The Caravan, Year 1: Grateful Reflections & A Photo Retrospective- Part 1 of 3 (Vegas to Oklahoma)
"Awe" and "gratitude" are the words that come to mind, as I sit here reflecting back on this Summer's miraculous adventure of courage, curiosity and compassion we called "The Caravan."
"Awe" at what we all accomplished together, the scale of it, the beauty and joy of it, the impact of it.
"Gratitude" for every person who said "yes, let's do this" to what once seemed like an outlandish idea, and not only brought it to life, but created it better than I/we could have imagined (thank you.)
"Gratitude" for all of our donors, the family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who, when asked if they'd offer their hard-earned money toward a leap-of-faith-dream, said, "Yes, I'll back that" (thank you.)
And "gratitude" for you, for taking time to read this (thank you.)
To be real, it took me a while to be able to write about The Caravan. It's been nearly a month, and every time I come up to the task, it just feels so massive. So many memories, so many photos and stories. I've struggled to find an adequate way to share about it, and maybe in some ways I've struggled to accept that it's over...for now.
So, here's my best attempt to share a little bit of this enormous experience. Below, I've created some scrapbook pages for each geographic stop along the way, with a description of where we were, how we served, what we learned and some other fun anecdotes.
I've split this journey into 3 parts, mostly because it's just too big to expect anyone to take in in one sitting. I'll be releasing another section each week.
No pictures or words could capture this experience, but I hope that you get a taste of it through this retrospective. Thanks for going on the ride.
Las Vegas Launch:We began our adventure in hot and sunny Las Vegas, NV, where the team excitedly assembled for the first time on May 25th...
I'd left Los Angeles earlier that morning in our first "mini-Caravan," followed by my friend Radiance and her 14-year-old daughter Sylvin, who had journeyed all the way from Fort Wayne, Indiana to meetup in LA the night before. Radiance is on a mission to facilitate conversations about mental health, and Sylvin is a radical being blossoming into her own great power and purpose.
We weaved through LA mid-day traffic that Wednesday, making our way across the desert, with Radiance and Sylvin in their red pickup truck, packed with art (more on that later), while I cruised in Carrie Reinagel's Chevy Volt hybrid. (Gratitude moment- Carrie generously donated her vehicle, to use without her, for 8 weeks, which served us all immensely by cutting down our gas costs and giving us a way to get around locally. Thank you Carrie!)
We arrived late in the afternoon into Vegas to greet our big-hearted, hilarious, and wildly creative chef, Dennis Starks (pictured above.) Dennis was the head of our food service project, and he had flown in from Houston, TX earlier that week to shack up with our friends Nia and TJ (thanks T.J. and Nia!) and prepare all the food supplies for our trip.
Our small and mighty team sprung immediately into action, assembling racks and organizing supplies, and when all was gathered and organized, we'd packed five massive Home Depot tubs of spices, cookingware, servingware and accoutrements, ready to feed new friends around the country (thank you to our generous donors who allowed us to buy our supplies! Below is a pic of our kitchen gear packup job in motion.)
Soon, through the door, arriving from a long drive from Chicago, came our brother and teammate David "Kasper" Krich, pulling up in his brand-new, 32-ft R.V., M.J. (pictured above) named after his father. Kasper generously offered to transport our kitchen gear and our bodies for the journey, and we all were super excited to get to explore M.J. for the first time. (Gratitude moment- this project wouldn't have been possible without Kasper's beautiful R.V., which became all of our second home. It was invaluable to our journey --thank you Kasper!)
After we loaded up, we met the rest of our friends at our hosts Greg Sample and Jim Harenberg's home for our launch event, intended to bring everyone together to celebrate the launch of our endeavor. The setting was gorgeous (thank you Greg and Jim!) and the energy was bright and hopeful, with many people meeting for the first time, or reuniting for the first time in years.
