Joins worldwide environmental justice effort
Secaucus, NJ – On Friday, June 5, Hackensack Riverkeeper joined hundreds of environmental justice groups around the world for Solidarity In Surf. Organized in Senegal, West Africa by Black Girls Surf, an empowerment and development surf camp for Senegalese girls seeking to pursue professional surfing, the collaborative event was both worldwide and timely. Solidarity surfing, paddling and other on-water and in-water events took place from Senegal to California on June 5, including on the Hackensack River and Riverkeeper’s Paddling Center at Laurel Hill Park.
“It almost didn’t happen because I only learned about the event just a couple of days ahead of time,” explained Samantha Kreisler, Riverkeeper’s Outreach Coordinator. “But Captain Bill (Sheehan) told me to go for it – plus I knew I could depend on my coworkers, friends and community to make it happen”.
Paddling Center staff and Hackensack Riverkeeper senior staff members were joined at the water’s edge by friends, colleagues and by the NJ Leader and several members of Outdoor Afro, a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating and inspiring African-American leadership in nature and conservation. Because the forecasted thunderstorms never materialized, the dozen paddlers were able to head out onto the water to do what they came together for.
The Paddle Out turned the river into a place to grieve, heal and show respect to those who recently passed; and died far too soon. Yellow roses were laid atop the outgoing tide in memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the far too many other African American citizens who lost their lives unjustly and senselessly in recent times. As the petals floated downstream toward the sea, the paddlers observed 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silent tribute and reflection – the time it took for George Floyd to die while under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
“Today we honor George Floyd. But our common work does not stop after we disembark from these kayaks, Samantha said “Tomorrow is a new day. On the river and land, we will continue fight for clean water and air and for everyone, regardless of your race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.”
The fight for environmental justice is nothing new to Hackensack Riverkeeper, as the organization’s patrol area includes municipalities such as Union City, North Bergen, Jersey City, Englewood and Hackensack – all of which are considered environmental justice communities. And long before today, the organization’s founder, Captain Bill Sheehan – currently being considered for a seat on the NJDEP Environmental Justice Advisory Council – understood the interconnectedness between the state of the natural world and the human experience.
“I realized that we can’t just fight for clean water or to protect habitats,” Sheehan explained. “We also must fight for the rights of people to access that which is theirs by right; something the First People who paddled this river knew in the very fiber of their being.”
It turned out that one of the Outdoor Afro members who took to the river came with that exact perspective on the morning’s action.
“As a woman of both Lunaape (Lenape) and African American heritage, I felt a special understanding of this solidarity movement in this specific space and water body of nature that my ancestors honored,” said Monique Perry. “Today's paddle had a deep purpose in time and location. Thank you to all the fine people I met today for walking in a good way.”