The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Reckoning with racism with a walk in the woods

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Video documents success of ‘Smokies Hikes for Healing’ endeavor

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash was as shaken as the rest of us this past spring and summer when a national reckoning of racism erupted across the country following the homicide of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

Also like many of us, Cash, who is Black, wondered what he could do to help heal 400-year-old wounds.

He determined we needed to take a walk in the woods and talk about things.

“As an African American man and son of a police officer, I found myself overwhelmed with the challenges we faced in 2020 and the endless news cycle that focused on racial unrest,” Cash said in a press release distributed Feb. 26. 

“My medicine for dealing with this stress was a walk in the woods, and I felt called to share that experience with others. Following a summer hike in the park, I brought together our team to create an opportunity for people to come together for sharing, understanding, and healing.” 

Sixty people directly participated in Cash’s Smokies Hikes for Healing program, Smokies Hikes for Healing, which ran from August to December in the national park. Hundreds of people visited an accompanying website to learn more or acquire information on how to lead their own such hikes.

Cash, who credited the park team who helped him organize the innovative project, correctly determined there was no more appropriate place to honestly discuss racism and the importance of diversity than a hike in one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.

David Lamfrom, Stephanie Kyriazis, and Marisol Jiménez, facilitated the hikes and created a “brave space for open conversations about diversity and racism,” according to the park release, which also announced the availability of the Smokies Hikes for Healing video produced by Great Smoky Mountains Association. 

Friends of the Smokies and New Belgium Brewing Company also contributed financial support to the effort.

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