Decolonizing Your Relationship to Nature with Sarita Covington
What does your relationship to the great outdoors look like? Are you a fresh air junkie? A homebody? Somewhere in between?
In this episode, Sarita Covington and I talk about what it means to decolonize your relationship to nature and how to do that in small steps. We also discuss the deep-rooted relationship between nature, white supremacy, social justice, and anti-racism.
Sarita Covington is an Educator, Harlem Mom, and the Founder of Upper Manhattan Forest Kids, an organization that leads outdoor classes for children and their families in New York City’s green spaces.
What does it mean to decolonize your relationship to nature?
We each have a uniquely different relationship to the outdoors, influenced by how we were raised and the experiences we’ve had throughout our adulthood. Whether you’re a city dweller, a mountain dweller, or a dweller of the coast, you are deeply connected to nature. Yet, many of us aren’t tuned in to that connection.
White supremacy took away a sense of community from Black people because our communing was seen as a threat. Where did we typically gather in community? Outside. Many of the communities and places of congregation that were purposely destroyed by white people were outdoor spaces. There are many ways this still manifests today. Gentrification, police surveillance…But we can’t let the fear of the white gaze stop us and our children from enjoying the beauty of nature that we all have the right to.
Recalling and reclaiming our relationship with the outdoors is huge. It’s activism!
Embracing the ancestral practices of being outdoors and expressing ourselves as loudly as we want to is difficult for Black people. We know that there are times and places where it’s truly not safe to be ourselves outside, but this planet is for us. We do have the ability to carve out spaces in nature that are safe and sacred for us. As Sarita says, we deserve that relationship, it’s something our ancestors held dear to them.
“The Earth is always there and it’s teaching us, it’s speaking to us. They’re always telling us, ‘remember’.” – Sarita Covington
Children innately want to explore nature, and even though that can involve “risky play”, it’s in the adventure, the risk, and the exploration that kids learn. The key to safely fostering risky play is to understand the difference between your own fears and what’s actually unsafe. “We learn from the things that are new, surprising, and maybe even a little scary,” Sarita says, “So, we don’t want to have children out in a way that’s unsafe, but risk is a slightly different thing and we do want them to have that experience. Maybe the insect does bite her and maybe that’s okay… Then, she learns.”
Getting dirty is more than healthy, it’s healing! Even if I’m screaming on the inside because I think the worm Gia’s playing with is gross, I don’t stop her from experiencing that curiosity (unless it’s truly dangerous). Curiosity may kill the cat, but it helps children thrive.
Whether it’s digging in the garden, going for a walk on the beach, or having a picnic in the park, it’s important for our children to see us enjoying nature and for us to see our children enjoying nature, too.
How to Start Introducing More Nature Into Your Life:
- Reframe how you envision more nature in your life. What about nature do you actually enjoy? Start there.
- Start small. Go on walks. Practice looking around and noticing nature’s beauty. Talk with your kids about what you see and ask them about what they see.
- Think of the outdoors as a place to re-examine your relationship with nature.
- You or your kids might think that you need something to do when you go outside, but you don’t! There’s so much entertainment and medicine nature has to offer. There’s always something happening right under your nose, but if you’re not used to it, you might miss it. So, approach your time outdoors the way you would approach someone you’re going on a date with, with grace, patience, and curiosity.
Get lost in nature and you will find yourself again.
About Sarita Covington (she/her):
Sarita grew up in Harlem, with Central Park as her access to nature. Early education began at a progressive public school that was an early experiment in the small school movement in Harlem. Frequent trips to the park where soil samples were obtained and then included in elementary science class contributed to a deepened curiosity about the world around her.
Today, Sarita is a social entrepreneur, an anti-racist organizer, and a multi-disciplinary artist who received her MFA from Yale. As an anti-racist community organizer, she co-founded ACRE (Artists Co-Creating Real Equity), a body of artists and cultural workers committed to undoing racism. As a teaching artist, she has worked with young people and adults from a variety of communities, such as the Fishkill Correctional Facility, Yale’s Schools of Divinity and Drama, NYC Public Schools, Philadelphia Charter School students, Danish High School students, and Mexican children in Tijuana. Her work has received support from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Open Meadows Foundation, The Puffin Foundation, and the Jerome Foundation. She is mom to an amazing 8-year-old who inspires and teaches her every day.
To connect further with Sarita & Upper Manhattan Forest Kids:
Visit their website: https://www.uppermanhattanforestkids.com
Follow them on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/uppermanhattanforestkids
Connect with them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uppermanhattanforestkids
Read the TRANSCRIPT here: click here
This episode was produced by Crys & Tiana.