I give thanks to GOD for the fact that I have been blessed to visit all 50 states and just prior to the pandemic, I was set to complete the final continents that I had not yet set my feet on. In every state and country that I have visited, I have taken the time to get out to the parks and the gathering places of the natives to feel what they feel and learn what is important to them. Those spaces with water especially touched my soul since I am native Sea Islander. Sometimes the touches were gentle and invoked joy and other times they felt like punches due to the garbage that I saw along shorelines and in waterways in various parts of the world. There were also places of concern. These were locations where bridges that I crossed were named for rivers and streams and when I looked below, there was no water there. I would pause and pray and wish that I could bring Sea Islanders to these spaces so that we would realize that if GOD so chose, the water could dry up. If that happened, what would happen to us?
I would pray that the tears for the missing water would drop on the ground and be the first drops to replenish these places. Yet, this year, I’ve witnessed the stories of cattle ranchers that have been selling off their livestock because they do not have enough water to keep them alive due to the massive droughts out west. The same region that we cry for each year as the wildfire season continues to extend for them just as our fifth season in the Gullah/Geechee Nation continues to extend for us-hurricane season.
If you ever thought water was only soothing to the soul, wait until you are in the midst of it during a tropical storm or hurricane! The tempest and the sirens that we read about in school begin to come to mind as the calm before the storms seem to want to lull you into believing that there isn’t an issue on the horizon and approaching the shore. Just as you breathe in the wonderful clean smell of the air, the sky starts to change colors and the clouds move in. As wind gusts push the clouds at a more rapid pace, they are also pushing up the water at the same time and soon you have water coming down, up, and around you as you are in the midst of the whirlwinds of the storm. At times you hear monstrous noises as the homes shake. We sit silently listening for GOD’s voice as we pray for GOD to say, “Peace. Be still.”
We sat still in a car at a light when I first arrived in Trinidad and I distinctly felt a rocking. I didn’t say anything as I waited to figure out why this vehicle seemed like a baby cradle ought to all of a sudden. Just then, the driver said, “Ya feel dat!” As I nodded, I looked out the window and saw that the electrical wires were swinging along the side of the street. As I looked back at the driver, he said, “Earthquake!” I said, “What? Y’all have earthquakes?” He said, “Yes.” Sure enough, the earthquake and the reactions were on the cover of the newspaper the next day. I gave thanks that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Since that day, I have arrived in other places just in time to be in the midst of storms that flooded urban areas and to be in other cities where I was in the downtown area with a tornado siren going off for us to take cover as I could see the clouds bringing a darkness in over the city. I am only waiting for GOD to shape the clouds into letters that can be read in different languages across the world since folks don’t seem to be able to read the handwriting that is on the wall. Maybe GOD will have to send the next message about climate change as a string of emojis for this generation to comprehend that there is an urgency of the moment. The climate has already changed! So, now it is time to act!
As I pray and meditate, I seek from GOD what actions to take and in what order. For decades now, GOD has continued to bring me back to stand along the coastline of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and breathe in and gain insight. As I do, I look out at the trees and I begin to find myself reciting a line from my favorite Psalm-“Ye shall be a tree planted by the rivers of water. Ye shall not be moved.”
As I think of how I have seen water move sand, I think of how the roots of the trees remain even when they are exposed. Then I hear in my soul my own voice saying for the millionth time-“Hunnuh mus tek cyare de root fa heal de tree.” Then I give GOD thanks for the mission I was given when this statement first came to me in a vision and I took it around the world thereafter. Given that this is the slogan of my organization, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, within our mission to protect the land and land rights of the people of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, we know that we must insure the rights of nature and protect the trees. Just as people clear cut them, there are those that have tried to clearly cut out Gullah/Geechee culture from our coast.
One of the means by which cultural communities are destroyed is via the lowering of the quality of life. We have been blessed to live on the Sea Islands where there are not only locations with healthy water, but also an abundance of trees which help improve and maintain a high quality of life. Numerous studies have shown that being around forest and trees help to
lower psychological stress
boost the immune system
lower blood pressure
reduce overall stress
increase the ability to focus
accelerate recovery from surgery or illness
increase energy level
With all of these health benefits in mind, it would seem that we would value the trees and do all that we can to keep as many of them in place as we can. However, in many locations around the globe, these trees are also the source of heat and used for cooking since they can be cut and burned to create charcoal and also to bring light where there aren’t electrical grids. I totally respect this since it hasn’t yet been a hundreds years since the Sea Islands like the one I grew up on had electricity in every home. Some people still use fireplaces to heat with during the winter here also. So, with all that in mind, the Gullah/Geechee Nation joined the world in working to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).
Goal 13 is Climate Action. We are currently partnering with South Carolina Interfaith Power & Light on this goal by working together on Goal 2-Good Health and Well Being through Goal 15-Life on Land. We want to improve plant life on land so that it helps to improve human health and well being. Therefore, from September 4th through October 4th, 2021, we are engaging in the SCIPL Global Tree Resiliency Environmental Engagement (TREE) Reforestry Project. It was an honor to launch this project during the “Gullah/Geechee Agroculture Fishing & Farming Day” at the Woodland Club on historic St. Helena Island given that this 328 acre property purchased by a collective of Gullah/Geechee families in 1920 was purchased for fishing and hunting and remains an example of sustainable forestry and cultural heritage continuation.
As Sister Alecia Brewster and I walked along the shoreline and made our way back up into the shade amidst the trees, I had a flashback to going into the forest with my beloved Merkin Sistah Akilah Jaramogi of Fondes Amandes Reforestry in Trinidad. The moment that we touched the soil there together to replant a tree, I could feel our ancestors hands with ours pushing the soil over the roots. Yeah, webe de tree planted by de rivers of wata. We shall not be moved!
Help us with reforestry in Trinidad, Pakistan and Haiti. Git rooted wit we! Support global reforestry! Gwine ta disya and please gee: