Black to the Land
“On good days, I live in an urban paradise that boasts glorious forests and gardens. On bad days, it feels like my spot in California is hell itself: my home region has been gutted by fires multiple times over the last four years. We need to put out the fires—and learn the lessons that flame, heat, rage, and shock are teaching us.”– Zappa Montag, Oakland, CA
Zappa Montag’s parents were part of the Back to the Land movement that began in the late 60s. Growing up in Mendocino—his father learning carpentry and building their home in a town of 250 people—Zappa developed a deep connection to nature which informed his path: leaving home for U.C. Berkeley, focusing on ecology and environmental justice, pursuing a Masters of Education and becoming a founder/Ecological Activist at Black to the Land.
As an educator and father of two, Zappa would often take friends and family out into the wilderness and always discovered the same truth; people feel better in nature. And for communities of color—specifically Black communities—access to those safe spaces isn’t a guarantee.
Black to the Land was a response to those truths, that people feel better and more connected in nature, and that that kind of connection is crucial for well-being and mental health for our communities. The organization began loosely in 2015, hosting a concert and retreat on a farm in Mendocino, back to familiar land and safe spaces.
The mission is simple: “We are a community-based organization focused on helping make the world around us a better, happier place.” Zappa feels deeply that the path toward that better place for the community and youth, in particular, is through an immersion with nature and perhaps, through a deeper connection with the ecological climate movement. That hasn’t always been accessible in the past either, but everyone has a stake in this and needs to feel invited by people coming from a similar background.
Black to the Land has partnered with the Thriving Earth Exchange to explore those possibilities. Their goal is to gauge scientifically the health benefits of a better connection to the land—to test the theory that it will lead to better mental health, less anxiety and a stronger sense of self determination. A small group of young people and education experts are putting together a 4-6 week curriculum that will be land-based and include before and after surveys. Though all inclusive, the focus will be on Black communities and lifting up Indigenous land sovereignty for this pilot program.
“Zappa works to bring together a small-scale healing village designed for earth-based living in the brutal context of historic and everyday traumas of enslavement and incarceration. Zappa advances a holistic approach to mental health, ecological sustainability, and justice. His work is centered around the idea that the mental health and physical well-being of historically oppressed people can be greatly improved through closer contact with nature, as well as through work that is restorative, healing, and sustainable to both humans and ecology.– Thriving Earth Exchange
Zappa and his team is also working to acquire a land base for the community that can incorporate food sovereignty and urban farming or landscaping projects. The ultimate goal is “create a refuge for Black families in the midst of the fires of this time.”
Written by Michele Gielis