participants and positioned this weekend as just the beginning of a long-term process to make community change.

Shanice Turner from Opportunity Youth United (OYU) followed with a similar message, sharing OYU’s mission to expand access to opportunities for young people from all backgrounds. OYU’s motto is “nothing about us without us”, so youth are front and center in creating initiatives that address poverty, battle inequity, and improve their communities.  

For Fresh Tracks, pointing out problems - and even identifying solutions - is not enough. Fresh Track is committed to action, and that starts with mobilizing new leaders. With that in mind, two teams of Fresh Tracks Tracks Trainers facilitated interactive sessions focused on enhancing the leaderships skills that participants brought to the training.

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First, Trenton Casillas-Bakeberg and Ajee Witherspoon led an exploration of the power of narratives - both the ones we create and the ones created for us - including the narratives that often misrepresent or exclude indigenous peoples.  Later, Trenton and Ajee were joined by Carina Cisneros and Christie Wildcat, two fellow Fresh Tracks Trainers. Together, they helped the participants learn to recognize their personal leadership styles - and how to work with other people with different styles.

In the evening, after team building activities in the outdoors, Dr. Sharoni Little of the USC Marshall School of Business returned to the theme of personal narrative in an implicit bias workshop. Dr. Little’s session prompted participants to examine their assumptions, explore where they come from, and actively work to disrupt the biases we all have - skills that are critical for building relationships with people from different backgrounds without defaulting to stereotypes.

The night ended with the Culture Exchange. Fresh Tracks participants shared meaningful aspects of their cultures, including clothing, beadwork, weaving, jewelry, songs, poetry (and the stories behind these treasures). The moving Culture Share concluded with a round dance, bringing participants together one last time for the day - but not for the training.

Stay tuned for our recap of Day 3!

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Midwest Training at Dunes Learning Center: Day 1

 Fresh Tracks participants explore the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve by canoe on the first day of the Midwest Regional Training. 

Fresh Tracks participants explore the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve by canoe on the first day of the Midwest Regional Training. 

Since the very first Fresh Tracks program, the outdoors have been an integral part of the experience, an opportunity for people from different cultural communities to connect in beautiful natural settings, to explore beaches, forests, and lakes, and to try new activities together.

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Today we continued that tradition as the third Fresh Tracks regional training of 2018 began with an excursion to the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve outside of Chicago, where participants, staff, and trainers were welcomed by a hand drum song performed by Chi-Nations Youth Council members AJ Pochel and Winfield WoundedEye.

After bonding over pizza, the Fresh Tracks crew explored the lake and woods - some on foot, others by kayak and canoe - as they quickly built a community that will be working side-by-side over the next three days to build cultural competency and interpersonal leadership skills to drive positive change in the places they live. The journey continues at the Dunes Learning Center, in the heart of the Indian Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the most ecologically diverse places in North America.

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Later that evening, Fresh Tracks was greeted by Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of the Dunes Learning Center, home to Fresh Tracks for the coming weekend. Superintendent Labovitz spoke to the participants about growing up in the inner city with no connection to nature. He shared a story about how the simple act of catching a lizard changed his life, hooking him on nature, cultivating a desire to be outside all the time, and setting him on a path that led to a career in the National Park Service spanning more than thirty years (and counting).

That’s the sign of an amazing Fresh Tracks day - cultural sharing, outdoor exploration, and pathways to leadership. And we’re just getting started!

Cultural Sharing in Chicago

 Fresh Tracks staff and trainers gather for a feast with friends from the Chicago American Indian Center. 

Fresh Tracks staff and trainers gather for a feast with friends from the Chicago American Indian Center. 

Fresh Tracks is in Chicago! The Midwest Training at the Dunes Learning Center in Indiana officially begins Friday, but the Fresh Tracks team gathered on Thursday at the Chicago American Indian Center, a cultural and community resource for nearly 65,000 American Indians in Chicagoland’s six county region.

Even though this is an occupied urban city, we still have a connection to the land.
— Janie Pochel, Youth Advocate/Advisor for Chi-Nations Youth Council.

