Yes, Black People Swim

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I went to work on Tuesday after Labor Day and engaged in the usual banter with my coworkers. We spoke about our weekends, what we did, and about how much we all wanted to be comfortably back in our beds at home. I talked about how I went to the beach before I went on the second hike that I lead as a co-ambassador of Hiker Babes LA Chapter. However, when we circled back onto the subject of water, a coworker made a comment that was a little out of touch.

 

“YOU—go into the water?” He said to me after looking at dark-skinned appearance all over again. It was as if for the first time he had ever considered that black people went in the water.

 

“Yes, I go in the water,” I replied. “I love the ocean, swimming in pools, learning how to surf, paddleboarding, kayaking, and sipping beer sometimes on boats wading out in the middle of lakes.”

 

“Oh, I didn’t think you did.” A bit of confusion washed over his face.

 

He had rarely seen black people out in the water, but that wasn’t because they weren’t there. It was because those images of black people, both professional aquatic athletes and everyday lovers of H2O were rarely shared in larger marketing campaigns, revealed in popular media, or even reported on in the news. The lack of imagery reinforced the negative stereotype that black people can’t swim, don’t swim, or hate water. When in reality, the truth can only be told by revisiting history.

 

Although the stereotype can be traced back to the years during the Transatlantic slave trade when black bodies were dumped over the rails of ships as they were dragged from their homes in Africa and brought to the already inhabited lands of the Americas, it is most notably recorded during the Jim Crow Era that followed. Black and white people were segregated, but when it came to the communal public pools, black people were banned, bleached, barred and harassed out of the pool. If black people wanted to learn how to swim in their city’s public pool, they would be risking their safety or even their lives in order to do so. More black people never learned how to swim because they weren’t allowed to do so.

 

Although it has affected the rate at which black people learned how to swim, it never stopped them. Many fought back and taught themselves in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Other found less violent pools, and what we see now Simone Manuel, Cullen Jones, Nick Gabaldon, Montgomery Kaluhiokalani, Mary Mills, Andrea Kabwasa, Rick Blocker, Michael February, Ashleigh Johnson, and a host of other black aquatic athletes. This wasn’t easy, but as we see more black faces gracing the covers of magazines in these roles formally unseen by the general public, we inspire more black people to enter a world where they were initially barred from completely.

 

Organizations such as The Black Surfers Collective and Black Girls Surf aim to change that. The group, Black Girls Trekkin, that I went kayaking and to the beach with also try to change the minds of people stuck on stereotypes. I commend artists and influencers such as @wildginaa who go out of their way to make sure black and brown faces are also seen out in spaces in nature. We’re clearly out there. The mountains are also a melting pot of a variety of different people hiking native lands, and yet we are only now barely seeing these faces in popular media. So, yes, black people all over the world swim. It’s just that many people have been led to believe that we don’t.

 

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What I Learned While Floating Down The LA River

Jasmine in a bright orange kayak holding a double-sided oar and floating down the LA River

 

I ventured out on to the actual LA River this past weekend with the group, Black Girls Trekkin, and had fun kayaking and meeting our tour guide and four-time Naked and Afraid contestant from LA River Expeditions, Gary Golding. He took his time instructing everyone on how to navigate our watercraft and he really made the outing fun. However, my favorite part of the entire kayaking trip was the time he took to speak about the river’s history and how it wasn’t even considered a river at first.

 

I had briefly heard about the documentary that he mentioned before, Rock the Boat, where local satirical writer, George Wolfe, boated down the fenced-in waterway, hoping to have the EPA declare the river navigable. Wolfe was hoping that it could gain protection under the Clean Water Act if he took the time to film himself kayaking down the river. He was, obviously, successful and I also enjoyed floating down the river as a result of his environmentalism, but I also couldn’t help but notice that there was still trash in the river.

 

I wrote a poem with the LA River in mind, but I also drew parallels between the river and the highways that weave in and around Los Angeles. This week alone, I witnessed three people on three separate highways throw trash out onto the road. Cups, a whole take away bag from In-n-Out, and— cigarettes. I’ve witnessed so many cigarettes thrown out of the window that I no longer find it surprising why California has so many brush fires along the side of the roads. I thought about how hard people, including me, work to clean hiking trails and the LA River, but it pains me to see people throwing their trash out on the road.

 

Yes, the river still needs a little more cleaning, but I also know that we can aid in the cleanup by first reducing the amount of trash that ends up outside in the first place. It’s not one person’s job or responsibility to do this, but as a group of mindful people, if we all at least make sure we throw away our own trash in designated trash receptacles, then we can make Los Angeles and California a better place.

 

 

The LA River

 

I was floating down the LA River

in a boat that weighed a ton

and I couldn’t help but notice

all the trash that lined the wet highway.

Rusted shopping carts

and plastic bags

clogged the pathways

and rising smog

sat between me

and the LA skyline.

There were people causing traffic

and accidents along the way,

and traveling several feet ahead

took what seemed like a lifetime.

 

We traveled with the current

and didn’t move very far

and I swear that 20 miles

shouldn’t seem that long.

Tent cities lined the river

and clothes hung off of bushes.

A man smoking a cigarette

nodded in my direction as I drifted by

and I couldn’t help but notice

the trash near his living space

while I floated down the LA River

in a boat that weighed a ton.

