Black Joy

Hustlin’ is for the birds | Black Joy – August 12, 2022

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Hey, y’all!

So earlier this week, I came back from the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalist conference in Las Vegas.

While I didn’t win the jackpot, I’m happy to be home to celebrate one of my biggest wins: Getting to celebrate Black joy every week with y’all. Vegas is a lot of fun. But it’s also a city of grandeur and bustling crowds. Since my hotel was off strip, one of my favorite moments was waking up and seeing the dawn creep over the Spring Mountains, which lie just beyond the busy energy of Las Vegas. After a week of noise and networking, I’m excited to be back home, where the sanctuary of nature is right in our backyards.

Before we hike into another outdoorsy feature for this week’s Black Joy, please forward this newsletter to your friends and family so we can all take in a deep breath of fresh air.

– Starr

Adventuring to peace

Through coursing rivers and winding trails, Dr. Kim Walker and her husband, Claude, have guided hundreds of Black people on a journey that balances work and wellness.

In 2018, the Walkers founded Abundant Life Adventure Club, which curates outdoor excursions for Black professionals who need to unplug from life and recharge through the wonders of nature. Those who join the club for $39 a month, or $390 a year, will join a community of more than 200 Black entrepreneurs and professionals who meet every Saturday to enjoy the green gems in and around Nashville, Tenn. The group encourages one another as they ground themselves through meditative hikes and take dips beneath waterfalls.

The club hosts larger monthly events open to everyone. Currently, Claude and Kim are running their eight month long “Black Joy in Nature” series, which takes explorers through multiple Tennessee adventures. This Saturday, you’ll catch the club soaring through the air as they zipline across the forest in Kingston Springs, Tenn.

All events are tailored with beginning explorers in mind because Kim and Claude weren’t always outdoorsy people. The couple’s relationship with Mother Nature started with hiking. Now, they are making sure their community joins them as they go biking, rock climbing, kayaking, horseback riding and even traveling internationally to Puerto Rico and Africa. That genuine connection with their members is why Kim and Claude believe Abundant Life Adventure Club was ranked second amongst ten travel companies in the nation by USA Today. Nature has become the Walker family’s self-care sanctuary and they want all Black professionals to tap into that magic.

“The outdoors provides something more than just being in the gym,” Claude said. “It really helped our family, our marriage (and) our relationship with my son. He wouldn’t be on his phone and we would get a chance to disconnect and be out in nature, meditate, pray – be able to just be one as a family.”

Kim based the club’s name on a Bible scripture and her belief that everyone should be able to live an abundant life – one free from the multiple stress of navigating systemic racism in the workplace. Black women still make less than their white coworkers. A study by Future Forum found that 97 percent of Black professionals didn’t look forward to going back to the office full-time and confront microaggressions and discrimination.

Then there’s John Henryism, which gets its name from the Black folk tale honoring the strongest, fastest, and most powerful steel-driving man on the railroad after the Civil War. Some herald John Henry a hero because he won a race against a steam drill to bore out a tunnel. Others see John Henry as a cautionary tale because he died of exhaustion.

Before starting Abundant Life Adventure Club, both Claude, who works for a logistics company, and Kim, an occupational therapist, felt the psychological and physical pressures of being Black in the white workforce. Claude hustled more to be seen as successful in the workforce, which comes with psychological and physical costs.

“It can make us slip into mental health issues,” Claude said. “From the perspective of a Black man, it can be overwhelming. I’m hustling to try to stay ahead. Hustling to try to stay in my position. Trying to try to move up in my position…you try to prove your worth.”

The mantra “work twice as hard for half as much” was an unspoken piece of advice in Kim’s family and friendship circles, especially when it came to her career. Although she’s naturally ambitious, she believed she had to strive to get the highest degree in her field. And was working four jobs at the time.

For Claude and Kim, the stress of grind culture showed up as depression, weight gain, hair loss, an emotional disconnection in their relationship. Happy hour and food became their coping mechanism of choice. They called it “living for the weekend.” But they felt a loss of energy as they dreaded the work week ahead. Then in 2017, they suffered a pregnancy loss. She kept herself busy to contain the grief.

“I want to say I took one day off work and then went back to work after losing a pregnancy. I needed to heal from that…We were a hot mess,” Kim said. “After that, we became very intentional about changing our whole lifestyle and outdoors was a part of it.”

