Inspired by the Obama Administration’s commitment to connecting more young Americans to the outdoors and by the President’s trip 2015 to Alaska, Fresh Tracks Leadership Expeditions is a new joint partnership between IslandWood, Sierra Club, the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders, REI, and action sports retailer Zumiez. The cultural exchange provided young adults from Los Angeles and Alaska with opportunities to travel together to both regions and explore diverse cultures and the outdoors. Fresh Tracks enabled each group to learn from the other, build critical leadership skills, and become even stronger advocates for their communities. The trip portion of Fresh Tracks took place in August 2016, and the Natural Leaders Network continues to support and mentor participants moving forward.
It’s 8:05pm in Los Angeles, in a housing complex right outside of USC’s campus.
Participants in the Fresh Tracks: Leadership Expedition have just wrapped up their small group reflections. Those small groups were the last item in an agenda that saw them wake up and leave Islandwood at 5am, hop on a ferry, ride a school bus, and catch a flight from Seattle to Los Angeles. All this on Day 4 of a 15-day trip.
A group of guys gather. Their excitement is evident and obvious. They come from different neighborhoods in/near Los Angeles and Alaska. Cameron from Leimert Park. Jared and Austin from Compton. Floyd from Long Beach. Esau and Edgar from Shishmaref. And Waylon from Chevak. Most of these guys met one another at the beginning of the program — just three long days ago.
The goal of Fresh Tracks was (and is) to bring young leaders from Los Angeles and Alaska together for two weeks of cultural exchange, leadership development, civic engagement, stewardship and outdoor exploration.
The aim was for participants from LA to learn about Alaska from Alaskans, and vice versa.
They are all still in the stage where they are asking questions along the lines of “What is it like where you live?” and “Show me that on a map.” All the participants are still learning names, still getting to know each other, still forming relationships.
It’s 8:10pm in Los Angeles, in a housing complex right outside of USC’s campus.
The guys make their way to the complex’s basketball court and a basketball appears, seemingly channeling their energy and excitement.
It’s 8:12pm in Los Angeles, in a housing complex right outside of USC’s campus.
The ball bounces, the first shot goes up. The distance between Los Angeles and Alaska (3000 miles) is reduced to the two feet separating Cameron from Edgar as he gets low in his defensive stance, preparing to stop Edgar’s drive to the basket.
Blocked shots, crossovers, laughs, missed layups, jumpers hit over the outstretched hand of a defender, picked pockets, floaters, good natured fouls and trash talk fill the next two hours. Most of the hesitancy, awkwardness, shyness and unfamiliarity disappears as does the focus on what is different between the two groups.
It’s 10:12pm in Los Angeles, in a housing complex right outside of USC’s campus. It’s past curfew, but I tend to let curfew slide for moments like these (plus, I was playing myself).
African American, White, Alaskan Native, inner-city and suburbs, extrovert and introvert, Democrat and Republican… All these labels, cultures, and subgroups are united, brought together by Fresh Tracks and connected by the sport of basketball, a connection that the participants would continue to build on for the next two weeks.
The next day, Fresh Tracks visits the Drew League, a community-led, world renowned pro-am basketball league. The basketball crew from the night before rushes in, grabs snacks, and finds seats together—Alaska and LA—to take in the sights, once again connecting past differences for the shared love of the game.
And that is part of what Fresh Tracks experience was for me. As a facilitator and mentor, it meant working to bring these two groups together and providing them with the space and opportunity to create common ground from which they could share their cultures and these experiences.
Often, programs, groups, and organizations highlight diversity by focusing on differences and the things that make people unique, then attempting to build a connection and community around the existence of those differences.
On this one night in Los Angeles, I saw a group of guys show how powerful it can be to start from common ground — the love of the game —and expand to learn more about another’s culture, whether that ground is a similar life experience or the painted lines of a basketball court.
Additional Reading & Resources from C&NN
MAKING FRESH TRACKS: Natural Leaders from the Arctic Circle and Urban Los Angeles Partner Up
FROM ALASKA TO AUSTRALIA: A Global Odyssey to Connect Kids with Nature
NATURAL LEADERS LEGACY CAMP: One Young Man Decides to Give Back the Way His Father Did
BEYOND LEGACY CAMP: What C&NN’s Natural Leaders Do When They Get Home
WE’RE READY! C&NN’S Natural Leaders Pledge to Support National “Every Kid in a Park” Initiative
THE LIGHT OF NATURAL LEADERS: Young People Move the New Nature Movement
Additional Reading & Resources
NEW watch the Fresh Tracks video capturing participants’ voices from the August experience
Youth Partnership Between the Children & Nature Network, IslandWood, the Sierra Club, and Zumiez Highlighted in Official White House Announcement
IslandWood FreshTracks2016 Travel Blog
Nature Play WA’s inaugural Children and Nature Conference
Every Kid in a Park Initiative
Photo Credit: Tony Teske; René von Saint George