A reflection from an ELS participant, Elizabeth Mulenga: Human Solidarity
Having a culture with close ties to nature, but lacking access to outdoor spaces because the society you live in has aggressively told people who look like you that they do not belong, can be daunting. Through practice I began to finally allow myself to freely access the outdoors. As a definitively Americanized version of a Zambian, my approach toward nature teeters on the edge of colonization and cultural ancestral practices. Through the experiences of my childhood, I questioned why would I go outside and “rough it” or “survive” when my ancestors already survived “it”? Yet, I yearned to be outdoors. My sole purpose in life as an individual with multi-hyphenate identities has felt like having to find the answers to the immeasurable. There are many questions, but they lead to a singular answer, which I found in my narrative of camping, amongst other experiences, after a five and half hour drive into the Delaware River Gap.
I arrived from the other side of stability and privilege knowing I would take up space – keeping in mind the seventh principle of Leave No Trace – for the sake of my inner child, for my own child and future BIPOC generations. I arrived and sought to define myself beyond hyphens and to fight to decolonize this land. In a cabin with five rooms, each with two sets of bunks, and a small kitchen, I felt I was comfortably close to the stable and physical home I was struggling to build back in the city, a far cry from the image of primitiveness, those who do not find enjoyment in the concept of camping, have. In that small space we began to form connections. We came together having sought the same altruistic experience with the outdoors, we formed a community, people present and freely approaching a range of subjects; vulnerability and willingness to admit places where you may lack knowledge. Nature helped facilitate these conversations. In moments of connection we lived a more sustainable future.
The weekend ended for all of us with the question, what do we do when we go back to the strains of society? Humanity is at a turning point and we all feel it, this ever looming question of the continuation of civilization. The answer: solidarity, transformative justice, humanism, now! A lot has been said about outdoor spaces at the intersection of inclusivity and accessibility, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Emerging Leaders Summit reminded me that the ideal future prioritizes the collective over the individual.