The Caravan, Year 1: Grateful Reflections & A Photo Retrospective- Part 2 of 3 (OKC to Fort Wayne)
The first leg of our journey on The Caravan (click here to read Part 1 of this retrospective) was full of diverse experiences in nature (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Colorado, New Mexico), bridge-building and community-building (Grand Junction, Durango, Taos and Weatherford), and some much-needed R&R (Santa Fe.)
The second leg, was equally eventful, but notedly different in a lot of ways. We spent more time in cities than the first leg, we got to drop into some meaningful educational experiences in Tulsa and Memphis, and we practiced being resilient and adaptable as we pivoted some of our plans due to COVID.
We also welcomed a lot of new friends along the way and made some extraordinary memories...
Oklahoma City: After our impactful and rewarding bridge-building dinner in Weatherford, OK, our crew headed to Oklahoma City where we had a day/night off hosted by our dear friend Julian Mitchell (thanks Julian!) Julian had returned home to Oklahoma City from Los Angeles during the pandemic, and was a huge help in finding us a place to stay, as well as taking us out to see the city. It was great to catch up with him and to see the city through his eyes. We're excited to get to co-create with Julian again next year in OKC.
Tulsa, OK:In Tulsa, Oklahoma, we started our day at "The Gathering Place," a beautiful 66.5-acre park along the Arkansas River, where we met up with my nephew Dakoda and his girlfriend Adrianna. Dakoda had just graduated from high school in Missouri, and I'd invited them both to join us on the adventure as they made their way to visit his father, my brother Michael, in Georgia. Dakoda and Adrianna are smart, sweet and inquisitive young people, and it was fun to connect with them in this new context, as well as have family be a part of this project.
That afternoon, we all went to Greenwood, an area of Tulsa commonly known as "Black Wall Street," to go on The Real Black Wall Street Tour, a walking tour lead by a knowledgeable and passionate Greenwood descendant, Chief Amusan (pictured below.)
Chief shared with us that, leading up to the 192os, Greenwood was a thriving Black community where Black people were experiencing incredible financial and cultural success (which was difficult to achieve in a time with severe racial oppression.) In 1921, racial resentment in Tulsa was high, and white Tulsans were wary of the power and success their Black neighbors were gaining. On May 31st and June 1st, in an act of racial terrorism, a mob of White Tulsans burned and destroyed more than 35 square blocks of Greenwood, and murdered 26 Black Tulsans, while leaving nearly 10,000 people homeless. This horrific event was known as the "Tulsa Race Massacre" and has been largely covered up until recent history.
Chief took us through the neighborhood, showing us photographs of Greenwood before the massacre, inviting us to imagine it as it was. He walked us through the events leading up to and following the massacre. It was a solemn and powerful experience, one that we were all very moved by, and I won't ever forget.
We're grateful for Chief (thanks Chief!) and the professionalism and passion with which he lead our tour.
(Chief Amusan of The Real Black Wall Street Tour.)
Memphis, TN:We arrived into Memphis after camping in Arkansas the night before to visit The National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Hotel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. It felt heavy and meaningful to stand at the site where Dr. King was shot. The balcony he was standing at was marked by a white wreath, and two classic cars were parked below it to transport the viewer back in time to the moment it happened. It was a powerful reminder of the price Dr. King paid to lead us all forward.
The museum within the hotel physically travels the historic journey from the Transatlantic Slave Trade through to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, all the way to modern day issues of civil rights we still face today (including immigration reform, the prison-industrial complex, and police brutality.) The detailed and immersive exhibition really drives home how long and arduous the road to progress has been on our way toward justice and equality. It also made it clear how far we still have to go on this journey. The museum highlights so many heroic Black Americans (Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Sojourner Truth, Bayard Rustin, Harriet Tubman) over hundreds of years who gave their energy, time, bodily safety, and oftentimes lives, in the fight for equality.
Leaving the museum, I thought to myself, "Every Black person that I meet is a miracle. Their ancestors survived the deadly cruelty of slave ships, slavery, Jim Crow terrorism, the war on drugs, economic injustice, and so many other forms of racial oppression for them to be here, in this time." It gave me an even deeper respect and reverence for the incredible resilience of Black families and Black communities.
After we left the museum we stopped for BBQ nearby, and it was there in Memphis where a signature running joke of The Caravan came to life. Earlier that day as we drove in we sang along to Marc Cohn's iconic, "Walking in Memphis." That song returned over and over again in our journey, not just in Memphis, but from every city thereafter. It sort of became one of our "theme songs" for the trip.
We were pleased that night to visit one of the areas mentioned in the song, "Beale Street," where we listened to Blues at a juke joint and wandered the area. Afterward, we returned back to our rental to play a game of The Great Dalmuti, a status-based card game that Paul and Ashley had introduced us to.
Nashville, TN:Our week in Nashville began with a pivot. Initially, we'd planned for a bridge-building community faire in collaboration with my friend Christy Lynn Hicks, but due to COVID complications (which were bound to happen at some point as we traveled across the country in a pandemic), we got to create new plans on the fly.
We unfortunately had to cancel the community faire, and instead we began the week with a few days of self-care, service work and sight-seeing, as we welcomed one of my nearest and dearest, Daniel Hartman, to the crew.
The next day, Dennis lead our food service team in making and handing out chicken salad wraps and cold water on what was an incredibly hot day in June, in Downtown Nashville (pictured above.)
(**A short note on our aprons: the yellow aprons with our logo were generously custom-made and donated by Dennis's friend Father Tommy Goodwin, who is a costume-designer in Corpus Christi, TX. They are beautiful and became the visual representation and welcoming image of our food service project. THANK YOU FATHER TOMMY!)
