‘It Can Wear the Soul Raw’: Activists Recharge at Mountain Retreat

‘It Can Wear the Soul Raw’: Activists Recharge at Mountain Retreat


The lush valleys and mountains of Asheville, N.C., are eight hours and a world away from the tragedy, violence and poverty of Baltimore.

This week, hundreds of leaders of civil rights and social justice organizations descended on this serene backdrop like soldiers coming off a battlefield for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s fourth America Healing Conference. The four-day event concluding Thursday was an opportunity to swap strategy, regain focus and recharge before returning to a fight that, for many, has been particularly traumatic in recent months.

Kellogg vice president Gail Christopher said the foundation’s approach to this year’s conference—including a first-ever session on self-care—factored in the potential toll of recent events on many attendees.

“Given all the pain that’s going on, when every single week there’s another story of a young black male that’s been killed, I realized we’re grief-stricken,” she said. “We knew that people would be bringing that energy in and we knew we had to find a way to have resilience … for them to have opportunities to know that they are valuable human beings.”


The attendees — most of whom are doing work funded by the foundation — gathered at the 100-year-old Grove Park Inn, a resort atop the aptly-named Sunset Mountain. Between planning sessions and panels, they relaxed in rocking chairs overlooking the hills, and dined in fresh air as bees buzzed nearby.

“The location helps … It’s real laid back and calm,” said Darel Ross II, co-director of LINC Community Revitalization based in Grand Rapids, Mich. “It’s hard not to be relaxed, but this is 500 people who spend very little time relaxing. We don’t stop to pause day in and day out; we’re usually strategizing. This is really more of taking care of yourself so you can continue to fight.”

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