by Outdoor Afro Leader Zoë Polk
“When we tell stories, especially personal stories where we open ourselves up to whoever is listening, there is often for the listener a value to be learned, or encouragement to be gained, knowing that others before them have conquered fears and challenges similar to their own. For some, the right story at the right time will enrich their day, and even make the world a little better place. That’s why I really love to tell stories.”- Diane Ferlatte, Oakland based, Award Winning International Storyteller
Throughout history, African Americans have congregated around fires to seek warmth, break bread, and bask in fellowship. On a crisp autumn evening, Outdoor Afro reconnected with these traditions in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Located just above the rocky cliffs at the mouth of the Golden Gate, the Rob Hill Campground is the perfect place to gather for Fall festivity.
Kicking off our evening together, National Park Service Rangers (and Outdoor Afros) Frederik “Rik” Penn and Kelli English welcomed us to the fire circle and rooted our evening with a black history lesson. Ranger Rik reminded us that African Americans have long had ties to the Presidio, including the Buffalo Soldiers, who were stationed there in 1902. Through his fascinating tales of the Buffalo Soldiers as well his own adventures as a soldier stationed in the Presidio, Ranger Rik connected us all to the land we stood on.
After the warm welcome from Ranger Kelli and Ranger Rik, Outdoor Afros got down to the business at hand: showing off s’more making skills! Outdoor Afros chose their roasting stick, popped on marshmallow and sought out the perfect spot in the flames. While most of us were experts in this craft, we also enjoyed a few laughs at the casualties: marshmallows dropped into the fire or burned to an unappetizing crisp. In between delicious bites of chocolate, gooey, crunchy goodness, we warmed ourselves with hot apple cider from Rainbow Orchards, a local apple farm.
While heating ourselves by the fire and with our steaming cups, Outdoor Afros were encouraged to introduce themselves to new friends and tell stories of their relationships with nature.
We bonded over our love for hiking, camping, birding and hitting the beach. And we rejoiced in recalling that some of our first connections with nature involved childhood chores. Often those tasks were forgotten as we got lost in our outdoor explorations.
With our bellies full, our hands sufficiently sticky, and our hearts full of laughter and our own shared stories, we gathered close for a special presentation from Oakland based, award winning, international storyteller, Diane Ferlatte. Enthralling us with narratives about of Harriet Tubman and clever sharecroppers, Mrs. Ferlatte was the heartwarming highlight of our evening together.
In between our laughter and listening, we joined Mrs. Ferlatte in song. Once she taught us the lyrics, she lead us in a musical call and response. Interweaving the songs with stories, Mrs. Ferlatte also discussed the historical importance of storytelling in African American history, particularly the narratives about Brer Rabbit. According to Mrs. Ferlatte, these tales were told by the slaves in the American South and were brought to rousing and joyful life through music and song. Telling these tales gave the slaves hope and faith that they too could survive and persevere in the face of their troubles just like Brer Rabbit. After telling us the story of Brer Rabbit’s friendship with Brer Possum and their triumph over Brer Snake, she reminded us that each of these stories had an important moral. And we at Outdoor Afro delighted in the reminder that African Americans have long depended on nature and wildlife for life lessons as well as entertainment.
As the sky darkened and the thick fog rolled in, the event became festively spooky and we reluctantly ended our evening together. However, as we descended down from the fire circle, the shining light from the songs, the stories and the s’mores guided us home.
Outdoor Afro would like to extend a special thank you to Mrs. Ferlatte for joining us and making this event so memorable. For more information on Mrs. Ferlatte, including booking information, please visit www.dianeferlatte.com.
Outdoor Afro would also thank Camping at the Presidio Program, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Northface, REI and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for all of their unique support of this event.
This event was supported by Poets &Writers, Inc. through a grant it has received from The James Irvine Foundation.
Hope to see YOU at our next event!