In Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors, Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp presents gorgeous photographs and meaningful personal stories of Black people reclaiming their place in the natural world. Interspersed throughout are essays on the rich history of Black involvement in the outdoors, activism, and conservation, as well as resources for readers. In this excerpt from the book, Julius Crowe Hampton describes finding both solace and joy in being himself in nature, Black and unapologetic.
When I think about being unapologetic and unafraid in nature, I’m at home with my mind, with my body, with my spirit. I am in tune with my surroundings, getting strength from my surroundings, getting strength from the redwood trees, tapping in to their ancestral strength. Ultimately, I feel alive and whole and I’m where I need to be. I am a beacon of Black light.
I love to experience nature in many different ways. I love solo hike expeditions and also experiencing nature with my husband, Abram. We’ve had several transformative adventures together, especially in the water. I am a full-time elementary school teacher, and I love experiencing nature with children and seeing them in their freedom and glory. My journeys in nature have been profound experiences of Black people coming together to cultivate healing, community, and joy. It is rare to experience all of that in our society, which is why I keep coming back.
I’ve especially turned to redwoods during both challenging and joyous times. One time that comes to mind is when I was coming out to my family. It was scary. I definitely spent a lot of meditative time in nature to develop the emotional balance and strength I needed to tackle the challenge. I knew the redwoods have been through a lot—they’re bold and resilient. I needed all of that energy. So, whenever I would go to the redwoods, I would tap in to that. I also noticed a creek that goes through the redwoods, which for me was a metaphor for the flexibility and also the impermanence of nature. It was a reminder that even though a situation feels hard right now, I am capable of getting through hard times.
I want to continue to both challenge myself and grow in nature. For instance, I grew up afraid of large bodies of water. So recently, I have been trying to heal from that by paddle-boarding and kayaking in the local bay. In these experiences, it has felt extremely liberating to step away from fear and be at peace on the water. I hold so much reverence for water for all of the lessons it has to share. My time paddling on the water reminds me to live my life with passion and not with fear.
Nature needs to be cared for deeply and it needs to be protected—it’s so precious and fragile. I want everyone to feel connected and to see themselves in nature so that they can take really good care of it. Mama Nature needs all of the love, respect, care, and protection she can get these days.
This excerpt from Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors, edited by Rue Mapp (Chronicle Books, 2022), appears by permission of the publisher.
Julius Crowe Hampton is a fourth-grade teacher in Oakland, California. He loves to spend time in the redwoods.