Anthony Tamez, a CNAY Champion for Change, Generation Indigenous Ambassador, and Fresh Tracks Trainer, hosted the visit and explained the cultural importance for his family to welcome guests with a feast. After a tour of the medicinal garden and an honor song by Chi-Nations Youth Council Members, the Fresh Tracks crew presented the CAIC with gifts of appreciation, including handmade earrings for Fawn and Janie Pochel, Anthony’s aunties.

 Fresh Tracks Trainer Anthony Tamez leads a tour of the medicinal garden outside the Chicago American Indian Center on the day before the Midwest Training in officially begins. 

Fresh Tracks Trainer Anthony Tamez leads a tour of the medicinal garden outside the Chicago American Indian Center on the day before the Midwest Training in officially begins. 

Fresh Tracks is Coming to Indiana!

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We're one day away from our third regional training of 2018!

Starting Friday, August 10th, a diverse cohort of young leaders from urban, rural, and tribal communities across Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Ohio will spend three days together at the Dunes Learning Center in the heart of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  

The Fresh Tracks agenda includes outdoor exploration at the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve, implicit bias training with Dr. Sharoni Little of the USC Marshall School of Business, team building with staff from the Dunes Learning Center, opportunities to learn from and about other cultural communities, and workshops focused on leadership training. 

As always, check back soon. We'll be sharing stories throughout the training. 

 

 

Fresh Tracks Leaders Unite in Long Beach

 Fresh Tracks participants representing Pacific Coast communities from Los Angeles to Seattle gather on the final day of the West Coast Training in Long Beach. 

Fresh Tracks participants representing Pacific Coast communities from Los Angeles to Seattle gather on the final day of the West Coast Training in Long Beach. 

Over the weekend of July 13-15, a diverse cohort of young adults from urban, rural, and tribal communities located all over the Pacific Coast came together on the campus of California State University, Long Beach for three days of cultural sharing, leadership development, and outdoor exploration.  

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This was the second Fresh Tracks experience of the summer, following the Northeast training outside of Boston in early June. Already this year, Fresh Tracks has given more than 70 young adults a platform to expand their leadership skills. And we’re recruiting more young leaders for upcoming programs in the Midwest (August) and Southwest (September)!

None of this would be possible without the generosity of our sponsors - Walmart Foundation, REI, Casey Family Programs, and the Newman’s Own Foundation - who are investing in the next generation of leaders.

We are also grateful to our partners  - the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance at the Obama Foundation, and Opportunity Youth United - who collectively provide essential support on programming, recruiting, and strategy.

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Fresh Tracks would also like to thank our guest speakers: Jean Lim Flores from REI, Judge Deborah Sanchez, Tribal Councilman Vincent Holguin, and Dr. Sharoni Little, Fresh Tracks Evaluator, CEO of The Strategist Company, and Professor at the USC Marshall School of Business. Thank you also to Carl Carranza of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium for welcoming Fresh Tracks to Cabrillo Beach. 

 

Look to the person to your left. Look to the person to your right. You all belong here. This was not a mistake. And when you leave these doors tomorrow, do not let that be the end. Let it be a stepping stone to support the work that you are going to continue to do.
— Nikki Pitre, Program Manager, the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute
 Fresh Tracks participants bonding outdoors at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, California. 

Fresh Tracks participants bonding outdoors at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, California. 

Cultural sharing, leadership development, and outdoor engagement

After two years of programming, Fresh Tracks remains committed to its core outcomes of cultural competency, civic engagement, and leadership development. Each training brings together young leaders from diverse cultural communities, creating a powerful forum for an exchange of ideas and solutions to drive positive social change in communities across  the United States.

We also continue to use the outdoors as a platform to forge bonds, build trust, and empower leaders, from the Atlantic Coast of Massachusetts to Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, California, where the most recent cohort of Fresh Tracks participants explored the local natural surroundings with educators from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.  

And, we stay true to our promise to be there for participants beyond the training. As long as Fresh Tracks leaders want to move forward with their dreams of community action, we will be there to support them.

Fresh Tracks has changed my life greatly. It helped me see things in myself that I may have felt were there but had not been able to bring out. It made me accept that I am a leader and I do have an impact.
— Cameron Williamson-Martin, Fresh Tracks Trainer
 Fresh Tracks Trainer Cameron Williamson Martin of Los Angeles prepares to lead a workshop on developing Leadership IQ and discovering personal leadership styles. 

