Happy Friday, friends!
We outside… Again! And I am personally very excited about it.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to one of my favorite Black Nature writers, Camille Dungy about her new book, “Soil” — which you’ll learn more about later. And since our conversation, I’ve been thinking about how I can be a better comrade to the natural world.
I’ve also been thinking about the ways Black experiences are excluded from environmental writing. But that makes very little sense when we are among the groups most impacted by environmental crises.
Whether you’re in a city or rural town, there are rich stories to be told about how Black folks create and relate to the spaces we call home.
Block Parties. Corner Stores. Little girls on the sidewalk playing Double Dutch. These are all important features of the environment. Where there are Black people living, laughing and thriving, there are also beautiful and rich environmental stories to be told.
This weekend, I hope you’ll take some time to look around your neighborhood and observe how the landscape impacts your experience and the experiences of your broader community.
Camille Dungy’s “Soil” Reminds Us that Black lives and nature are interconnected
When I think of a Black mother’s garden, I immediately see green. I think of an older neighbor of mine bent over in a sea of collards or turnips. As a child I never really knew the difference. But I did know for decades during big family dinners, whether it be for the holidays or just because, the vegetables we consumed were harvested by some Black woman in the community. That was what people did back then—they fed each other.
I’ll send you some black-eyed peas in exchange from some okra—that is the Black communal tradition I was raised on.
In her forthcoming memoir, Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden, Camille Dungy demonstrates how gardens can be a reflection of our respective communities, and really the nation as a whole.
You can’t talk about environmental justice without also talking about race, gender, citizenship, exclusion or violence. Because these all play a role in the human and nonhuman experience of our environment.
In the book, Dungy says: “I enjoy working in the garden. The agency to choose to work in the yard, in our yard, belongs to us alone.”
That quote is a callback to the various ways folks of color have been deprived of their agency to interact with the land on their own terms—slavery, exploitation, displacement, genocide.
“I have always felt an awareness of that sense of agency and that awareness comes both from my personal relationship [to] African American history and from the fact that I grew up in Southern California near agricultural spaces, so I saw what it meant to not have that agency for a lot of the workers who were often migrant workers from Mexico and Central America,” Dungy tells me in our interview.
Ride hard for your city
If you wanna do well at skateboarding, you gotta get comfortable doing scary things.
There were a few red flags when Ronnie Toms hopped on her cousin’s skateboard in her hometown of Seattle. First off, the board had no grip tape to keep her feet from slipping. Second off, despite it being Ronnie’s first time on a board, she found the steepest hill she could find - and just went for it. She survived.
Ronnie did skateboarding on and off back then. She credits her cousin for pushing her to take skateboarding more seriously. They were the only Black kids in the suburbs doing what they were doing. So when her cousin asked her to get real about skating, Ronnie’s response was, “Yeah! Bet!”
“It wasn’t until I was 19 when I actually started skateboarding for real,” Ronnie said. “I went to my first skate park and went down these ramps. Shit was scary, but it was fun and I learned.”
Ronnie moved a lot during her childhood. So skateboarding gave her a place to find connection. After moving to California for a better climate, she now tears up the concrete in San Diego. The dreary rainy weather Seattle is known for just ain’t it if you wanna be a skater, she said.
Ronnie chatted with Black Joy founder Starr Dunigan about creating a skate group for Black skateboarders called The Collective in Seattle and the future of skateboarding. The group is on hiatus right now, but she still rides hard for the skateboarders in her hometown and is planning to visit the city soon to start the meetups again.
Starr: When you started to embrace skateboarding, did you see anyone who looked like you in your area or on TV? Like, who inspired you?
Ronnie: I had always looked up to my pro-skaters, and I couldn’t ever find anybody. I’m like, “Where are they at? Where are they at? I don’t see these girls.” It would get frustrating trying to be inspired and trying to know what level I should be at even though I should skate just to skate. But it’s just like, I didn’t know what was possible for females or not.