In a toast, I shared how much of a leap of a faith this whole project felt like to me, and how grateful I was to be lifted in that leap by our community of friends.
After much laughter and many stories, we turned in for the night and prepared to head out on our grand adventure the next morning...
Zion/Bryce Canyon: Before arriving at our first community partnership in Grand Junction, we stopped off at Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks for a weekend of team and community building in nature. The views were stunning, we created incredible, life-long memories, deep connections, and the weekend imbued the perfect energy we needed to supercharge the service-work that lied ahead (thank you Paul Grasshoff and T.J. for setting up this retreat!)
Moab:Our last day of driving before Grand Junction brought us to Moab, Utah, where we visited Arches National Park and the home of our new friend Richard Cooke of Freenotes.
Richard is a visionary inventor and musician who creates musical instruments for public parks and spaces. Richard shared with us his story and philosophy, and showed us his many beautiful instruments, as well as his expansive property in Moab. We were excited to see him again in a few weeks at his home in Durango.
Grand Junction, Colorado: The first official community partnership on our tour, Grand Junction, Colorado has become very special to me because not only is it where one of my life-long best friends, Becky Levin, lives with her family but it also was a community partner for our Re:United States of America Project in 2016, and has borne many beloved friendships and collaborative partnerships in the years since.
(The friendship that inspired my relationship with Grand Junction. Me, my friend Becky and her daughter Izzy at the community garden in Grand Junction. Thanks for hosting me, Becky and Casey!)
Building off the trust and friendship that we cultivated in 2016, this year we collaborated with local community leaders and the mayor of Grand Junction, Anna Stout, to co-create a week of "Service and Understanding."
During the week our group joined with local community members for a vast array of bridge-building and service events ranging from a very-fun history pub crawl, to a river clean-up, a Human Library, Neighbor's Night at the local library with a Drag Queen/King Story Hour, a facilitated 2nd Amendment conversation and visit to a local gun range, Courageous Conversations across differences, a mutual aid event with Mutual Aid Partners feeding people experiencing hunger and homelessness and many more. We were inspired by the leadership and initiative of our Grand Junction friends, and it was especially fun to be hosted by our local friends Bill & Karen Wade, who fed us at their home and took amazing care of us while we were in town (thanks Bill & Karen!)
My travel mates shared fantastic, detailed accounts of this monumental week, and if you want to learn more about our meaningful time in Grand Junction, you can hear from Dennis here, Samira here, and Kasper here.
I feel like this was one of the most successful weeks of The Caravan on many levels. It was likely where we offered the most amount of service projects with the biggest level of community participation, we built very strong relationships with many members of the local community, who we are really excited to collaborate with again, and it's where we learned that this big theoretical idea of a "Caravan" truly had legs to stand on. I'll never forget this first massive week or the many friends we made during our time in Grand Junction (thank you Grand Junction team, including but not limited to Anna, Brian, Michelle, Mary, Bill, Karen, Stephania, Ann, Emily, Janet, everyone pictured above as well as not pictured!)
Durango, CO:After a busy and impactful week in Grand Junction, our team was ready to rest for a bit, and we were very lucky to be hosted again by Richard Cooke (thank you Richard!) at his glorious mountain property in Durango, CO.
Together our team enjoyed playing Richard's many outdoor percussion and tonal instruments, taking in the view, learning silks in his attic, and having rich discussions over home-made dinner at his kitchen table. We also got to welcome two new team members (thank you Matthew and Ashley for all the love and service you brought to our team!) and meet some very cool new local friends in Durango, Rayne and Alyssa, who we can't wait to collaborate with next year (thanks Rayne and Alyssa for being such gracious hosts!)
Taos, New Mexico:We were lucky to have a day and night in magical, mystical Taos, New Mexico. Our teammate Samira shared with us Taos's iconic Earthships, which are self-sufficient, autonomous buildings designed to utilize local and recycled materials.