Pack of Peaks: Mount Baden Powell

Jasmine looking out from the side of a mountain

 

I double-checked my hiking bag for signs of water in my bladder pouch, my lunch, a second lunch, and lots of snacks. I grabbed my hiking shoes and headed out of my apartment and into the early morning darkness. It was still cool when I hopped out of my car at Vincent Gap. The sun was barely rising over the mountain that we were about to summit, and the moon was gently sinking behind the adjacent rocks. I let out an occasional yawn as I readied my hiking poles and greeted the group of friends who decided to climb to the top of Mount Baden-Powell with me. Continue reading “Pack of Peaks: Mount Baden Powell”

Your Breath Conquers Mountains

Jasmine D. Lowe

 

There are moments in life when you feel like you’re climbing a never-ending mountain. Stressed—you feel like you will never get a break. I occasionally fall into this trap, and I forget that the most important thing you need to do in order to overcome nearly any obstacle is to take a step back and breathe. Continue reading “Your Breath Conquers Mountains”

How To Avoid Drowning In Trash

An Earth Day Tale

 

Cleaning up the L.A. River with Black Girls Trekkin' and FOLAR.
Cleaning up the L.A. River with Black Girls Trekkin’ and FOLAR.

 

My shoes, already slightly soggy from the receding river sunk further into the marshy mud of the Los Angeles River. I took my free hand that was wrapped carefully in a spare plastic bag and dug at the discolored plastic that was half buried in the dirt and pulled out a destroyed to-go cup and plastic utensils. I added my find to another plastic bag that had expanded to accommodate a few pounds of nothing but trash that I found in the middle of the river.

I spent Earth Day weekend cleaning up a few well-trafficked nature areas in Southern California. The hiking group that I was with, Black Girls Trekkin’ and I carried bags of trash out of these areas and had to leave knowing that there were more pounds of trash still sitting on the sides of these trails. However, it’s not just hiking trails where I found trash.

 

Continue reading “How To Avoid Drowning In Trash”

The Ten-Year Trek

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As I looked down at the new shoes on my feet, I let my mind wander to think of the past ten years out on the trails. The old pair of shoes that I had stuffed into the trunk of a car had carried me through the cool woods of the northern forests of California, had allowed me to cross the sweltering hot deserts in the south, moved me up the jagged rocks that adorned the face of mountains in the east, and near the beautiful blue ocean on that splashed up against the sand on the west coast. For the past ten years, I met new friends, saw jaw-dropping sights, and transformed my life from a nervous small-town teen to a young adult moving forward and growing more confident as the future progressed further. Continue reading “The Ten-Year Trek”

A Vegetarian In Texas

IMG_2257The look of shock and horror had crept up on her face. I sensed jolts of confusion from her as I spoke the words. “I would like the number four without meat.”

Her eyes went blank in expression before she refocused them again on me as I stood patiently at the cash register. “Did you want another type of meat?” she asked hoping quietly to herself that I had just misspoken.

“No, just the sandwich without any meat.”

She turned around for a second to look for help and asked another cook behind her, “Do we have sprouts?” She turned to face me again. “Did you want sprouts? We can put sprouts in it.”

I smiled. “Sure, that sounds great.” I realized that the encounter that I had just gone through wouldn’t be the last in the beef state of Texas. Continue reading “A Vegetarian In Texas”

When Inspiration Comes From Pavement

Surf City MarathonAfter a trip to the restroom and a gulp of water, I lined up at the back of one of the final waves of the 2018 Surf City Half Marathon race. I was a little nervous about finishing the whole thing knowing that I hadn’t hit my mileage target. The words, I just might die, kept swirling around my head until the race announcer cued the sound for the start of the race.

I slowly inched out over the start line and followed the crowd of runners swiftly kicking their way down Huntington Beach’s stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. I jogged amongst the pack of people for several miles until the crowd began to thin out. The sounds of chatter began to wane as gasps of breath fell in their place, and you can hear, just off in the distance, the cool ocean waves crashing on top of each other trying to taunt the sweaty runners nearby. Continue reading “When Inspiration Comes From Pavement”

Promoting Equality In Green Spaces

We Have A Dream: Women Come Together To Inspire Diversity Outdoors

As Published on Evergreen Girls

IMG_5079“Oh, YOU like hiking and camping? I didn’t think that you would be into that?”

The comment came from a friend after hearing about one of my latest camping trips. It was around the time that I had joined a club for adventure seekers in college. There were no other black people in the group, and there were fewer women in the club than there were men. The club was a reflection of what I commonly saw when I laced up my boots and went hiking. Unless I was in the mountains of the diverse multi-cultural melting pot that was Los Angeles, California, I was almost always the only black female hiking in a sea of paler faces out in the woods. Continue reading “Promoting Equality In Green Spaces”

Making Adult Friends in the Age of the Internet

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Instagram | blackgirlstrekkin

Fingers rest on plastic keys and slightly smudged touchscreens as they slowly scroll down endless pages that exist only in the confines of the Internet or through control channel maps. I can physically feel the conversations emanating from my purse as my smartphone begins to vibrate.

However, I often only hear the interrupted fragments of thoughts via animated-sounding notifications, which let me know that someone on the other side of my screen has reached out.

In the age of the Internet adults and adolescents alike are extending their connections with friends and family from in-person interactions to the digital world. No longer does one longingly gaze into the distance wondering what happened to whats-her-face from high school. Now, you get to “see” her as much as you want on Facebook. Continue reading “Making Adult Friends in the Age of the Internet”