That early evening, we traveled to a shelter near City Winery, and walked around the neighborhood, connecting with groupings of local people in need, who were grateful for the cool drink and delicious food. They shared stories, laughter and smiles with Matthew, Ashley, Craig, Daniel, Dennis and me, and when we'd run out of food and water to share, we departed for a night out in Nashville.
We first explored East Nashville, a trendy neighborhood known for restaurants and nightlife, before we made our way to the legendary Santa's Pub, a year-round-Christmas-themed bar with nightly karaoke. There, Kasper, Daniel, Craig and I belted "Walkin' In Memphis," quickly changing the lyrics to "Walkin' in Nashville" after we intuited that Nashville residents were not entirely fond of Memphis (I still need to investigate that perceived rivalry.)
The second half of our Nashville journey took place about 20 minutes outside of Nashville, in a suburb called Mount Juliet, where we were finally united with one of my favorite humans and collaborators on the planet, Nashville-native, Christy Lynn Hicks.
Christy hosted us for a weekend retreat at her family-home-now-turned-retreat-center, Elevation Central, where we'd planned to hold the community faire at the beginning of the week (thank you Christy!) I was so glad to make it to Elevation Central, because it's such a special place for me. It's not only where I've made countless memories with Christy and friends over the years, but it's where Christy hosted me for my Yoga teacher training with her studio many years ago. Elevation Central is in many ways my spiritual home.
At Elevation Central we joined together with Christy's local friends, and many more Caravan additions for a weekend of deep connection, games, workshops, live music, and relaxation. One powerhouse player who joined us that weekend was Adele Thurston, who'd go on to be with us from Nashville through to Yellowstone. It was such a joy to have Adele join us, and to have her giving spirit, deep presence and poetic language paint our day-to-day experience with sound, light and color (thanks Adele!)
At the end of the weekend, we also got to visit the exquisite riverside home of my hilarious and heartfelt friend J'Nae (thank you J'Nae!),who many of you know is also a massive part of my musical, personal and spiritual journey.
Although it wasn't the week we'd planned, it was still an extraordinary time, in some ways better than we'd planned. I was really proud of our crew and how ably we navigated the COVID complications that came our way, with communication, positivity and adaptability. Really, the week was its own exercise in bridge-building, as all parties worked together to co-create experiences of safety and mutual care from our different perspectives.
Fort Wayne, IN:Dennis, Matthew, Adele, and our trusty yellow aprons journeyed together as I drove in the RV to our next community partnership in Fort Wayne, IN. There, our first evening included a food service project organized by our local friend Joy Justice in Downtown Fort Wayne (thank you Joy!)
During the food service, while Dennis and our team served delicious pulled pork sandwiches, I wandered along the food line singing and playing campfire guitar. Luckily, we were reunited with our musical travel-mate Radiance, who was also one of our Fort Wayne hosts. Radiance sang harmonies alongside Adele, Dennis and Joy, in a cheerful choir as they served dinner.
Radiance and her husband Steve were hosting us for that weekend's "Silverbirch Wellness and Abundance Festival," a bridge-building and community-building festival at their world-class, brand-new recording studio, Silverbirch Studios(thank you Radiance and Steve!) The weekend would include classes, workshops, discussion groups, live music performances and a Human Library.
Dennis and our team also hosted a food-service offering for the attendees of the festival that weekend, cooking a free daily meal for the gathered community to "break bread" together and continue to connect and build bridges.
The festival took place on Radiance and Steve's stunning acreage, with an enchanted/enchanting forest where Radiance has carefully placed art and treasures, including a GIANT disco ball in the center of the forest where we held an ecstatic dance.
Radiance has an incredible project, "Lighthouse Affects" that she brought on the road with The Caravan, where she toured with and exhibited emotional and provocative art that helped facilitate conversations about mental and emotional health and its relationship to music. It was fulfilling to see these pieces we'd been traveling with in their native home in the woods of Silverbirch.
Silverbirch Studios also holds a special place in my heart becauselast Summer we got to record a docu-performance that recently was published to Youtube (thank you Adam & Steve!)It felt like a perfect continuation of that project to return to Silverbirch for the festival, where on one of the nights I got to play a live acoustic set alongside Steve and Radiance, who shared their original music.
One of my favorite moments was meeting for the first time my colleagues at The Human Library, Fort Wayne, who joined us on Sunday to create a very successful Human Library event on the Silverbirch campus. (If you're not familiar with a Human Library, it's an event where people can check out fellow human beings for a 30 minute conversation about their lived experience, in the hopes of creating better understanding of those who are different than we are.)
We had a great turn out of both "Human Books" and "Readers," and my colleague Peggy even drove up from Muncie, Indiana to join us! It was such a pleasure to meet people that I'd known for years but never met in person, and to do an in-person event together for the first time (thanks Luke, Jane, Jan, Dustin, Peggy, Ian, Rachel and all of the other amazing Books and Librarians from the event!)
In the months leading up to this event, it was a gift to get to work with our Fort Wayne planning team(thank you Joy, Radiance, Steve, Adam, Rick, John Tod, Stephanie, Dawn, Nash and Freddy!) They are an inspiring collection of people, all of whom I trust and love working with. It was also a pleasure to collaborate with new local friends like Laura and Julia who lead and presented for the festival (thanks Laura & Julia!) We are excited for the community and momentum we have in Fort Wayne!
After a weekend in the loving care of the Tylers, we packed up again to head into our final leg of the journey. We waved goodbye to our Fort Wayne friends as our RV pulled down the driveway. Adele, Dennis and I were "on the road again" to our next destination and community partnership in Kenosha, WI....