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June 22, 2021
Giving Back – Melanie Lino, Afros in Nature
ACTIVISM TAKES MANY FORMS. For Afros in Nature co-founder Melanie Lino, it’s sometimes as simple as food, recreation, and community. Joy and sustenance are part of social justice, she says, and playing outside can be a source of healing.
After Black Lives Matter protests surged last summer, the baker/ owner behind Made by Lino and co-owner of Lit Coffee Roastery and Bakeshop asked herself, “What needs to be done to change the world?” She thought of her garden, the calm it offered her. “We are connected to this planet.” she says. “We come from this planet.” And that connection needs to be restored.
A kind of “outdoor therapy,” Afros in Nature began as a “support group for people of color to go outside, to go out into nature in order to work on our mental health as a community,” Melanie says. The collective organizes and funds gardening, hiking, paddle-boarding, birdwatching, and rock climbing excursions for folks throughout the Valley, many of them first timers. “Why shouldn’t people in an inner city community,” Melanie asks, “black and brown people, be afforded these things that are truly helpful for our mental health and our quality of life?”
Through crowdfunding, Afros in Nature covers the costs of participation for all their meetups. “That’s really important to us,” Melanie says, “keeping outdoor recreation accessible.” But beyond access, the group is also about welcome. “We’ve grown up with this idea that…being outside is for white people. That’s not real, and that’s not true,” Melanie says. Afros in Nature is her way of telling black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC): “this is for you.”
Next, Melanie and her partners plan to open a new space in Center City Allentown called Afros Homestead & Café. The site will offer an educational community garden in the back, a café space, and a leadership development program. “We have to keep building environments where people of color are exploring things they haven’t before,” she says, “leaving feeling loved and supported, valued.”
More fresh food, more recreational access, more green space, and more community hubs. It’s a start, says Melanie. “This isn’t what’s gonna change the world…but it’s a little bit. It’s an ingredient in the soup of social justice.”
Learn more about the organization at afrosinnature.org