Episode 2: Centering Healing at PGM ONE

Episode 2 transcript

Dwight from Intro: We welcome your excitement, your trepidation, your clear inquiries, and your big question marks. Welcome your wide eyes and open hearts, right alongside your side eyes and skepticism. We welcome you here. We honor your histories, her-stories, experiences of your ancestors. Who have fought for generations for you to be here at this moment.

We welcome them here as we welcome you here.

[Fade out]

[Outside Voices Intro] You’re listening to Outside Voices podcast. We’re using our outside voices to redefine what it means to spend time outside and connect to nature. I’m your host, Sarah Shimazaki. Let’s get started.

Narration: Two years ago, I found myself rushing to a downtown Berkeley bookstore to purchase the first blank notebook I could find. It was Day One of a conference I was attending a block away, and just a few hours in I decided the notebook I brought—the one I carry around with me all the time to jot down random thoughts, inspiring words, bits of wisdom-- wasn’t going to cut it. I mean, this conference I was attending needed its own, dedicated notebook for all of my notes and quotes. I don’t know if any of y’all have been there and it sounds totally cliché, but I think I knew my life was about to radically change. Looking back now, that moment two years ago was the spark that would eventually lead to the creation of this very podcast.

Fast forward to May 2019, the third year of said conference and this year I’ve got a recorder to take down all my notes and quotes. That’s right, this time we’re bringing the wisdom and magic from the People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature and Environment summit, or PGM ONE, to all of Y’ALL in this episode of Outside Voices Podcast. You’ll be hearing from participants, speakers, panelists, musicians and myself, as I share my observations and thoughts. Here we go and welcome.

Dwight: I want to open it up to the audience and allow folks the opportunity to welcome some part of them into the space.

Audience: First generation. Second generation. Ten thousand years of generations!

All: We welcome you here. We welcome you here. We welcome you here.

We welcome you here. We welcome you here. We welcome you here. We welcome you.

Narration: That was an excerpt from the incredible opening of this year’s PGM ONE summit. So, what is PGM ONE? Well, perhaps this year’s keynote speaker, adrienne maree brown said it best.

adrienne: I'm really really excited to exist. I'm really excited this is a space for just people of color getting together. To talk about how bomb the earth is and how we got to protect this shit. All right?

Narration: That’s right. The PGM ONE summit is a 3-day gathering of people of color, who in some way work on issues related to the outdoors, nature and environment. The term “People of the Global Majority” is an alternative for folks tired of using the word “minority” to describe people of color, when the reality is--we actually make up the majority of the global population! For the rest of this episode, we’ll use People of the Global Majority and People of Color interchangeably.

So as someone who, you know, majored in Environmental Studies, considers myself “outdoorsy” and works in the environmental nonprofit world, I have very often been the only person of color in a room of white folks. My first year at the inaugural PGM ONE summit two years ago though, I got to connect with hundreds of people of color from across the country, all working on similar issues. It made us realize, we aren’t alone. That in and of itself, was powerful and healing.

Mustafa: This is just an incredible, incredible day. Just so, so blessed.

Narration: That’s Mustafa Santiago Ali, another one of the summit keynote speakers.

Mustafa: 20 plus years ago when I started working on these issues as a student, had you looked around the room, there were very few very very few of us. And to look out and see all these faces, look like the faces around the table that my mom calls everybody to. It’s just one of those moments that you you wish for you hoped for.

Narration: Mustafa was looking out at an audience of over 300 PGM ONE participants. But here’s the thing. It’s not like we, people of color, are all of a sudden entering this space and just now caring about the environment or starting to engage in outdoor activities. Just because we haven’t traditionally been at the proverbial table, doesn’t mean we haven’t been doing this work in our own communities. As is the case with many sectors: politics, the health and wellness industry, Hollywood… the environmental and outdoor advocacy space has traditionally been and continues to be very white.

At the end of last year, a tweet from Dana Vivian White, a nonbinary public speaker and writer, went viral. You may have seen it. Dana writes, “2018 taught me to stop aspiring to sit at tables where I have to bring my own chair, squeeze in between folks and repeatedly convince others why I should be there. I learned to build a new table.”

For People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature and Environment, the PGM ONE summit is that table.

But, don’t just take it from me. Here’s what folks have to say about what an affinity space, an intentional gathering of folks with a shared identity, like PGM ONE means to them.

Ahjani: Honestly it was magical. I needed this and I didn't even know I needed this.

Jorge: it made me feel so comfortable, it made me feel so normal.

