Why the work I do in outdoor spaces is the most important.
“I am a woman of Gullah Geechee ancestry and therefore; I honor the deep connection to the land and greenspaces that run in my marrow and bone.”
My ancestral roots are connected to the ancestral land that my great great great grandparents labored on as enslaved Africans. Yoruba peoples from the Western half of the Continent, their lives were disrupted and their labor mercilessly extracted for their knowledge of rice-growing, iron work, and agriculture. These same ancestors later stewarded that land in the South Carolina Pee Dee and Lowcountry, not as sharecroppers, but as land owners. I grew up running through tobacco and cotton fields. Picking cucumbers. Watching the men in my family hunt deer and raccoon. Shelling peas on my grandmother’s front porch while she brewed sweet tea in the sun in glass jars. My grandparents on both sides harvested a rich abundance of crops including tobacco, melons, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, and more. I am a woman of Gullah Geechee ancestry, and therefore I honor the deep connection to the land and greenspaces that run in my marrow and bone.
In 2018, I joined Outdoor Afro and Sea Kayak Carolina to tour the Combahee River, where Harriet Tubman liberated over 700 people. I speak briefly about this experience in the video on the right.
One of the most sacred Gullah traditions is one called Seeking. As a child, my maternal grandmother would call out warnings to me as I set off on my own to walk the land for hours at a time. I did this repeatedly as a child and always in response to a deep, deep longing—a necessary ritual of sorts to seek answers and commune with Spirit, animals, and the land. It was not until I became an adult that I learned that this practice is actually tied to a long Gullah tradition called Seeking. Seeking is a spiritual tradition where a young individual intentionally spends time alone, walking in nature as a kind of rite of passage to connect with Spirit that over time indicates spiritual growth and maturity. It is most assuredly connected to the meditative act of walking the land, communing with nature, and a kind of quiet observatory stewardship.
I have been a Seeker and on a Seeker’s journey my entire life. What I called “going for my walks” as a very young girl is what I now understand is the root of my love for hiking. While the end goal of Seeking requires baptism and membership into a home church, my baptism was with The Great Outdoors itself. Nature became a sacred space to gather myself, my thoughts, or to read and search for birds and small animals. In much the same way that I utilize museums as a means of self-reflection and edification, I view camping, hiking, and kayaking in greenspaces in the same manner. Poet Gwendolyn Brooks teaches us this important aspect of being on this side of the land of the living: “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond”. This is what I also believe about museums and, specifically, material culture.
“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond”.Gwendolyn Brooks
Green work I admire: Green Roots
A web series hosted by environmentalist Dr. Tameria Warren, who observes the environment as it relates to people of color.
I view greenspaces, particularly national parks, as our greatest collections
The magnitude and harvest of our greenspaces and the collective contributions of Black, Indigenous, and People of the Global Majority has yet to be accounted for in the historical record, the geographic memory, or the archival narrative. I view greenspaces, particularly national parks, as our greatest collections, if you will. This nation has greatly under-appreciated and rarely acknowledged the vast critical importance of the country’s historic trails, waterways, seashores, parks, and gardens—many of which whose roots and very design were architects whose only names are recorded as enslaved or with no name at all.
As a cultural heritage professional, the work that I do in greenspaces, whether it is with my work as a former Outdoor Afro Leader, as the founder of my own organization, Porchia & Friends Healing Hikes, or my work with cultural organizations and museums like The Adirondack Experience, is a way to pay forward the legacy of the Black farmers, storytellers, and cultural workers of my blood. The work that I most love is consulting and leading with nature-based organizations as a continued homage as a Daughter of the Dust.
If you are interested in partnering with me to center social justice, race equity, 21st century literacies, and environmental justice in your greenspaces, botanical gardens, and other cultural heritage institutions, please reach out.