Fresh Tracks Trainer Cameron Williamson Martin of Los Angeles prepares to lead a workshop on developing Leadership IQ and discovering personal leadership styles. 

from participant to trainer

Cameron (Cam) Williamson-Martin, from Los Angeles, is living proof of the Fresh Tracks promise. Cam was a participant on the Fresh Tracks pilot expedition in 2016. The opportunities and challenges he experienced during that two-week trip were transformative. Less than a year later, Cam completed a training to become a Fresh Tracks leader. This weekend, he was a core member of the leadership team for the West Coast training in Long Beach, mentoring other young adults just beginning their own Fresh Tracks journeys, leading workshops on Leadership IQ and Community Engagement, and helping to identify the next corps of Fresh Tracks leaders.

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The memory of your people Is in your hearts  

For a Fresh Tracks leader, preparing for a lifetime of impact starts with knowing your own story. The importance of personal narrative was a theme throughout the West Coast Training at Long Beach, and the focus of a workshop led by Fresh Tracks trainers Luz Alejos and Christie Wildcat. The participants also explored how personal narrative is often rooted in their own pasts. Judge Deborah Sanchez, a guest speaker, spoke about how she inherited her dedication to community service from her Chumash, O’odham and Raramuri ancestors. In a moving Culture Share, many of the participants used poetry, song, and storytelling to illustrate how their personal narratives and cultures are tied into their advocacy efforts.

When I listened to Dr. Little’s talk, I realized I had my own biases and that’s not a true reflection of my character. I want to help other people recognize and disrupt their biases too.
— Eldridge Lile Cole, Fresh Tracks Participant
 Judge Deborah Sanchez offered a blessing and acknowledgement of original inhabitants and shared how her community service is rooted in her cultural heritage. 

Judge Deborah Sanchez offered a blessing and acknowledgement of original inhabitants and shared how her community service is rooted in her cultural heritage. 

Culture is a part of how we see ourselves, and how we see others. That was one of the lessons imparted in a powerful session on implicit bias led by Dr. Sharoni Little, Evaluator for Fresh Tracks, CEO of The Strategist Company, and a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business. Pointing to examples from popular culture and her own life, Dr. Little gave the participants new skills to acknowledge and disrupt implicit bias - to avoid determining a person’s abilities based on how they look.

Throughout the West Coast training, the participants worked in Action Teams to develop community action plans. Action plans are facilitated road maps for turning their aspirations for change into real action.   

 Jean Lim Flores tries on a Fresh Tracks hat after talking about inspiring others to love the outdoors through her career with REI in Los Angeles. 

Jean Lim Flores tries on a Fresh Tracks hat after talking about inspiring others to love the outdoors through her career with REI in Los Angeles. 

During the training, the participants also had the opportunity to meet two special guests who have leveraged their aspirations for community impact into careers. On Saturday morning, Jean Lim Flores, Outdoor Programs and Outreach Market Coordinator for REI in Los Angeles, shared how she combined her personal and professional passions by inspiring others to love the outdoors. On Sunday, Vincent Holguin, Tribal Councilman for the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, described his own career path, his decision to go to law school, and his belief that true change often requires a change in leadership.

I am invested in your leadership, as individuals, as movement builders, as champions of change. I am invested in you, in whatever you decide to do.
— Juan Martinez, Vice President, Children & Nature Network

The true power of change starts at home

The Fresh Tracks experience does not end when participants go home. That important note was stressed as a call to action for everyone present. The young leaders who completed the West Coast training departed with new skills and awareness, a network of like-minded peers from cultural communities in several states, and a platform of support offered by Fresh Tracks. The contributions of time, funding, and expertise made by our partners and supporters are investments in these young leaders and their determination to change the trajectory of their lives and their communities forever.

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Fresh Tracks West Coast Training: Final Day

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The final day of the Fresh Tracks West Coast Training in Long Beach is here!

Thank you to Vincent Hoguin, Tribal Councilman for the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, who joined Fresh Tracks to share his own path to leadership and encouraged the participants to push themselves as they pursued their plans for community action. 