Bam: it really just highlighted the need for me to to find more affinity spaces in my home and in my day to day life. It just felt radical.

Anahi: I can walk in this room and immediately know that all of us understand each other that none of us have to justify our presence none of us have to legitimize our work or feel like our work is being questioned. We know that we're valued no matter where we come from.

I'm able to come to this space to heal. 

Narration: You’ll get to meet each of these folks I had the pleasure of chatting with at PGM ONE, soon. But-- have you ever been in a space, full of strangers no less, where the need for small talk or pretense just fell away and you knew you could immediately dive into the real talk?

Mustafa: I also will only give real talk. Is everybody all right with real talk. Alright some people snapping and some people clapping, we about to find out. Y'all say real talk. Real talk! Yeah so that was kind of weak you know like we was across the street, let's try that again. Real talk. Real talk!

This is the magic and medicine that affinity spaces often provide. In the case of PGM ONE, it felt like a place where we, as people of color, could heal, validate each other’s experiences, share resources and work toward liberation without feeling the burden of education and codeswitching that can happen in white-dominated spaces. Affinity spaces are powerful and magical, indoors and outdoors.

Speaking of magic, I want to turn y’all over to Sophie Sarkar, one of PGM ONE’s founders and co-organizers, who opened the summit with such intentionality and beauty.  

Sophie: First to just begin with a couple breaths to really arrive into the space. Just breathe together as a unit. So we want to begin by honoring and acknowledging that we are here on the ancestral lands of the Lenape people. And that we recognize that we owe our vitality, our existence, our ability to use and breathe and be present here and to experience and enjoy the rivers and the parks and the outdoor spaces that we went on field trips today, because of the Lenape people and how they stewarded these lands for ten thousand years.

So we want to take this moment to breathe and pay respect to Lenape elders both past and present. And to acknowledge the thirteen thousand native people that still live in Philadelphia today, some of whom are in this room right now. And beyond this acknowledgement we we really want everyone in this room right now and for the rest of the summit to consider the history of colonization, the history of violence and displacement and migration and settlement and to consider our place in the undoing of its legacies. All of us together.

Narration: The theme of this year’s conference was healing, resilience and self-care, with workshops and outdoor field trips centering topics like forest therapy, healing our relationship to water, plant medicine… throughout the summit, I found myself exploring this question over and over: as People of the Global Majority, what does it look like to heal our relationship to ourselves, to our planet and to each other?

Now, all of this is intertwined, but I want to spend some time breaking down each one: healing our relationships to ourselves, healing our relationships to the earth and healing our relationships to each other. That last one, healing our relationships to each other, came up a lot in my conversations, so I’ll spend the most time unpacking it. Alright. Here we go.

[Music from Aisha Fukushima]

Narration: When we think about this term: People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Environment and Nature, I think it’s important to name the fact that people of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, right? Meaning, communities of color are hit first and worst. Also, when it comes to the “great outdoors” and who is considered “outdoorsy” and connected to nature, our stories have been and continue to be erased and excluded. A lot of us enter into the work because of this-- our communities, our livelihoods are at stake. In other words, it’s personal.

Something adrienne maree brown said during her keynote that really struck me is our tendency, as marginalized folks, to organize from a place of hurt. To organize, or as she says, locate ourselves, from a place of suffering and unhealed shared trauma.

adrienne But if that is where we are locating ourselves and locating our solidarity, it's never going to be the right texture to hold us together. There's gotta be a texture that is deeper and more solid and not based in pain because hopefully we heal from the trauma.

Narration: I love the way she phrases that—it’s never going to be the right texture to hold us together.

What would it look like to center joy, healing and power in our movements, instead?

I saw a quote recently by Carmen Cool, a psychotherapist and educator, that says, “the goal of therapy should never be to help people adjust to oppression.”

As People of the Global Majority, we’re working with generations and generations of historical, institutional and personal trauma. Our work in the outdoors, nature and environment is personal. We have to make sure our work is also about healing ourselves. Not so we can continue to survive within these systems of oppression, but so we can thrive and work toward a better future from a place of joy and power.

Sophie: I'm feeling some of the ancestors come into the space now. One of my very favorite spiritual leaders, Thich Nhat Hanh-- anyone know Thich Nhat Hanh? So Thich Nhat Hanh said that we are not separate from our ancestors. We are a continuation of our ancestors. So what this means is that we inherit their joy. We inherit their strength. We also inherit their hurts and their suffering. And so the amazing thing is that in this lifetime we have the opportunity when we heal ourselves and we give ourselves a moment to sit and to breathe that we actually not only get to heal ourselves but we get to heal our ancestors. And we also are no longer passing along to future generations that hurt and that suffering. So we also get to heal our future generations. So it's a huge deal actually for all of us to be in space together where our themes are around healing and care and community and resilience and to have this opportunity to really do that as a unit, as a collective unit together. And to call in our ancestors to do that healing process with us.

