22 minutes | Jan 13, 2021

From The Barbershop To The Backcountry

The Black Men Northwoods Retreat Hey everybody. Happy New Year! I know things seem to be getting off to a rocky start. How’s that for an understatement. But I sincerely believe that by working together we can get past our differences and move forward toward a brighter future. We just need to come up with creative solutions to our many extremely complicated problems. For example, in the spring of 2020 I was asked by the National Forest Foundation to create a storytelling project.  They asked me to create a series of photographs and interviews about the Black community and its relationship with the outdoors. Cause you know…that’s kind of my thing. But smack in the middle of the global Covid-19 Pandemic this already complicated project had the added challenges of travel restrictions, social distancing, and the potential of spreading the virus among a group of participants already at the highest risk of contracting this deadly disease. But rather than trying to come up with a solution all on my own, I reached out to a dude who knows more about these issues than anyone I know. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] Aaron Perry: You know, probably the biggest challenge that I'm seeing is we're dealing with three epidemics, you got, you know, obviously covid-19, you have, you know, the health disparities and then you have racial tension. My friend Aaron Perry is the founder and executive director of the Rebalanced Life Wellness Center based right here in Madison Wisconsin. He works at helping to overcome the healthcare challenges that Black men face not only southern Wisconsin, but across the country. Aaron Perry: What I try to do is always be a part of the solution, period, point blank. I'm constantly looking at how can we be creative? How can we get our men to take part or participate in things that that's really kind of out of the box thinking. As it happens, the rise of the Coronavirus put into sharp relief many of the institutional disparities that place the Black community in jeopardy. High rates of unemployment, limited access to affordable healthcare, and the prospects of being subjected to racially motivated violence already make this population more susceptible to chronic illness, injury or even death. Black men and women are more likely as well to suffer from ailments such as obesity, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes, conditions that can be reversed or remedied with physical exercise and better access to more nutritious foods. At a time when all the people of the world are being asked to stay indoors and prohibit their contact with others outside of their immediate families, the Pandemic has taken an even higher toll on those most vulnerable to infection. Ironically, however, the best place for this community to find healing and solace from the trauma of this crisis is in the outdoors. For the last few years, I’ve watched and even participated in a few of the outdoor events that Aaron has organized for Black men. Every week, in a bit of out of the box thinking, he offers a group running, walking or bicycling opportunity in the Madison area. A lot of his work focuses on getting Black men to eat right, exercise and get regular checkups at the doctor. And Aaron believes that being healthy also means getting outside in public and unapologetically being part of the wider world. Aaron Perry: But I started looking at these other activities because I've always said to the guys, I said, please remember, this is our community. This is our country, too, and everything under the sun we're entitled to as well. So, with Aaron’s help we recruited a small group of Black men and their sons to experience the outdoors in a meaningful way. We wanted to take them hiking on public land in a natural setting. Everyone got a negative Covid-19 test and we created what I like call, an escape pod, a tight cohort of like-minded folks who can safely venture out together for a common experience.
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