With just a few hours left in the training, the participants worked in action team groups to put the finishing touches on their community action plans, which they can begin implementing with ongoing support from Fresh Tracks mentors.  

 Above: Just some of the goals for community change envisioned by the Fresh Tracks participants in the West Coast Training 

Above: Just some of the goals for community change envisioned by the Fresh Tracks participants in the West Coast Training 

Finally, before the Fresh Tracks express rolled out of Long Beach, the participants received certificates of completion, recognizing their hard work over the past three days and their dedication to bringing positive change to their communities. 

Stay tuned for a full report on the Fresh Tracks West Coast Training in Long Beach.

And, for our friends, partners, and aspiring leaders in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, we are now recruiting for our Midwest Training happening August 10-12 at Dunes Learning Center (about an hour from Chicago). 

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Fresh Tracks West Coast Training: Day 2

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It was a day of community building, leadership development, and cultural sharing on the campus of California State University Long Beach, where Fresh Tracks is hosting a regional training for nearly 50 diverse young adults from all over the West Coast. 

 Jean Lim Flores of REI tries on a Fresh Tracks hat after speaking about her career connecting to the outdoors. 

Jean Lim Flores of REI tries on a Fresh Tracks hat after speaking about her career connecting to the outdoors. 

The morning began with a visit from Jean Lim Flores, Outdoor Programs and Outreach Market Coordinator for REI in the Los Angeles region.  Flores spoke to the Fresh Tracks participants about conquering mountains, personally and professionally, about the importance of embracing adventure, and about her passion for inspiring other people to love the outdoors through community engagement. 

After hearing how Jean Flores is making an impact on her community, the Fresh Tracks practiced developing their own personal narratives in a session led by Fresh Tracks trainers Luz Alejos and Christie Wildcat. In another interactive workshop, Fresh Tracks trainers Tyler Campbell, Cameron Williamson-Martin, and Kimberly Contreras helped the participants discover their personal leadership styles and develop strategies to work with people who have different approaches to leadership. 

 Fresh Tracks Trainers Tyler Campbell and Cameron Williamson-Martin team up to lead a workshop on Leadership IQ and developing personal leadership styles. 

Fresh Tracks Trainers Tyler Campbell and Cameron Williamson-Martin team up to lead a workshop on Leadership IQ and developing personal leadership styles. 

 Dr. Sharoni Little leads a discussion on the importance of recognizing, and moving past, implicit bias. 

Dr. Sharoni Little leads a discussion on the importance of recognizing, and moving past, implicit bias. 

Culture was the focus of the second evening of the West Coast training. Dr. Sharoni Little, CEO of The Strategist Company LLC, and a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business, spoke to the Fresh Tracks participants about the importance of acknowledging - and overcoming - implicit bias. Using examples from her own life, Dr. Little showed how we can disrupt implicit bias by recognizing our own strengths and shared that, "One's outward appearance or any other aspect of their identity should not be used to determine their worth. " 

Saturday concluded with a Fresh Tracks tradition, the Culture Share. For more than an
hour, participants and trainers educated, entertained, and moved each other with
poems, songs, greetings, dances, stories, and heirlooms representing cultures from the
Pacific Islands to Somalia to urban and tribal communities across the United States.
The Culture Share powerfully wove together many of the day’s topics,
including personal narrative, leadership style, and implicit bias.

Fresh Tracks West Coast Training: Day 1

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Two years ago, the inaugural Fresh Tracks program brought two cohorts of young leaders to Los Angeles for a cross-cultural leadership journey that culminated a week later in Arctic Alaska.  Now Fresh Tracks is holding regional training programs all across the country. 

On July 13, Fresh Tracks proudly returned to Southern California for the West Coast Training in Long Beach, a three-day experience that began with an afternoon of outdoor exploration at beautiful Cabrillo Beach. 

Against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, more than 45 diverse young leaders representing urban, rural, and tribal communities all over the western United States enjoyed opportunities to bond in the summer sunshine while exploring the natural surroundings with staff from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. 

 

 Aquarium Educator Carl Carranza from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium introduces Fresh Tracks participants to the natural surroundings before leading an excursion to a nearby saltwater marsh. 