Samira also brought us to The Lama Foundation, a mountainside spiritual community, educational facility, and retreat center (with gorgeous buildings and grounds) founded in 1967. There we shared a meal with members of the community, toured the grounds and learned about the Lama Foundations' way of life and philosophy. It was inspiring to hear about the incredible legacy of the center and the ways that they facilitate community and communal living.
That night, after driving around belting Celine Dion and Mariah Carey at the top of our lungs, we walked over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and danced our way through a Sonic Drive-thru at closing time.
The next day we visited Samira's friend Alessandra, at the Peñasco Theater Collective, a powerful leader of a community theater space in Peñasco, NM "dedicated to fostering community building, collective empowerment and social transformation through the arts." She shared with us how she's spent the last 2o years learning about and serving the local community through the arts. Speaking with her inspired all of us toward a greater vision of how the Caravan could contribute in the future.
It was really cool to get to see Taos, NM and the surrounding area through Samira's curation, based on her past experiences there (thank you Samira for guiding us on that beautiful 24-hour visit!)
Stardreaming is an extraordinary sacred site where a mystical man named James Jereb has built 17 temples that you can journey through, meditating, praying and exploring. Our group reverently visited many temples including "The Temple of Dreams," "The Sanctuary of Ancestors" and the "Temple of Magic," taking in each temples' unique intention and ritual.
We also visited Meowolf's House of Eternal Return, which is an immersive art experience, created and curated by the world-famous art collective Meowolf, where each room is a different, encompassing aesthetic that you get to explore and play in. We had such a good time galavanting around the grounds, getting lost in each world, playing like kids on a multiversal playground.
Santa Fe was a super fun way to end our week off, and was sadly where we parted ways with both Samira (for a few weeks) and our beloved Celeste, who were such rocks and rock stars during our entire beginning of our journey, always helping in the kitchen, making everyone laugh, bringing deep insight and amping up the vibe (thank you Celeste and Samira!)
Weatherford, Oklahoma: Weatherford, Oklahoma is a small city of 10,000 people, about an hour outside of Oklahoma City, where we hosted our first bridge-building dinner on our journey, generously hosted by Dennis's lifelong friend, designer Kelly Amen(thank you Kelly!)
This was really the place where our Chef, Dennis, got to shine in his full creative glory. He prepared a GORGEOUS, five-star, 3-course meal, that we hosted for the community for free, from the Stafford Air & Space Museum (THANK YOU DENNIS!) Dennis was assisted by a badass kitchen team of Radiance and Paul, who helped prepare the food all day, and then served the food in fabulous dress attire that night (thank you Radiance and Paul!)
The Stafford Air & Space Museum is a world-class museum with a fantastic staff (thank you Theresa!) The museum celebrates the history of aviation and space travel, as well as the life and work of Thomas P. Stafford, a Weatherford-born astronaut who symbolically ended the space race with Russia in 1975 through an act of good will and eventual life-long friendship. His story is a useful example of bridge-building at work, and the museum was a perfect setting for this elegant event that brought people together across differences of culture, ethnicity, lifestyle and ideology for courageous conversations.
The event was incredibly successful, with a lot of positive feedback, not only on the delicious food and its presentation, but also in that it was a great opportunity to understand one another's differences as well as our many similarities through civil conversation (the crux of our project.)
The dinner was attended by the Mayor and his staff, including city staff member Todd who helped me later that evening when I got a flat tire driving the RV. Todd and I had great conversations while he gave me a place to stay over night until we could replace the tire the next morning (thank you Todd!)
Weatherford felt like another big win, with heartfelt connection. It was a fantastic high to ride into our next set of adventures in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Memphis, where we dropped into the racial history of our country and gained new teammates including my 18-year old nephew and his girlfriend...
...More to come in this series, as next week I share photos and reflections on our journey from Tulsa's Black Wall Street/Greenwood Tour through to our musical bridge-building week in Kenosha, Wisconsin.