Women of Color Going Backpacking? Oh Yeah!
Originally posted on Oakland Local
Welcome Outdoor Afro guest blogger CB Smith, who shares her personal connection to natural spaces, and why it’s important to support Balanced Rock, who provides the unique chance for women of color to connect with the outdoors on their own terms.
In this blog post, I am encouraging you to support a retreat for Women of Color…even if you are not a Woman of Color yourself. First, I need to tell you a little bit about what this kind of experience can mean and why it’s important.
After attending High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan I moved to Atlanta, Georga to attend Spelman College, an historically black, all female school. People often ask me why I went to Spelman College. In an era of racial and gender advancement, why would a young black woman choose to segregate herself? Truth is, I can’t really say why I chose to go Spelman over any other school. I honestly don’t remember. But looking back on the time I was there, I can definitely identify how I benefitted from the experience.
Spelman gave me a chance to learn about my culture from a circle that was larger than my family or my neighborhood. It gave me the opportunity to study subjects like African Civilizations not offered at many other schools. In addition, many standard subjects were approached from a unique perspective. For example, an Education Theory class taught by Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister, Dr. Farris. This opened up us students to have discussions about race, gender, and class that were life-changing for me.
Yet, the most important benefit of my time at Spelman was the chance I got to experience myself in a new environment. I had always attended schools where I was in the minority, not just as an African-American, but as a mixed race child. I had also always been a tough and smart girl surrounded by (mostly) insecure boys. As a colored child in the 70’s, I was often one of the “integrators” at the school. Teachers told me and my family how surprised they were at my intelligence, and sometimes even punished me for exceeding their expectations.
Being at a black college for women took me away from all that. Spelman allowed me to see what I looked like, acted like, and felt like without the influence of those factors. It was sometimes a challenge. At one point, my own image in the mirror began to look pale, yellow and sickly to me. It was because I was surrounded by so many beautiful women who were more chocolate and caramel than myself. My own standard of beauty had shifted away from blonde Barbie, Marilyn Monroe, and Cindy Crawford.
Racism and sexism did sometimes rear their ugly heads at the college, but I could never use them as an excuse. If a teacher didn’t like my work, I didn’t have to wonder if it was because I was a woman in a “man’s world.” I never had to worry that administrators or grant officials didn’t like black people. So when I wasn’t selected for certain programs or opportunities, I was able to use the rejections to make my work stronger. This ethic has actually protected me from subsequent racism and sexism – I simply ignore it and do a good job anyways.
So, flash forward a decade or so. I have moved to possibly the most integrated city in the country, Oakland, California. Two years ago, a good friend of mine invited me to this Women of Color Backpacking Trip in Yosemite. I couldn’t afford to go, so I passed on the email to some friends and heard from her “You should have been there.” Last year, I was invited again, but the trip was scheduled at the same time as a family visit, so I couldn’t go. Again I passed on the email. One of my friends went and wrote back to me about what wonderful experience it was and thanked me for suggesting it to her saying, “You should have been there.” This year, another good friend of mine invited me to this Women of Color Backpacking Trip in Yosemite. When I opened the message, I realized it’s time. I love camping and hiking, but have never been on this type of mind-body-spirit program with a group of my peers. This year I will be there.
When I got accepted to College, I didn’t know how I would pay for the 4 years. I didn’t know how they would change me. But I’m so glad I went. Now I, and other women like me, have an opportunity to get away for a bit. To walk and workshop; to learn and grow together.
I hope that you will help support the Women of Color Backpack Retreat in Yosemite this summer. You can read more about the program here or attend our first fundraiser this Saturday, March 23 or simply donate online here.
About CB Smith-Dahl
CB Smith-Dahl (aka Ms. Smitty B) is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, and educator who has always put the community at the center of her work. In 1997, she founded Community Bridge Video. As Oakland Local’s Community Media Manager, she creates new media content for the site. Her work with Oakland Local Academy teaches and engages youth and community members and organizations in useful media skills.