Aquarium Educator Carl Carranza from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium introduces Fresh Tracks participants to the natural surroundings before leading an excursion to a nearby saltwater marsh. 

Outdoor exploration is just one aspect of the Fresh Tracks experience.  Another core element is cultural sharing. Later that day, on the campus Cal State Long Beach - home to Fresh Tracks for the weekend - the participants met with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Deborah Sanchez.  Judge Sanchez, who is Chumash, O’odham and Raramuri American Indian, spoke about the history of the land where Cal State Long Beach is now located and about the legacy of the indigenous people who lived there, reminding the room that "no matter how you were raised, the memory of your people is in your heart." 

 

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The first day of the West Coast Training concluded with a focus on the third pillar of the Fresh Tracks experience - civic engagement. Before adjourning, the participants were invited to share on a white board the changes they would like to see in their community. While the responses were rich and varied, the energy in the room was captured by words from one of the leaders, Omar, who said, "It is amazing to see that there are people out there who just want to do good for people." 

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Stay tuned for updates on Day Two and Day Three of the West Coast Training! And follow along with #freshtracksaction. 

Fresh Tracks Northeast Training Expedition

A New Era Begins!  

This is the start of an exciting new era for Fresh Tracks.  In early June, we held the first Fresh Tracks regional training expedition, a three-day cross-cultural learning experience that brought together aspiring young leaders representing urban and indigenous communities from Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford, Chicago, upstate New York, and Oklahoma. Please read the full expedition report below! 

We are grateful to the partners and sponsors who are making these experiences possible: 

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People, Place, and Purpose

With the natural beauty of coastal Massachusetts as a background, a diverse corps of Fresh Tracks youth trainers led a series of interactive workshops focused on personal narrative, leadership IQ, civic engagement, and community organizing - all skills the participants used to develop community action plans for their communities.

Fresh Tracks was also honored to welcome several powerful guest speakers, including Cecilia Gutierrez, National and Local Program Strategist, My Brother's Keeper, Obama Foundation, and Conan Harris, Deputy Director of the Mayor's Office on Public Safety and Director of My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Boston.  

You have to find spaces that fully embrace who you are, that allow you to bring your collective life experiences to the work. Those lessons shape who you are and help to define your calling. You bring your uniqueness, unapologetically, everywhere you go. And remember, you have a responsibility to those who have been left behind, to sit at the table. Standing on the sideline, when so few of us make it, is not an option. Sit at the table - you’ve earned it - you belong there.
— Cecilia A. Gutierrez, Manager, MBK Network and Partnerships, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Obama Foundation

Step Up. Stand Up. Speak Up.

Saturday began with words of inspiration from Kimberly Pham, a leader with Opportunity Youth United, who drew on her own life story to encourage the participants to appreciate how expanding knowledge starts with bringing minds together.

This message was amplified by Fresh Tracks Trainer Sonny White, a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, who gathered the participants in a shaded corner of the beautiful Essex Woods property to explore how tools for personal narrative - including music, writing, social media, and poetry - are used to shape and share perspective, understanding, and history.  

Later, Fresh Tracks moved to the low ropes course, where the power of the outdoors helped create new trust and friendship among the Fresh Tracks family.  Those  connections were deepened in the afternoon as Devin Edwards, a Fresh Tracks Trainer from Boston, modeled how effective leaders motivate teams to move as units toward shared goals. 

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Sharing cultures, igniting futures

In the evening, Fresh Tracks Evaluator Dr. Sharoni Little, a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business, emphasized how recognizing and overcoming implicit bias can reframe how we see each other. Dr. Little's workshop led into a moving culture share driven by the participants, followed by more community-building around the campfire.

In one of the final sessions, Fresh Tracks Trainer Anthony Tamez, a Sicangu Lakota leader, shared the tactics that have helped him become an accomplished community organizer in his hometown of Chicago. Finally, before a closing ceremony, the participants worked in small groups to develop community action plans that will guide how they use their enhanced leadership skills to bring positive change to their communities. 

 

Fresh Tracks is helping me remember that the issues we face individually are really on a global scale. It’s something we all face, and it unites us.
— Madison White - Fresh Tracks Participant

The real work begins

Fresh Tracks is not just a program. Fresh Tracks is a network of support - a platform that offers participants ongoing opportunities to develop community action plans and to become trainers at future Fresh Tracks expeditions. The training expedition at Essex Woods was a springboard to the real work of driving positive change back home. 

