Mother’s Day 2022
By Natalie Cash and Vanessa Garrison | May 7, 2022
The first step to liberation and healing begins with a walk.
This year, GirlTrek mobilized Black women across the world to walk 2.22 miles to commemorate and celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of legendary Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, suffragist, Civil War veteran, wife and mother, Harriet Tubman.
As we walked in the open spaces all around us, it was humbling to imagine how intimately familiar with the environment Harriet had to be in order to safely and successfully transport her people to freedom. Slipping back and forth across state lines at night, she was profoundly aware of every river and passageway, employed celestial navigation to avoid capture, and even imitated bird calls to let her passengers know when the route was safe to travel.
Whether on walks in urban centers or in the countryside, Harriet remains our north star for connection with the natural world. Today, GirlTrek’s mission to get Black women walking outdoors in community with one another is a direct line back to our heroic foremother — but it also grounds us in communion with the original mother: Mother Nature.
Unfortunately, when we listen closely, we can hear her alarm cry. The Earth is facing three existential crises — climate, biodiversity loss and global health crises — all rooted in the destruction of wildlife and wild places. A United Nations report found that humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes, seascapes, and climate so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to the ecosystems we depend on for our own survival.
Consider the many benefits nature provides: it regulates the climate, provides clean water, flood protection, and food security; it prevents pandemics and is a source of new medicines; it sustains our livelihoods and supports our mental health. When we protect nature, we protect ourselves.
Marginalized communities and communities of color have long been at the forefront of the fight for environmental justice as our neighborhoods suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and the disastrous effects of pollution, and a history of systemic racism.
We know that the benefits of being outdoors in nature are many: from reduced stress and anxiety and improved mood and heart health, to increases in memory and creativity and energy. The benefits are universal but access is not. The question of who is invited in, who has been historically excluded, and who has always been on the land but marginalized is a matter we are addressing together head on.
Just as diverse ecosystems make nature stronger, we need a diversity of voices to protect the natural world.
In conjunction with his five-part Netflix series, Our Great National Parks, WCS was proud to partner with President Barack Obama on Wild For All, a campaign that welcomes everyone to get out into nature and take steps to ensure its protection. Research shows, the more connected a person is to nature, the more likely they are to become involved in its conservation.
The actions we can take on Wild For All to protect Mother Earth may seem simple — but as with any grassroots movement, our collective impact adds up and each individual step counts.
Today, we walk for the renewal of our spirit, a reconnection with our foremothers, the restoration of our health, and the rewilding of our planet. From Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks to Michelle Obama, we know that when Black women walk, things change. On this Mother’s Day, we invite you to join us at www.wildforall.org.
Natalie Cash is executive producer for the Wildlife Conservation Society (@TheWCS), a global organization that harnesses the power of its field conservation programs around the world and its zoos and aquarium in New York to save wildlife and wild places.
Vanessa Garrison is the co-founder and chief operating officer for GirlTrek (@GirlTrek) the largest health movement for Black women and girls, with more than 1 million members committed to walking towards healing and liberation.