February 26th was the 1 year anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old unarmed Black teenager who went walking outside in his neighborhood in Florida with a bag of skittles and was murdered. As an Ecotherapist who works with people of color to connect their healing to connecting with nature, I began to think of how feeling safe outside can be a barrier to engaging with the natural world. I didn’t spend a lot of time outside as a child because our apartment complex was not always a safe place to hang out; there were often fights or older men and boys harassing young girls. It was not until I was a young adult graduate of college away from home that I experienced hiking for the first time in the hills of West Virginia. I remember the journey to West Virginia from Washington, D.C., the stares we encountered when we stopped to eat or get gas, the jokes we made about the “rednecks” coming to get us to distract from our fear. But, we were determined to get “our nature on”, we were going to occupy the forest and began talking about Harriet Tubman and our ancestors who knew these woods like the back of their hands. Our discussion of our ancestors comforted us and gave us strength to face our fears. But we had to consciously invoke these memories just to get the courage to go for a hike.
Trayvon Martin wasn’t entering a big scary forest, he was walking alone, he thought he was safe in his neighborhood surrounded by familiar trees, plants.
In the last 5 years there has been increased visibility, discussion, and research on the benefits of children playing in nature. Research states that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day — more than 50 hours per week, connected to a TV, computer, video games and other electronic media. A child is six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike. Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation, The Outdoor Foundation, Texas Education Agency, Texas Children in Nature
Richard Louv the author of the international best-selling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, raised people’s awareness of the outcome resulting from “kids spending more time indoors and in front of electronic screens and less time climbing trees, making forts and enjoying unstructured free time in nature. “ An organization he founded, called The Children and Nature Network has compiled research on the benefits of nature such as:
But what about children who live in neighborhoods where they are unable to be outside for fear of violence? What about Trayvon or the countless of other Black children in Chicago, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. who risk their lives just to go outside?
Trayvon was deemed suspicious and considered a “danger in the environment”, similar to the sighting of a lion or bear or other wild animal in the wilderness. There is a long history of African Americans being identified and compared to “wild animals”. These perceptions clearly live today as African Americans are more likely to be racially profiled by law enforcement and even their own neighbors. I’ve also heard of park rangers in National Parks using the phrase “there was a sighting” to refer to Black people visiting the parks.
And so as I walk the beautiful hills of Oakland today, I’m remembering Trayvon Martin and praying for justice for him and his family. May the blessings of the ancestors rain down on him, may his parents and family be comforted, may justice be served and may we create a world where all of our children can feel and be safe to go outside.