That message was reinforced by Conan Harris, Deputy Director of the Mayor's Office on Public Safety and Director of My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Boston, who urged the participants to carve a personal path to leadership, to navigate obstacles with confidence, and to embrace their own self-worth. 

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Fresh Tracks has a mission to invest in you. I hope you are taking the opportunity to learn everything you can while with them, and plan on staying connected, because when you leave here, that’s when the real work begins. Be steadfast, and decide what you want for your life, and always make sure to leave an open hand for the next person.
— Conan Harris, Deputy Director of The Mayor's Office on Public Safety, Director of My Brother's Keeper Boston

Thank you

The success of the Northeast Fresh Tracks training expedition has shown that the Fresh Tracks regional model works. We're looking forward to our next regional training expeditions in California (Long Beach: July 13-15) and the Midwest (Chicago: August 10-12). And, we're grateful to all the partners and sponsors who are making these experiences possible.  

Fresh Tracks at the Aspen Institute Opportunity Youth Forum Spring Convening

Leaders Ascending 

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Recently, Fresh Tracks went to Seattle for the Aspen Institute Opportunity Youth Forum (OYF) Spring Convening, a three-day event that brought together leaders from around the country who share a commitment to improving outcomes for opportunity youth through collective impact. Fresh Tracks, now officially a program of the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute, led two OYF sessions: a rock climbing experience at the REI flagship store in Seattle and a panel discussion about the ways the outdoors can unite and inspire young leaders from different cultures.

A sense of accomplishment 

The Seattle REI Climbing Pinnacle stands 65 feet tall in a sun-lit, glass-walled room. On Monday, May 14th, the Pinnacle was not just a rock. It was an opportunity for young adults from Boston, Denver, Chicago, Alaska, and other regions of the United States to connect, to develop outdoor skills, and to challenge themselves to go higher than they thought possible. 

One Fresh Tracks highlight for me this time
was rock climbing. First, understand, I have a fear of heights. But after trying once, I challenged myself, and I got to the top, and felt a sense of accomplishment when I did it. Just overcoming that fear was exhilarating.
— Jarrett Jones, Chicago

IT felt like home 

Two days later, in a panel discussion on the south shore of Lake Washington, three Fresh Tracks leaders shared how exploring the outdoors with peers from other cultural communities has impacted them personally. Kimberly Pikok, a Fresh Tracks leader from Barrow, Alaska, recalled a memorable 2016 hike near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.“It felt like home,” Kimberly said.“I walked with Charlie, a Gwich’in elder from Arctic Village.“Listening to Charlie, I learned that his people also had subsistence challenges and that cultural preservation was an issue for the Gwich’in, just like it is for my community.”

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A Young Leader's Story: Finding Purpose & Peace Through Nature

The following blog was originally published on August 30, 2017 on the Children & Nature Network's website. It was written by Jarrett Jones, a CityYear Chicago alumni and National Council Of Young Leaders council member. Jarrett is also a Fresh Tracks leader. Read more about Jarrett's involvement with Fresh Tracks here

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My name is Jarrett Jones and I would first like to thank you all for taking the time to read my story about one of my first real encounters with nature. I’m a 25-year-old black man from Chicago. Growing up on Chicago’s Southside, I can’t say I was ever truly exposed to ‘nature.’ Of course, as a kid, I visited neighborhood parks and experienced the resident wildlife and nature there. But that was really the extent of it.

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 My understanding of nature as a kid mainly came from Chicago’s Marquette Park. Marquette had a playground, soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts. It also had a lagoon, though I was never really a fan of the types of insects I found there. For some reason, lightning bugs and the way they naturally illuminated the darkness of the night fascinated me. To me, this was nature.

Once I turned twelve, things quickly changed for me. Almost a teen, I became more aware of the social norms prevalent in my community. Those norms included gangs, violence, drugs, etc.  These norms took control of my life over the next seven years, drawing me away from what I knew as nature…until I reached a breaking point. When I was 19 years old, I made the decision to no longer accept the negative social norms that had taken over my life. Nor would I accept the negative stigmas placed upon me and other young black men. Since that decision, I have gone on to work for three different law firms, one multi-billion-dollar corporation and one international educational non-profit. I am the only child of our three-child family who has obtained a high school diploma.

