Last week, we spoke with Mira Manickam. Mira believes that there are many ways to connect to nature, and that environmentalists should encourage all types of connections. The world is full of these connections: an amateur fisherperson on the pier with a beer at the end of the hard working day, a church group barbecuing under a grove of London Plane trees in the park, a rancher attuned to the growing habits of prairie grasses.
As an educator at the Headlands Institute, Mira has strived to make environmental education more inclusive to people from all walks of life. She believes in empowering her students to connect with nature in their own way. She has brought eco-art, Michael Jackson, and hip-hop onto the trails and into the campfire circle. As a TogetherGreen fellow, Mira worked with United Roots in Oakland, California to connect youth with urban forestry as a means for healing and building community.
Her latest project, Surfer Grrrls Brazil, is empowering girls through hip hop videos and music celebrating women’s surf culture along the southern Atlantic coast.
1) What’s giving you energy these days?
The natural world has always been a major source of energy. I have a hard time making it through a day without being outdoors, preferably in the ocean, for at least a large part of it. I also get my energy from the people I interact with on a daily basis – my friends, family, and the serendipitous meetings I have. I try to talk to and learn from as many people as possible as I am moving through my day.
2) What is Surfer Grrrls Brazil and how did it come about?
Surfer Grrrls Brazil is both a personal adventure as I travel as a girl surfer up the Brazilian coast, and also a collaborative media project to share my own and other girls’ surfing stories through fun music videos and other social media.
How the project came to be is a long story. NatureBridge, the wonderful organization where I’ve worked for the past 3 years, has a really special fund for employees called the Matt Baxter Memorial Fund. Matt Baxter was an adventuresome, burly, and fun-loving outdoor educator at our Yosemite campus who passed away tragically in a climbing accident several years ago. His family decided to honor his spirit by creating a fund in his memory, and every year inviting empoyees of NatureBridge to submit a proposal for the adventure of their dreams.
This year, with immeasurable gratitude, I received an award! My dream adventure was to take a surf safari along the coast of Brazil (a country I’ve always wanted to visit due to its rich culture of music and dance), and to write raps sampling local music along the way. It combined my love of surfing, my love for Brazilian culture, and my love for music and video in a way that really stretched me, and I felt that the media I created could be inspirational for other little brown girls who also want to be ninja hip hop surf adventurers.
It also brought together my love of hip hop with my love of the outdoors, which are things that have not always gone together, but which I have been finding ways to combine over the years in ways that feel really fun and empowering.
Originally the trip was going to be much shorter, and the media component pretty informal. But I got really excited about the idea of creating media that inspired and encouraged girls to live their dreams and I felt that I could act as a role model, especially for girls of color. I had one of those amazing and terrifying moments where I could suddenly see a whole lot more possibility in my idea and I had to make a decision about how much I wanted to go for it. In the end, I went for it! I brought in my good friend and fellow grrrl surfer Miho, who has been working on profiling female role models in the outdoors all around the world, and I launched an Indiegogo campaign to facilitate Miho’s involvement and allow us to focus a lot more on our media production.
3) Who do you reach through music and videos that may not otherwise get exposed to your perspective?
I think that music and video are pretty ubiquitous mediums in our culture. Even my mom gets exposed to youtube videos that go viral, and of course youth are sort of swimming in a soup of digital stimuli.
I hope that the media we create will be of interest to lots of people from different walks of life, and we are especially hoping to reach young women and girls. There’s so much in the endless digital media barrage that youth receive that is not positive, that promotes insecurities and sets limits for girls. If we can get some play time in the attention span of youth, through youtube video plays, facebook visits, and old fashioned speaking gigs, and if some young women see what we are doing and feel a little more possibility in their own lives as a result, we are doing what we set out to do. I am also hoping that we can network with other organizations working in the fields of girls empowerment in the outdoors so that we can strengthen each others’ work.
4) could your work be considered edutainment or transformative entertainment, and why does it work?
Sure. I like to think that what we are creating will be both entertaining and transformative. Transformation doesn’t happen over night, but our work shows things from a different angle, sparks some ideas, and lets in light through some windows that might have been shut. By showing examples of people having lots of fun outside the boxes that are often created by social expectations and stereotypes — women and girls surfing, women of color surfing, girls adventuring on their own, women taking different roles in music-making – and by presenting these in ways that are fun and natural and appealing, we expand the world of possibility.
5) What is your dream?
Oh man, that’s a hard question. My dream is more like a wish for the state of being of the world, and myself within that world. I dream of a world where all people feel they can express themselves and pursue their dreams regardless of their gender or ethnicity or socio-economic background, where all people have the means to pursue healthy lives, and where we as humans live in ways that respect both the limits and the gifts of our earth. My dream for myself personally is to contribute to the afore mentioned world, have loving and co-nurturing relationships with those around me, express my creative and physical self, and live in closeness to nature.