by Amanda Ong
The fifth annual Refuge Outdoor Festival will be held at Tolt MacDonald Park from Friday 12th August to Sunday 14th August. The festival is hosted by Golden Bricks Events, who also host events such as Sundaes Outside. Refuge is a camping experience centered around BIPOC but open to anyone with an interest in the great outdoors, whether they’re folks with years of mountain biking experience or someone just enjoying their local park. Tickets for the event are still available through the Refuge Outdoor Festival website until it opens on August 12th.
“The Refuge Outdoor Festival is the first event we created,” Chevon Powell, founder of Golden Bricks Events and Refuge, told the South Seattle Emerald. “And it was really about centering the BIPOC community and its allies in nature, building community through outdoor recreation, music and a weekend together to take refuge from all the mundane things because nature can be so powerful .”
This is the fifth year Golden Bricks is hosting the event and the third year in person after two years of holding the event virtually during the pandemic. But Refuge is back on trend this year, bringing with it some new elements like partnering with the Rain Or Shine Community Market for a big partner market on the second day of the festival and over 25 workshops and activities throughout the festival. This year there will even be a screening of Expedition Reclamation, a film starring 14 BIPOC women who are redefining the idea of the outside. There will also be music as well as a silent disco where attendees can use headphones to make music together, giving them the opportunity to do what they feel most comfortable with outdoors.
For Powell, founding Refuge was a way to center and elevate BIPOC in the natural world, which has a reputation for being predominantly white, with many barriers to entry for BIPOC. Ironically, Powell said that all humans have been nourished by some connection to nature for generations, but many younger BIPOC may be alienated from that connection due to racial and socioeconomic barriers. Golden Bricks and Refuge work first to break down some of these barriers and then to center and uplift BIPOC outdoors.
“A lot of our work happens behind the scenes, making sure people have the resources and knowledge, transportation and equipment,” Powell said. “That’s why we’re working with our partners to ensure that whatever your outdoor involvement, you have full support to come and take refuge. Because we all know that being in nature and being connected to nature, whether it be outdoor recreation or gardening, has so many health benefits.”
The festival aims to bring people out into nature in a way that is convenient or best for them – there is no pressure to become a regular mountaineer, just simply cultivating the connection you have with nature and with of the community you find in it.
“What does it look like for us to have our connections to nature? It looks like a walk around the block, it looks like an adventure trip,” Powell said. “It can seem like a variety of things, and I try not to define what that is to other people. Outdoor Refuge was and is healing for me. We have much healing to do personally, as a community, and as a world, and nature is helping me guide me in that way.”
Some of Refuge’s previous participants were as young as 3 months and 72 years old and comprised entire households and multi-generational families. Given the varying levels of knowledge of participants, each festival begins with a basic wildlife coexistence course so that those less experienced in the outdoors can get some of the information they need to feel comfortable. Most of their activities are also done in groups, allowing people with less outdoor experience to team up with people with more outdoor experience for more challenging activities.
“A lot of people come to Refuge because they’re like, ‘I thought I was the only BIPOC person out there,'” Powell said. “And to see the resilience of this community is really heartwarming. And that’s why people’s engagement can look different. But we’re here for the same reason – that we want to be outside, that we want to connect. We want to build community. And to be honest, we want to have a good time together for a weekend.”
Powell’s passion for bringing people together in nature and helping BIPOC feel connected to nature stems from her own experience, which she began at a young age. Raised in a camp for burn victims, Powell hiked and enjoyed the great outdoors. But she found there was a stigma about spending time outdoors, just wasn’t what black people do, and kept quiet about her passions — until she had a police incident outdoors that made her realize they couldn’t be quiet anymore could and could continue to feel that she was not seen or welcomed outdoors.
“I had a police incident and that’s why I wanted to build a safer outdoor community because for different communities of color, the outdoors wasn’t safe,” Powell said. “I just want to see a better world, I want to see a more inclusive and caring world. And I think that outdoor recreation can help build a different way of being. We all crave and seek community, and I think that’s exactly the tool I use to build community and connection.”
Powell tried to build a community that she didn’t see outdoors. And at Refuge, the programming aims not only to help participants find a community, but also to encourage them to maintain that community after the festival. Refuge concludes each year with a Closing Circle to allow attendees to reconnect and validate the connections they’ve made and the new resources they’ve found over the weekend before returning to urban life. Personal health has been shown to improve with outdoor recreation, but at the same time, building communities and connections with other people in our areas is also vital to the health of our community and keeps us safe.
“I hope that people will lose a sense of belonging, a sense of connection,” Powell said. “I hope they take away that ‘I can go back’ feeling [to the city] and be great, but I know that nature is always there for me and I am here for nature.” Because we also want to make sure that people understand that we have to take care of nature as much as we do they want to enjoy.”
The Refuge Outdoor Festival takes place August 12-14 at Tolt MacDonald Park, 31020 NE 40th St., Carnation. Buy tickets for the festival via the Refuge Outdoor Festival website. For festival accessibility questions, visit the Refuge Outdoor Festival FAQ page. To volunteer at the Refuge Outdoor Festival, fill out the volunteer invitation form. If you have any further questions or are interested in selling or performing, email [email protected]
Amanda Ong (she/she) is a Chinese-American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate in the University of Washington’s Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnic and racial studies.
📸 Featured Image: The Refuge Outdoor Festival is back after two years of virtual programming, creating a space for BIPOC connection and outdoor healing. Pictured: Refuge Outdoor Fest at Tolt MacDonald Park in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Golden Bricks Productions.)
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