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But one of my proudest accomplishments is my work with the National Council of Young Leaders. Our main focus is to engage the 5.5 million opportunity youth who are disconnected from education or work. We have six recommendations that we believe will eradicate this issue:

  • expand effective comprehensive programs
  • expand national service
  • expand private internships
  • increase all forms of mentoring
  • protect and expand pathways to higher education
  • support diversion and re-entry programs in the justice system

My year with the council has involved traveling to conferences, summits, and events to speak about opportunity youth. We collaborate and strategize with organizations like Starbucks that participate in “The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative,” the country’s largest employer-led coalition committed to creating pathways to meaningful employment for young people. We speak with high-level executives about ways their companies can provide opportunities for young people who face unique challenges, but possess a source of tremendous talent and potential that goes untapped. While traveling and speaking with key stakeholders, we always make time to connect with the youth that we are representing. In fact, one of the most powerful aspects of our work is the events we host or attend with local youth organizations to facilitate trainings on how to engage political systems, power and responsibility when using voice and telling personal narratives. 

Earlier this summer, I received an invitation to attend the Natural Leaders and Fresh Tracks Trainer Summit. I jumped at the opportunity to be of service and was anxious to learn from others. The first day of the camp, while getting to know everyone, I quickly noticed that I was one of the oldest participants attending. At first, it made me question my decision about coming to the camp. I was skeptical that some of the other younger leaders could teach me as much as I could teach them. But boy was I wrong.

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The Natural Leaders Network provided us with great trainers and trainings that ranged from creating and telling your personal narratives, to developing action plans for community organizations to bring back to our own communities. Although the training was great, the conversations and personal connections were the most valuable. I met people from Alaska, Hong Kong, and multiple rural areas. This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but keep in mind that I never really left Chicago until this year. For me, it was an eye-opening experience to hear the participants’ different cultural norms and experiences. I was embarrassed about how little I knew about indigenous people after talking to a couple of the young leaders from different tribes across the nation. They told me about the hardships and injustices that they continue to face. We talked about their cultural beliefs and traditions and how nature is an integral part of that. I left many of these conversations throughout the duration of the camp with what I believe will be a lifetime of knowledge. With the realization that we share similar hardships, I feel the urge to do more and to learn more

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The summit was transformative for me on so many levels. But it was a personal experience with nature that left the greatest impression on me. A leader from Denver challenged me to take on one my biggest fears during a planned kayaking trip: large bodies of water. From early childhood to my late teens I have had bad experiences when it comes to water-related activities. Let’s just say that after being saved three times and resuscitated twice by a lifeguard, I have a respectable fear of large bodies of water. This leader didn’t care much about that. During the bus ride to the Potomac River, she encouraged me to face my fears. Naturally, after she initiated the challenge, I said “absolutely not” in my head. I had almost died twice. Why give death another chance? When we arrived at the river, she continued to push and challenge me. At that point, I had to put on a brave face and just do it. I was beyond scared for the first five minutes because I couldn’t think about anything except my past near-death experiences. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I suddenly became present in the moment. I focused on the sunlight hitting my skin, the soft breeze, and what seemed like an endless number of trees. At that very moment, I was at peace.

I can honestly say I haven’t been at that level of peace in an extremely long time, if ever. Being a 6’3” young black man from Chicago, I don’t often have the luxury of being at peace. I could be navigating neighborhoods trying not to be the next victim of gun violence, working hard to prove I’m just as smart, capable, and competent as my white counterparts, or just making sure I’m not doing anything to warrant an encounter with the police. So, that moment, as well as the two hours we spent kayaking, was everything to me.

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Looking back on the experience, without the encouragement of the young leader from Denver, I would have let something as minuscule as fear rob me of a life-changing experience. An experience that not only rejuvenated me with hope, inspiration, and peace but also allowed me to re-energize and continue to create a change for struggles my community faces at home in Chicago.

Learn more about the Natural Leaders Network here.

Photo(s) credit: CJ Goulding.