Narration: This theme of healing, self-care and resilience and our connection to our ancestors, were really felt throughout the entire summit, from the way in which folks introduced themselves…

Bam: My name is Bam and I live on the ancestral lands of the Duwamish which is currently known as Seattle. I'm an equity and diversity consultant. My story is so interwoven and interconnected to the story of my ancestors and it's really hard to be able to tell my story without also being able to tell the story of all the indigenous queer communal ancestors that have offered me the voice that I have now.  

Narration: To the very reason folks attended PGM ONE in the first place… 

Bam: was really to participate in the medicine that I think affinity spaces offer me in our community and I feel like that medicine can only be created when you're in community with folks that share similar lived experiences and I believe that there's a medicine that can be found in community that I'm willing to travel across the country for.

 Narration: Even down to the way each day of the conference played out

Jorge: I think folks are putting a lot of value in the time together and no one is rushing to move to the next thing. 

Narration: That’s Jorge Moreno, a field instructor at a nonprofit outdoor leadership school. Jorge is talking about how, throughout the summit, a lot of scheduled agenda items ran way over time. But that process of intentionally slowing down was healing.

Jorge: We had facilitators for the Latin X affinity group that were on one of these trips and I'm in the front checking people in and then someone comes to me I think goes Grace and Sophie and we're like would you mind going to facilitate this affinity group. Uh the folks that are on a bus stuck are just making their way back and I'm like Oh OK. But then I quickly. There was some nervousness right. What am I going to do I don't have anything planned. And by the time I got upstairs I realized like Wait. Like we can figure this out. And sure enough when I walked in the room it already started that was beautiful about this space. No one's waiting for someone to like we're all doing this work. We're not waiting for someone to come in to tell us where to go next. We quickly like figure it out and go OK no one's here. We're only here for this long somewhat. Let's just start having this conversation. 

Narration: It was an incredible thing to witness and be part of a community that really just valued each other’s presence above anything else. Slowing down, letting go of rigid time structures, planned agendas and takeaways. Unlearning that sense of urgency and emphasis on productivity that capitalism teaches us. Instead, folks were committed to just staying present and making room for whatever may emerge during our time together.

Dwight: making sure we stay on time. Somewhat. You know is gonna be real emergent. Real emergent.

[Music from dance intro] This land. This land was Mexican once. Was Indian. This land. Was Mexican once. And will be again. Was Indian always. And. Is. And will be again.

adrienne: We are less powerful when we are not connected to land. It's easy to make us do almost anything when we're not connected to land. Because we never feel like we have enough. Because if you don't have a relationship to the planet, money is never going to give you what earth can give you. Money comes and goes, you can feel the temporal nature of it. There’s nothing like being connected and rooted to land.

[Ahjani introduction in Indigenous language]

My name is Ahjani Yepa and I am Jemez Pueblo and Anishinaabe. I live in the occupied state of New Mexico on my ancestral Pueblo homelands.  

Narration: You can’t really hear, much less see it, but when Ahjani spoke in the language of her people, the winds kicked up around us. We were chatting outside on a sunny park bench, surrounded by trees that began rattling throughout her introduction. When I mentioned this, Ahjani said to me, “the land is responding to a language they know but haven’t heard in a long time.”

Ahjani is the Pueblo Community Outreach Coordinator for Utah Di-NAY Bi-KAY-uh. You may know them from their work protecting Bears Ears National Monument. But as Ahjani shares, their work is about so much more than land protection.  

Ahjani: for us as Indigenous people we are intrinsically tied to the land. So our cultures and our people our languages our songs and ceremonies have all evolved with the different landscapes that we're related to. And because of that as we enter into the work of environmental justice or land protection or you know advocating for quote unquote public lands it inherently carries with that a value of protecting and advocating for the culture of your people and for the people. From those lands as well not just the lands themselves. They are not in isolation from us as humans and we are not in isolation from. Our mother.

Narration: Ahjani came to PGM ONE to share this concept with other people of color, to remind us that even though we are displaced people, our connection to the earth is ancient.

As you know, our podcast explores our relationships to the earth, as folks who are underrepresented in mainstream depictions of environmentalism and the outdoors. Part of that is recognizing that healing our relationship to the land is not about forging a new connection, but rather reclaiming the connections our ancestors had to the earth, prior to colonization and displacement. Many of us are in the process of re-remembering their rituals, songs, dances, recipes and sacred practices.