Kim was the first one to brave the outdoors. She said she was on a mission to live her best life when she drove two hours away to met a group of strangers for a hike at Fall Creek Falls State Park, home to Tennessee’s tallest waterfall. She laughs at how nervous she was now. Anxiety bubbled up within her as she worried about if she was wearing the right jacket and shoes. There was only one other Black person in the group. So Kim befriended them, of course.

The hike was long, but seeing the main attraction made it worth it. She was mesmerized by the roar of 256-foot waterfall and how a rainbow shimmered from the mist. It was refreshing site to her normally busy mind, she said.

“I lived in Tennessee, most of my life and never knew that we had these waterfalls,” Kim said. “Those types of places bring a true state of awe. It kind of puts you in this place where you feel small in a big world, and you can only focus on what’s in front of you. You are 100 percent focused on the present.”

Kim knew she couldn’t just visit the falls once. During her next visit, she brought Claude and her stepson with her. From that moment on they were addicted to nature and they decided to go on more hikes together. Claude said the outdoors gave him a gift that “living for the weekend” couldn’t match.

“It made me feel alive and it gave me a sense of calmness,” Claude said. “It made me feel like I was more energized to take on the week.”

There was something missing from their experience: a community who looked like them. The couple noticed a lack of Black hikers and other nature enthusiasts right away. So they started asking their loved ones to join them. With less than a year’s worth of hiking experience, they decided to take charge and do a beginner-level hiking series.

The couple paused series when winter came, but they didn’t slow down. They spent the cold months coming up with a logo, a name and other outdoor activities. All that ambition and determination that was poured into their jobs was now being used to build something to benefit Black professionals who are experiencing burnout. When Abundant Life Adventure Club became official in March 2018, it quickly became a hit with other Black nature enthusiasts. Because, unlike the office, Black people can show up to a code-switch free event without fear, Kim said.

“When you’re around people who look like you, you feel comfortable. You’re in a safe space,” Claude said. “I feel like people can be genuinely themselves and not have to explain who they are, or why they talk like this, or wear their hair like this.”

As the Walkers grow their adventure club through partnerships and other big events like this Black Joy camping trip, Claude and Kim’s wellbeing has improved. They have lost 140 pounds combined and they have since had a baby.

Kim says she doesn’t code switch at work anymore. It’s too exhausting, she says. One thing about Abundant Life Adventure Club is that they can hold each other accountable when they feel like one of them is slipping back into their busy-body habits. The motto on the adventure club’s website says, “Live. Don’t just hustle.”

“I’m recovering from the hustle culture,” Kim said. “We’re not judging whether hustle culture is good or bad. If that’s what you feel like you need to do, we’ve been there. We just want people to know that you need to break away from it because when you’re in a persistent hustle mode, it can be terrible for you.”

Feel the burn. Not the burnout.

Black excellence deserves its recognition. But if it is coming at the expense of your wellbeing, you may need to check yourself and look out for these signs of burn out by the Mayo Clinic.

Also, if the outdoors ain’t your thing, Kim and Claude have other ways to alleviate burnout.

  • Move and groove: You don’t have to be outdoors to enjoy some movement. Any type of activity that gets your body moving. So feeling the burn at the gym, during yoga or dance classes, or even doing some gentle movements, like gardening or walking, works. If you need a little motivation, put on your favorite jams to elevate your mood.
  • Tap your inner circle: Friendships during adulthood can me hard. If you haven’t hit up your friends in a while, consider this your sign to send that text or call to meet up. Kim and Claude said hospitality is a spiritual gift of theirs. So they love entertaining guests at their home or outside. Kim said some food, fun and laughs may be the therapy you need when you’re stuck. “You should connect with your friends regularly,” Kim said. “Friendship is essential to the soul.”
  • Therapy: Of course, you shouldn’t make your friends your therapists because burnout can lead to cynicism. “When you’re burned out and really stressed, you can be thinking some crazy stuff, like, ‘Oh, I’m done with this,’” Kim said. “You can’t really see past certain things. I feel like, at some point, most of us, if not all of us, would benefit from some level of counseling, coaching or an unbiased professional space that can help you challenge some of your thoughts.”

Get outdoors and spread the Black Joy! See y’all next week!

Jonece Starr Dunigan

Jonece Starr Dunigan |

Jonece Starr Dunigan (She/her/hers) is a journalist who gives the microphone to communities that are often ignored by mainstream media. Guided by empathy, her reporting centers the stories, movement work and voices of Black, brown and queer people. Her writing strives to amplify and empower readers instead of exploiting them of their traumas.

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