I have a complicated relationship with Earth Day.
Although I have always valued the opportunity to celebrate our beloved planet, I have also been very aware of who the traditional movers, shakers, and “leaders” of the modern environmental movement were. As an environmental science major, my passion for stewardship was birthed from my experience growing up in the islands where the outdoors were a part of life. While in school, attending the required conferences, seminars, and Earth Day activities I’d often wonder, where are all the people that look like me and love the environment? What were they doing? Why can’t I find them? As I traveled throughout the US, I slowly realized that I was certainly not alone in my appreciation; I was just not always looking in the right places.
It’s clear that humanity’s love of nature is expressed in a myriad of ways. Grilling in the backyard on a Sunday afternoon with friends is just as much of an experience in the outdoors as hiking a mountain or camping in the woods. My fondest memories of being in nature were the days I spent as a kid soaking up the sun, while playing beach volleyball. Between games I would sit at the shore and marvel at the seashells with their intricate designs and wonder how they were formed.
Now that I’m a father, I’m trying to ignite that same sense of awe in my kids, by making sure they experience nature in a way that inspires them. Every cultural tradition that incorporates the outdoors is important, and as we share in and pass on those traditions we enrich our own lives, and hopefully gain a deeper appreciation of the natural systems that allow us as humans to exist on this planet. Many of these traditions, particularly in the black community, are often not formalized or promoted as an event, but are simply part and parcel of a lifestyle that values consistent connections with nature. Despite this, our experiences in the outdoors remain rich, vibrant, varied, and colorful.
Earth Day has become a global phenomenon because it has the unlimited potential to bring humanity together for a common purpose and goal. I choose to celebrate it each year because I understand that unification is central to our ability to solve environmental challenges. As April 22nd approaches, you can get in the outdoors and celebrate your personal connection to the “blue marble” by joining Outdoor Afro all across the country in organized activities like visiting a state or national park, planting trees, assisting in community cleanups, and so much more