We also have to understand that, as adrienne maree brown says, there are communities for which that sever did not happen.

adrienne: They still have the songs they still have their original instructions. They still have their rituals they still understand their relationship that we should have to our elders and to the new people who come here they still have so much of the mythologies that help us understand our place here. And we dismiss that because we've been moved along the line of westernisation. We've been moved along the assembly line. Right. So we can spend our whole lives out of touch with the earth. But talking about having to fight for the earth and so we had to turn to be like oh. There are people who are still living in a cycle with the moon. We need to listen to them.

Narration: adrienne reminds us that, to get in right relationship with the land, we need to get in relationship with indigenous folks, the original caretakers of this land. They still have a powerful connection to the land. We must uplift indigenous leadership and uphold indigenous knowledge.

Ahjani: Every step you take in this country is a step you're taking on stolen land.So beyond knowing just whose land you're on. Knowing the story of why you're on that land and being aware of that and cognizant of that. and that we're still here. not just were here-- but ARE here

[Music from Aisha Fukushima]

Anahi: Just because you have an affinity space doesn't mean it's perfect. So even if you just got a bunch of people of color in one room doesn't mean our problems are solved and white supremacy is gone because these systems still continue to exist and we continue to oppress each other or hold up these systems of oppression within each other.

Narration: Alright, a little bit of honesty. Some real talk. I’m still processing and reflecting on this question of how we, people of the global majority in the outdoors, nature and environment, can heal our relationships with each other. I definitely don’t have all the answers and I’ve struggled a lot with this question over the last year. But I had some great conversations with folks that might help us all start to unpack this together.

You just heard part of a conversation I had with Anahi Naranjo, a community outreach coordinator in New York City and Program Coordinator for Latino Outdoors. Anahi and I chatted about how, even though it’s incredible that there’s a conference with hundreds of people of color dedicated to the environmental and outdoor movement, this is really just the beginning of our work together.

Now that we’re here, we need to talk about and navigate how we relate to each other as people of color with multitudes of difference. Difference in identity, ability, privilege, power.. We have to recognize the very real ways we harm and oppress each other.

Anahi: it's hard to tell people from our own communities because I think we're often taught how to call out things like white supremacy how to call out white folks. Even that is really difficult. But at least for myself it becomes really really difficult to call out somebody from our own community. That is something that I don't know how to do that and that's not something that can be taught but maybe create creating a culture where we are able to do that without someone thinking that we are not on the same side.

Anahi: So having these hard conversations about what does gen the role gender plays the role that colorism plays colorism in communities of color is huge. I'm Latina and I know that it perpetuates my community really horribly but that's never something we want to talk about. And so I think a lot of it is calling ourselves out and accountability within ourselves is huge and solidarity doesn't just mean standing in solidarity with people of color how can we as people of color stand in solidarity with communities within our community that are more marginalized than us.

Narration: Right before a plenary focused on disability in the outdoors, featuring Vasu Sojitra, Kareemah Batts, Teresa Nguyen and Melissa Ruiz, Sophie Sarkar, one of the co-organizers stepped up to the mic to apologize.

Sophie explained that the panelists, who all identified as people with disabilities, had to present from the floor in front of the stage. It turns out that, in order to reach the stage, one had to navigate stairs. In other words, it was inaccessible.

While the organizers tried to ensure accessibility at the conference, they admitted to their blinders as able-bodied people and renewed their commitment to learning and doing better. This is accountability in practice. Grace Anderson, the other co-organizer, also expressed a similar sentiment during the welcoming remarks.

Grace: I acknowledge the people that aren't here, the folks where accessibility was too big a barrier to be here. People where financial barriers were too high for them to be here, folks who haven’t felt safe in previous PGM ONEs. I just want to hold space for those people right now, recognizing that they aren’t here with us and hopefully we can truly make PGM ONE a space for all people of color.

Narration: This really applies to our movement as a whole, beyond the PGM ONE summit: within communities of color, whose voices are heard and valued? Who gets resources and who is left behind?

Bam: There are so many folks who are excluded from our spaces that are excluded from our community that are excluded from the spaces where decisions are being made. And I think that those people's voices are the most critical to our community and to our liberation. And I think that I can't speak for them. So I think that the question should be how do we dismantle the systems that are currently in place so that all members of our community can participate in this conversation equitably.

