Raei is the CEO, founder and lead guide at The Rusty Anvil, a local Berkshire organization that connects marginalized communities, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ individuals with the natural world through wilderness trips, wildlife study, and outdoor skills.

Raei is also a certified Mindful Outdoor Guide as well as co-chair on the Environmental Justice Board for the NAACP. He leads youth immersions, mindful wilderness trips, diversity trainings, and teaches place-based skills. He has been chosen by Berkshire Magazine as one of the Berkshire’s 25 most creative, most dedicated and most influential individuals in 2020.

Recently, Raei graciously answered some questions for BFH about his work as an educator, activist, and environmentalist, as well as his personal passions and experiences in the outdoors.

BFH: How important has nature and the outdoors been in your life?

Raei Bridges: Nature has been a guide to reconnecting with my lineage, myself, and my identity. It has been a place that has brought me closer to the community. Reconnecting to nature is crucial to my liberation as a queer person of color. 

What’s your earliest memory in relation to the outdoors?

My earliest memory is spending time in the large pepper tree in my backyard as a child in CA. I used to pretend I was a monkey with my siblings and we would save our baby dolls before they fell from the branches. Also memories of swinging from the Aspen tree in my front yard was a great memory I will never forget.

How important do you think it is for children to get outdoors and why?

Our issue as a species is that we have no idea how to address adolescence yet we force our youth to follow guidelines that we create for them. To have youth that grow up with nature as their main guide in finding themselves is crucial to our freedom and liberation as a species. 

What led you to this particular field?

As a queer person of color my interest in nature connection work came from both my own experiences of finding myself and the gifts of my identity while immersed in the backcountry. As someone who grew up in the city I didn’t really have access to large green spaces growing up. So this experience was truly an awakening. As I got more involved in the work I really began noticing the lack of representation for people of color as outdoor guides and naturalists, so I began working to build spaces for POC folks to reconnect to nature and find healing in their relationship with the land. 

When did you know you wanted to work in nature and the outdoors?

When I had an experience in nature that made me feel shame for not already knowing the names of species or how to do certain things. I didn’t understand how even within a community focused on healing and connection to nature there could be shaming for not already having that connection. It became apparent that there needed to be more spaces for POC and queer folks to come as they are without all the pressure of having to know everything in order to be respected. #Decolonizenatureconnection!

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had in the last two months?

The realization that even with all the conversation and protests black and brown people are still being killed off like animals. It is a surprise that I still have to deal with this in 2020.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?

I would be a pine tree. Because they guide us through the seasons, they hold space for other animals and provide so much medicine. Pine holds so much ancestral knowledge that I hope to continue learning from. 

What do you enjoy most about nature and the outdoors?

I enjoy feeling like I am reclaiming something that allows me to enjoy myself without worry. I enjoy connecting with wildlife and feeling like I am embodying the life of my ancestors more closely. 

What keeps you up at night?

The fear that as a black man my life is in danger no matter where I am. 

What’s your favorite sound in nature?

The barred owl or the wood thrush, the leaves whispering in the breeze, the water flowing through the landscape, the sound of silence…

If you had extra funds in your budget, how would you spend it?

I would buy a piece of land where I can hold immersions, grow food, and provide a space of healing for queer POC folks. It would be a space where folks can come to learn, connect, and engage with nature. It would be a space that holds nature camps, workshops, wilderness trips, and community gatherings. It would be called The Rusty Anvil.

What are some things you’re researching right now?

Miyawaki forests and reforestation.

(*Note from BFH* I had no idea what this was & it is so cool! Check out this article for more on this concept!)

How do you continue to learn in order to stay on top of things within your role?

I always try to spend time deepening my relationship to the outdoors. I also like to take immersions for myself so I am never learning from a super analytical perspective and always learning with an embodied knowledge. 

What do you think is the biggest obstacle preventing people from getting outdoors?

Time to get away from the demand of industrial lifestyles. Access to gear and people they feel comfortable with. 

If you could have a billboard with one message on it, what would it say?

BlackLivesMatter. No one is free until we are all free. 

For more information about Raei’s work and the Rusty Anvil, check out the-rusty-anvil.land and follow @the_rusty_anvil on Instagram.

Click here to make a donation towards the Rusty Anvil’s mission.