So I was skateboarding mostly in the hood. Even though I was from suburbia for a little bit, I didn’t grow up in suburbia. So I just never really felt comfortable. I knew the people that I was kicking it with, they weren’t really my homies if you get what I’m saying - in suburbia. So I would skate and kick it in the hood all the time. That’s where I met a lot of my people - people who I know today. You know, my life really didn’t start until I was 19 when it came to friendships. So I was kicking it with the homies and stuff and there would be people who were Black and who were skating.
Starr: So what led to the creation of The Collective?
Ronnie: We’re small numbers. So we need to stick together. Like, in skateboarding, we’re already low in numbers. And then on top of that, just the area of Seattle, like Black people only make up like four or six percent of the population. So to me, it’s just necessary.
We link up. We skate. We got this skate shop behind us. So they’ll donate some stuff for us to have competitions and stuff. We created merch to build support. Pretty much the merch money typically just went right back into the community, like someone who needs a board or prizes. Say somebody just need $10 or $20 for some gas money. They already knew to hit me up and I would just send it to them. But the amount would be in low numbers. Nothing anyone would take advantage of, you get what I’m saying.
Sometimes I’ll do like a pop up quiz in the [Instagram] story. I’ll ask them a Black history question and whoever gets it, they can either take $10 or they can double it for the next person. But it only goes up to like $60. Most people just want to answer it and they don’t really care about the money. They’ll be like, “Hey, double it for the next person who might need it.”
It’s all about community. It’s all love. It’s letting everybody know that we got your back. Don’t even worry about it. We’re all here. We are all family.
Starr: Do you mind sharing with me moments of Black joy y’all have created with The Collective?
Ronnie: I think it’s just us meeting up and just sharing our stories. It’s reassuring. It’s healthy validation to hear like, “Oh, you’ve been through that too?” We just talk about how racism works and be like, “Yeah, you going through that too? That happened to me.” It’s just this cool vibe of like, “Hey, bro. We’re all getting together.” And it’s the love of our people, you know?
Starr: Following the murder of Tyre Nichols, it was revealed that he loved skateboarding. So a lot of Black skaters did meetups in his honor. What were your thoughts when you saw that sense of community?
Ronnie: On some real sh*t, the community always gonna be together no matter what. Like, that’s just who we are. We don’t like laws. We don’t like cops. We don’t f**k with them. One of the reasons probably why we skate is because we don’t follow the rules. Skateboarding has always been deemed as something “bad.” But now we have stuff like the Olympics, and it’s like, “Oh. This is so cool.” That’s why I f**k with skaters a lot because we’re on the same kind of wave. We believe ACAB.
Starr: So what are your thoughts on people who see skateboarding as a part of Black culture?
Ronnie: I think it’s very much a part of it. That’s just a stigma that people place on skateboarding. They wanna be like, “Oh, that’s a white boy sport.” Yeah, maybe like 30 years ago. But if you’re into skateboarding, you know that it’s everybody’s sport, honestly. There’s people from all walks of life who skateboard. That’s why I feel like everyone likes to skateboard: because it’s like everybody’s sport.
No matter where I go – if I’m in the hood or not – there’s going to be a skatepark. Depending on what area you are at, you’re going to see a certain type of demographic at that park. So like I’m in San Diego. When I go to the park down the street from my house, I already know I’m about to see hella Mexicans and Black people at that park. That’s just how it goes.
Starr: So how do you see the future of skateboarding?
Ronnie: No matter what country you are in, your country has skateboarding. Like in Africa, they’ve been on it, but they’re really getting on it now. Oh, man. Ten years from now? Africa is probably gonna take over skateboarding. The skate parks there are not as nice as the skate parks out here. So that means they’re coming from the gutter, and when you’re coming from the gutter, you really don’t have the nice materials, you’re gonna get hella good. You’re gonna get raw. Like, you ain’t got no choice but to be good at it. There’s no baby steps, you just gotta go straight to it. I’ve been watching those videos and they are hella good. I’m telling you, 10 years from now, it’s about to be a wrap. I’m really excited for them.
See ya’ next time, and remember to spread Black joy!