Jorge: I think there's just maybe one thing on my mind and it's a fear that I have and it's a fear that when I continue to do this work or have these conversations like How far away my like pulling myself from the communities that actually I'm trying to represent. Sometimes they talk about language. If I go back to where I grew up. And I start using the same language I'm pretty sure they'll look at me like What are you saying right now and am I really making change right. Like I feel like if people at PGM want to tell me oh man you're doing great work because they're like flagging it as great work how do I figure out a way to make sure that like I'm also bringing it back to my community. Just two years ago I learned why folks say this is my partner a super real. And I was embarrassed at the time because I was like. I still called my my partner but I call her my girl and I was like, wait a minute why are y’all saying partner, I don't understand that. And then I heard people saying people of color. I'm like OK but if I go to my block and say like oh man we are beautiful people of color. I think the folks around me will say Jorge you sound mad racist. Now what are you saying? Right so I have questions out there and if folks know me or like want to help me understand: how are folks connecting the two? Are we creating a gap even within our own communities? When we talk about representation, when we talk about brands putting us up there, are we making it easy for those brands to just pick the best looking people in our like in our identities and our folks in my community? Like yeah there's a Latino climbing but I don't think that's a Latino like me. That's a big question and something I'm struggling with. And I just want to make sure that I don't get too far away from where I come from. And that I don't get this huge ego from folks tell me are you doing great work. And then I get confused of how to like match this work with like where I'm from.

[Music]

Narration: As we continue holding ourselves accountable to the ways we might oppress each other, working to ensure all voices are heard and valued, I think we’re all pondering this essential question: What does our collective movement for the outdoors, nature and environment look like going forward? What unites us as we work together for a more just world? 

adrienne: How do we feel affinity and alliance and solidarity for each other, t hat's not just about whiteness right. It's the moving against whiteness is not enough to give us solidarity. Also an absence of whiteness is not enough to make us a community. Oh. Yeah. In all of those cases we're still centering whiteness so much.

Narration: This was an important truth pill to swallow, right? Because it’s hard! We live in a culture where whiteness dominates and permeates invisibly, a lot of our work is just naming it. For example, when we’re oppressing each other within our communities, it’s usually because someone is reaching for whiteness, reaching for that proximity to power, or whiteness and capitalism is tearing us apart and pitting us against each other. This is a tale as old as time, y’all. But we can name it and acknowledge it without necessarily centering it in our movements.

And going back to our collective movement: how can we get on the same page and still respect our different roles?

Jorge: We need to start like having these conversations about what role we want to play. Meaning like flag what work you want to do so that you can better align yourself with someone doing. Maybe not the same but something different. So you can work together. You get some people that wanna like take it all down. You know like this thing sucks. Burn it down. And that's great. And then you got some folks that. Want to get inside and chip away and are willing to do that work. But do we know who those folks are. And are folks talking about that.   

adrienne: that's how we get specific about who we be who we are and are we in right relationship with each other? And I was reminded yesterday of that quote from Zora Neale Hurston, “all skin folk ain't kin folk.” So you know when you meet that person where you’re like, “black power” and they’re like “Yeah, totally and like equity!” Yeah. No totally, we should have equity too, but also revolution. like you just feel yourself like this kind of dance like,

You know I'm OK here working for reform as long as you understand that reform should be heading towards revolution, because the system is completely thoroughly abominable right. So. As long as you know that, you can do some reforming, equity but what's going to take is an actual redoing of the whole system. Right. And we're the ones who are gonna have to redo that and we can begin by practicing with each other.  

Kareemah: And we have to all recognize that we all have privileges and we all leverage them in some way or another whether we mean to or not. Like recognize the fact that you have privilege and stop pointing fingers at people who do. And just remember if we all recognize we have privileges will probably be more respectful in using them.  

Narration: That last voice was Kareemah Batts, from the panel on disability I mentioned earlier. We spoke to so many incredible people and you heard even more voices from the summit, so we made sure to credit them and include information about all of them on our website.

Well, these are the questions and themes I’m still pondering, months after PGM ONE, and I’ll leave them with you to ponder as well, dear listener. There is always work to do in our movements, always questions to ponder. But just as the PGM ONE summit did in practice, we have to center healing in order to truly thrive. As adrienne maree brown says, the land, the plants and animals, us, we are all made of the same spectacular star dust and so really, healing our relationship to ourselves, to our planet and to each other, they are all the same thing. We are more powerful, more miraculous when we’re connected and interconnected.

Mustafa: Everybody say Power. Power to the people. Power to the people.

So now we got to take that power and direct it to make real change happen in our communities.

[OUTRO + CREDITS]

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Until next time.