Rustic camping and hiking are not activities many inner-city Black folks partake in growing up, which stems from a history of segregation and racially motivated violence in rural areas with a majority white population. Detroit’s Black to the Land Coalition aims to change this narrative and get more people of color out into nature. Since 2019, they’ve been hosting events like foraging, camping, and fishing trips for BIPOC who may not venture out otherwise.
“I will always remember someone telling me at work when discussing my hunting plans, ‘be careful, the [white] hunters have a saying—if it’s brown it’s down,’” one respondent said.
In a poll that Black to the Land Coalition conducted, many Black Michiganders’ responses echoed fears that caused them to avoid going “up North” despite many of Michigan’s natural wonders and experiences being inherent to those areas. Co-Chair of the Black to the Land Coalition Tepfirah Rushdan said these fears have been exacerbated by a polarizing political climate.
“Our generation saw racism in a different light because people were more bold with it,” Rushdan says. “We had many comments from people afraid of being around confederate flags and Trump supporters while camping. There’s also a history of dangerous things happening in the woods to Black people, like lynching.”
Even though she did grow up camping, Rushdan says she was often “the only brown thing on the scene” which made her want to share how freeing the experience was with other BIPOC.
One of the Black to the Land Coalition’s signature events is Browns, Blacks, and Kayaks where participants can enjoy kayaking, food, and music surrounded by their own community. They also have a fishing class called Off Da Hook and Beats and Bonfire, which is an open mic gathering at Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum. The next Beats and Bonfire is planned for Oct. 15. Beyond just events, the group hosts workshops like maple tree tapping and indigenous basket weaving with foraged birch wood.
While some events are open to white allies, others are limited to BIPOC only. Djenaba Ali, Co-Chair for Black to the Land Coalition, said this is because sometimes BIPOC need a space to be themselves without worrying about code-switching or being misunderstood.
“Do we really need to be doing code-switching in nature? When the topic and vibe is centered more around skill-building for Black people, we find that to be sacred and want to keep it that way,” Rushdan says.
Last month, Black to the Land Coalition was awarded a grant by Black Leaders of Detroit that they’ll use to operate the Urban Forest School for families with children ages 0-10 years old. During this program, the children will be able to explore nature while learning about local plants and wildlife.
“We’ve had people come to our events and say ‘I’ve found my tribe’ because it feels like a family reunion even though you’ve just met,” Ali says “The community building and relationship building between Black and brown people is what’s important. Nature is free. Go on a hike with your family, and if you don’t have a family, we can be that family.”
Find out more about Black to the Land Coalition at https://www.blacktothelandcoalition.com