Arts: Resilient Hope

Geography of Hope Conference comes to West Marin  

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Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro, oversees a national volunteer leadership team dedicated to building broader communities in nature. Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro.

“Harriet Tubman was a wilderness leader,” Rue Mapp, the founder of Outdoor Afro, explained. “She traversed the wilds without a GPS.”

Tubman, an abolitionist and a spy for the Union Army, is a role model for Mapp, one of the headliners at this year’s Geography of Hope (GOH) Conference, March 17-18 in Point Reyes Station. The theme is “Finding Resilience in Nature in Perilous Times.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. North Bay survivors of last fall’s fires have been talking about nature and resilience for months. Still, the conference promises to deliver new insights and strategies.

In 2016, just as the Black Lives Matter movement spread across the country, Mapp put her fledgling organization on the map when she launched a series of outdoor events called “Healing Hikes” that resonated widely.

“The hikes came along in tandem with Black Lives Matter,” Mapp told me. “Synchronicity was at work.” She added, “We need to lay our burdens down by the riverside. Streets are a hard landscape to find release from trauma.”

The hikes have swelled the ranks of Outdoor Afro, which started as Mapp’s own personal blog. Now, the nonprofit has members in nearly 30 states and more than 60 leaders who guide inner-city residents through forests and meadows where they breathe clean air, identify medicinal plants and appreciate natural beauty. In spite of the group’s name, Mapp said, all races are welcome.

Mapp will be joined at GOH by Peter Forbes, the founder of the Center for Whole Communities, and by Caleen Sisk, the Tribal Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe based in Northern California. Like Sisk and Forbes, Mapp aims to strengthen communities and make up for lost time.

A rare opportunity slipped through the cracks of history in 1964, Mapp argued, when the wilderness cause and the civil rights cause might have been linked but weren’t. That year witnessed the passage of the Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act, both of which President Johnson signed into law. In the half-decade that followed, African-Americans moved toward “black is beautiful” and black liberation, while whites moved toward Earth Day.

“Unfortunately, we now have two siloed movements,” Mapp told me. “One is for people and the other is for land.”

At the GOH conference, Mapp and fellow presenters will suggest ways to fuse them. The event is made to order for local environmentalists, community activists and citizens who crave a brave new vision of the world.

Including vocal improvisation led by David Worm, a founding member of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra, the conference wraps up with an outdoor restoration project with Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees.

Geography of Hope Conference,  March 17-18, Point Reyes Station; gohconference.org.

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