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Angela Davis once said: “If we don’t start practicing collective self-care now, there’s no way to imagine, much less reach, a time of freedom.” Meet Peaks of Colour, the walking club by and for people of colour, which is trying to ensure we do reach that ultimate goal. 

As we congregated, a group of almost twenty Black and brown explorers around a picnic bench outside a National Trust visitor centre, I realised that I had never been quite as aware of my own existence – our collective existence – as I was did in that moment.

 “This is intense, where stores carry alli ” one of the group members said, exhaling deeply. “I knew what we were doing here was important, but I wasn’t expecting to feel it so much.” There we perched at our designated meeting point, amid a sea of similar picnic benches, all of which were occupied by white faces – many of whom were giving us curious glances. We were symbolic. Here we were, taking up space in a landscape which is traditionally white-dominated, within the grounds of an institution that is arguably a gatekeeper of natural environments.

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For the four hours that followed, our walking club, Peaks of Colour – a Peak District-based walking club by and for people of colour – set off on an informal ramble through the Longshaw Estate. Our group (18 people of all genders, ethnicities and ages) weaved its way down wooded paths, picnicked beside Padley Gorge’s riverbed, and basked in the fields of heather as the late summer sun fought through the clouds.  

Following in the footsteps of those who traversed these paths before us (Black Girls Hike and Muslim Hikers, for example) the group, still in its infancy, was born out of a need for safe spaces for people of colour in nature. 

A 2019 study found that only 1% of visitors to UK national parks come from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethic) communities, owing to a multitude of factors. From experiencing rural racism and microaggressions from fellow explorers to the financial implications of hiking (the cost of travel and equipment; hiking boots, walking sticks, waterproofs), there exists a variety of barriers that create a racial divide in who can and can’t access nature and the mental health benefits it offers.  

Addressing the collective Black mental health crisis

And Lord, do we need those benefits! This year, we have experienced a persistent kind of personalised and politicised racialised trauma that’s saturated every aspect of our lives. 

From the ways that BAME communities have been impacted disproportionately by Covid-19, to the secondary trauma experienced while witnessing the murders of our brothers and sisters, or the racial gaslighting inflicted by government reports denying institutional racism, it’s often felt like there’s been no escape from the onslaught of suffering, discourse, and debates. 

For people of colour, racial justice work is all-consuming. It’s not a part-time hobby that we can just dip in and out of, and it’s not an additional interest that we can de-prioritise.

Even if we don’t identify as activists, our racial justice work can be seen in the way we overcome microaggressions and everyday prejudices; how we exist proudly, defiantly and joyfully as people of colour. 

People of colour have been weathering umpteen racially-charged storms in recent years, including health inequalities and police brutality.

When the tentative struggle for justice becomes a battle too burdensome to fight, we reach what is known as ‘activist burnout’. Defined as a condition that occurs when a political or social activist feels overwhelmed, frustrated, hopeless, or depressed after a period of extensive engagement, activist burnout is dangerous for both the individual and society. Symptoms of burnout include depression, insomnia, hypervigilance, exhaustion, anger or numbness. This numbness then translates into inactivity because we simply do not have the energy to feel anymore. Not only is this detrimental to our own mental health, but it has a ripple effect on our community. It can dampen, even extinguish a movement.

“Radical self-care”, therefore, is prescribed as one remedy. Advocated for by the likes of Angela Davis and Audre Lorde – who once famously wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” – this Black feminist concept is the assertion that we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves first, before attempting to take care of others. When we are faced with the daily onslaught of bigotry and crushed with the weight of civic responsibility, practising self-love, and self-care is imperative. 

Finding transformative healing in nature

So, where do we go when our entire identity – who we are, what we’re passionate about, what we’re fighting for, the experiences which define us – becomes too much for us? I go to the Peak District. As a survivor of both domestic abuse and racialised trauma in its many forms, I’ve found the deepest, most soulful, transformative healing when rambling through forests, perched atop cliff edges, and submerged into the bodies of waterfalls in the Peaks. 

I founded Peaks of Colour as a way of extending the invitation to other non-white people to share this lifeline. I wanted to connect with those who may have also found this sense of solace in nature and who want to experience it with people to whom they can relate, as well as those who may be searching for ways to show themselves care and compassion.

This collective repair allows us to go to a place, physically or metaphorically, that makes us feel at home in a world that’s constantly telling us we don’t belong. Our communities are a place of solidarity and strength and bringing that strength to nature enables us to relax, recharge, replenish and return to the real world a little lighter.

When we care for each other as individuals, we ensure that the movement has both the strength and longevity to achieve social change. Radical self-care is the wholesome sense of contentment that our group feels as we say our farewells and vow to reconvene at the next Peaks of Colour walking club adventure. This is why we exist. 

To join and support Peaks of Colour:

Fancy joining us on our next adventure? Join the POC-only Facebook group, follow us on Instagram and if writing is your thing, book onto the Peaks of Colour Writing in Nature for WOC workshop that’s happening on Sunday 26 September 2021. If you’d like to donate to Peaks of Colour, you can do so here.

For more first person pieces, nutritional tips and workout ideas, follow Strong Women on Instagram (@StrongWomenUK).

Images: Getty

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