by Amanda Ong
The fifth annual Refuge Outdoor Festival will be hosted in Tolt MacDonald Park from Friday, Aug. 12, through Sunday, Aug. 14. The festival is hosted by Golden Bricks Events, which also hosts events like Sundaes Outside. Refuge is a camping experience that centers around BIPOC but is open to anyone interested in the outdoors, whether that means people with years of experience mountain biking, or someone who simply enjoys their local park. The event still has tickets available through the Refuge Outdoor Festival website leading up to its opening on Aug. 12.
“Refuge Outdoor Festival is the first event that we created,” Chevon Powell, founder of Golden Bricks Events and Refuge, told the South Seattle Emerald. “And it was really to center BIPOC community and allies in the outdoors, building community through outdoor recreation, music, and a weekend together to take refuge from all of the everyday things, because the outdoors can be so powerful.”
This is the fifth year Golden Bricks is hosting the event and its third year in person, after the event was held virtually during the pandemic for two years. But Refuge is back in full force this year, bringing in some new elements, like partnering with Rain Or Shine Community Market for a big partner market on the second day of the festival, and featuring over 25 workshops and activities throughout the festival. This year, it will even host a screening of Expedition Reclamation, a film featuring 14 BIPOC women who redefine the idea of “outdoorsy.” It will also feature music as well as a silent disco where attendees can use headphones to jam out to music together, giving them options to do what they feel most comfortable with in the outdoors.
For Powell, starting Refuge was a way to center and uplift BIPOC in the world of the outdoors, which has a reputation for being predominantly white, with many barriers to access for BIPOC. Ironically, Powell said that all people have been sustained for generations by having some connection to the outdoors, but many younger BIPOC may be alienated from that connection because of racial and socioeconomic barriers. Golden Bricks and Refuge work first to alleviate some of those barriers, and then to center and uplift BIPOC in the outdoors.
“A lot of our work is behind the scenes and making sure that folks have the resources and the knowledge, the transportation, the gear,” Powell said. “So we work with our partners to make sure that no matter what level of outdoor engagement you’re at, you can be fully supported to come and take refuge. Because we all know that nature and being connected to the outdoors, be it outdoor recreation, be it working in the garden, has so many health benefits.”
The festival aims to bring people into the outdoors in any way that is comfortable or best for them — there is no pressure to become a regular mountaineer, but simply to nurture the connection you do have with the outdoors and with the community you find in it.
“What does it look like for us to have our connections with nature? It looks like taking a walk around the block, it looks like adventure travel,” Powell said. “It can look like a variety of things, and I try not to define what that is for other people. For me, refuge in the outdoors has been and will continue to be about healing. We have a lot of healing to do personally and as a community, and as a world, and nature actually helps guide me in those ways.”
Some of Refuge’s past attendees have been as young as 3 months old and as old as 72 years old, and have included entire multigenerational households and families. In light of its attendees’ diverse knowledge levels, every festival starts with a basic course on coexisting with wildlife, so people with less outdoor experience can gain some of the information they need to get comfortable. Most of their activities are done in groups as well, so people with less outdoor experience can pair up with people with more outdoor experience for more challenging activities.
“Many people come to Refuge because they say, ‘I thought I was the only BIPOC person outside,’” Powell said. “And to see the robustness of this community is just really heartwarming. And that’s why people’s levels of engagement may look different. But we’re here for the same purpose — that we want to be outside, that we want to connect. We want to build community. And frankly, we want to have a good time together for a weekend.”
Powell’s passion for bringing people together in the outdoors and helping BIPOC feel connected to the outdoors comes from her own experience, starting quite young. Powell grew up going to a camp for burn survivors, hiking and enjoying nature. But she found there was a stigma that spending time outdoors was simply not something Black folks do, and kept quiet about her passions — until she had a police incident while in the outdoors that made her realize she couldn’t be quiet anymore and continue to feel like she was not seen or welcomed in the outdoors.
“I had a police incident, and that’s where this all stemmed from for me in wanting to build a safer community outdoors, because for various Communities of Color, the outdoors has not been safe,” Powell said. “I just want to see a better world, I want to see a more inclusive and more caring world. And I think that outdoor recreation can assist in that in building a different way of being. We are all longing and searching for community, and I think that this is just the vehicle that I use to help build community and connection.”
Powell sought to build a community that she wasn’t seeing in the outdoors. And at Refuge, programming is not just intended to help attendees find community, but also to encourage them to keep that community even after the festival is over. Refuge ends each year with a closing circle so attendees can reconnect and affirm the connections they made and the new resources they found over the weekend before they go back to urban life. Personal health has been shown to improve with outdoor recreation, but along with that, building communities and connections with other people in our areas is also vital to our community health, and keeps us safe.
“I hope that people take away a sense of belonging, a sense of connection,” Powell said. “I hope they take away a sense of, ‘I can go back [to the city] and be amazing, but I know that nature is always there for me, and I’m here for nature.’ Because we also want to make sure that people understand we have to care for nature just as much as we want to enjoy it.”
Refuge Outdoor Festival will be held from Aug. 12 to Aug. 14 at Tolt MacDonald Park, 31020 NE 40th St., Carnation. Purchase tickets to the festival through the Refuge Outdoor Festival website. For accessibility questions about the festival, see the Refuge Outdoor Festival FAQ page. To volunteer at Refuge Outdoor Festival, fill out the Volunteer Invitation form. For other questions or interest in vending or performing, email Info@refugeoutdoorfestival.com.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Refuge Outdoor Festival is back after two years of virtual programming, creating a space for BIPOC connection and healing outdoors. Pictured: Refuge Outdoor Fest at Tolt MacDonald Park in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Golden Bricks Productions.)
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