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Developing a Nature-Connection Internship to Improve Mental Health for Black Youth

Oakland, California

Featured image for the project, Developing a Nature-Connection Internship to Improve Mental Health for Black Youth

Children Immersed in Nature at Black to the Land Credit: Photo by Zappa Montag

The primary goal of this project is to create an interactive nature immersion internship program for Black youth between the ages of 16 – 20 years for the improvement of their mental health. Some young adults live in areas with systemic barriers and lack of access to nature. The main program will involve the development of an experimental curriculum to focus on the development of ecological skills and self awareness through nature connection. Upon successful completion of the program, the students will ideally experience increased nature connectedness, and improvement in holistic mental health, and heightened attunement to the environment.

 

Description

About the Community

Black to the Land is a grassroots organization which promotes Black families as we create communities through ancestral practices of reverence for all Creation and Mother Earth.  The community is physically located in the Northern California Bay Area. The ultimate goal of Black to the Land is to create a small-scale society which is a healing village, designed for earth-based living in the brutal context of historic and everyday traumas of enslavement, human trafficking, and incarceration.

The key community priority with Thriving Earth Exchange is to work on a holistic approach to mental health and ecological sustainability and justice. Our project is centered around the idea that the mental health and physical well being of historically oppressed people can be greatly improved through closer contact with nature, and through work that is restorative, healing, and sustainable to both humans and the ecology.

We have a presence in the public school system, and seek to create educational materials and programs for young people. We are also part of the larger environmental movement, and seek alliances with water protectors, land protectors, animal rights activists, and many other interest groups.

 

About the project

The primary goal of this project is to create an interactive nature immersion internship program for Black youth between the ages of 16 – 20 years for the improvement of their mental health. The participants live in areas with systemic barriers and lack of access to nature. The methodologies to achieve this will involve three data collection strategies including:

  1. Observation of participants’ conversations, engagement, and relationship building during the nature immersion internship program
  2. Interviews of participants before and after the program
  3. An extensive quantitative and qualitative survey to measure parameters of mental health such as anxiety, emotional awareness, engagement, motivation, resilience, self-purpose, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Such a survey would be conducted before and after the nature immersion program.

The main program will involve the development of an experimental curriculum to focus on nature immersion activities such as hiking, camping, field trips, soil and water quality analysis, basic survival skills, species identification, gardening, and community service. Home-based activities such as growing a plant or oyster mushrooms will be used to help the participants maintain their connection to nature. A mentoring component will be included in the program. Activities involving self-reflection, practicing gratitude, observational journaling, and recognizing inter-connectedness will be an integral piece of the immersion. The program will be a paid internship with a small stipend for each participant.

The initial program will have a duration of 4-6 weeks and will consist of a cohort of 12 participants at most. The location of this program will be in the Greater Bay Area of California. Upon successful completion of the program, the students will ideally experience increased nature connectedness, and improvement in holistic mental health, and heightened attunement to the environment.

Timeline and Milestones

Timeline: 12-18 months

Key dates:

  • Curriculum and survey development: April – November, 2022
  • Promotion and recruitment: January – May, 2023
  • In-person program: June-July, 2023
  • Data analysis post program: August-September, 2023

Project Team

Community Leads

Zappa Montag headshot

Zappa Montag was born in New York City in 1969, and moved almost immediately to the California Bay Area, and then to Mendocino County at the age of three.  His childhood spent in the Redwood forest on unceded Pomo land shaped his world view, and his vision for the future.  He went on to receive a BA Peace and Conflict Studies, with a focus on Environmental Justice, at UC Berkeley.  From there he jumped into the world of public education,  activism, and fatherhood, while also eventually attaining a MA in Education as well.

Koren Clark headshot

Koren Clark, (she, her, hers) MEd , is an Oakland, California native. She is an educator, writer and a speaker and liberatory content design strategist. with over 25 years in the field of education. She calls herself a human here to humanize and believes in the power of activism through education as a way to activate our humanity. She believes in empowering youth by supporting them with experiences to connect to themselves, each other and the earth. She works to support their empowerment by providing the adults and organizations that work with them by designing curriculum content and strategies in support of their liberation. Her educational career has led her to study and work in Harare, Zimbabwe, Berlin, Germany and Cairo, Egypt.

Ousseynou Ndoye headshot

Ousseynou Ndoye is a junior at Athenian school. He is interested in economics, marketing, and environmental science. He also enjoys nature and hiking.

Khepera Lyons-Clark headshot

Khepera Lyons-Clark is a sophomore undergraduate at Barnard College of Columbia studying Sociology with a minor in Environmental Science. She is a passionate community justice activist dedicated to using art and media and connection to nature as a means for Black liberation.

Sarai headshot

Sarai Montag is a poet, and lover of all things literary.  She is currently a college student in Northern California and hopes to graduate with the tools to succeed in finishing her environmental fantasy novel which will have Bipoc representation for young, gifted brown girls and women like her!

 

Community Partners

Sheelah Bearfoot headshot

Sheelah Bearfoot is a program manager at Anthropocene Alliance. She graduated with a degree in Genetics and Plant Biology from UC Berkeley in 2016. She’s Chiricahua Apache, and worked at the Native American Health Center in SF for two years as a diabetes educator before starting an MHS  in Environmental Health Science at Hopkins, where she continued her focus on Indigenous health disparities.

 

Community Science Fellow

Ankur Shah Headshot

Ankur Shah is the Director of Operations of Mycelium, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the circular economy. He has an academic background in Earth science and physics. He is extremely passionate about urban sustainability, climate solutions, and environmental education. He frequently produces informative videos on environmental topics on his YouTube channel.

Scientist Wanted

Black to the Land is looking for a partner who can collaboratively create an experiential nature-immersion curriculum for 16- 20 year old young adults as well as lead the development of surveys for assessing their mental health before and after the program. A partner based in or near Oakland, California would be preferred. An ideal candidate would have experience working with communities of color. The community is open to student engagement.

Desired Skills and Qualifications (bulleted list):

 

  • Experience with outdoor education
  • Experience with creating an educational curriculum for fostering nature connection
  • Background in education/pedagogy, psychology
  • Experience with creating mental health surveys
  • Knowledge and respect for indigenous cultures and worldviews
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach, and engagement
  • Experience with citizen science
  • Experience with civic engagement
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Relaxed, easy-going personality with a good sense of humor
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person
  • The scientist should have experience with BIPOC children

 

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!

Collaborating Organization(s)

AA logo

Anthropocene Alliance: Anthropocene Alliance (A2) has more than 100 member-communities in 35 U.S. states and territories. They are impacted by flooding, toxic waste, wildfires, and drought and heat — all compounded by reckless development and climate change. The consequence is broken lives and a ravaged environment.The goal of A2 is to help communities fight back. We do that by providing them organizing support, scientific and technical guidance, and better access to foundation and government funding. Most of all, our work consists of listening to our frontline leaders. Their experience, research, and solidarity guide everything we do, and offer a path toward environmental and social justice.

 

Know Thyself Logo

Know Thyself: KnowThySelf Inc. offers culturally relevant Montessori materials, designed to meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of children by any means necessary.

KnowThySelf Inc. materials provide children a mirror reflecting the most essential parts of their identity, and a window allowing them a greater understanding and appreciation of the people around them. Our organization celebrates all the diversity the world has to offer.