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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.