Student to hike Canadian part of Underground Railroad
Trent University student Zwena Gray hopes to be the first Black woman to complete the 559-mile journey in modern times.
Zwena Gray, a 20-year-old Detroiter attending college in Canada, has embarked on a six-week, 559-mile hike along the Canadian portion of the Underground Railroad, now called the Bruce Trail, which runs through Southern Ontario.
Gray, who’s majoring in environmental studies and science with a minor in gender and social justice studies at Trent University in Peterborough, hopes to complete the hike by June 6 and be the first Black woman in the modern era to travel the entire route on foot. “I feel like there’s a type of liberation and connection to the environment that can provide a sense of joy, freedom and learning for BIPOC individuals,” she recently told WDET.
As highlighted on her fundraising page, Gray seeks to teach about sustainability practices in the Black community and “Showcase Black Joy in nature!”
“I am passionate about environmental kinship, justice and adventure, and after completing the trail, I plan to host events for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Colour) communities,” she wrote on MightyCause.com, where she’s aiming to raise $7,000 for her #BlackOnTheBruce adventure. “These events will encourage and educate participants about outdoor recreation.”
Gray has discovered the majesty of the outdoors life and eagerly wants to share her joy. “Being from Detroit,” she said, “I really wanted to bring that connection to nature to my community.”
“It’s not only important for Black people to be present in these natural environments,” she continued,” but it’s also important for us to showcase just the freedom and liberation and just the ease of existing in these spaces.”
The Bruce Trail is the longest officially marked hiking trail in Canada. It extends from Niagara River to Tobermory, a small harbor village at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula. The trail coincides with the original Underground Railroad used by 30,000 to 40,000 fugitive freedom-seeking slaves, who traveled the extra distance to avoid recapture once free of their enslavers.
Throughout her hike, Gray will be interviewing people and noting significant landmarks on the trail.
“I’ll also be having YouTube videos kind of more educational about the historians that I talked to and the areas that I go through — more of a day-to-day thing,” she told WDET.
Gray intends to bring the outdoor exploits to her friends and followers through her Instagram page, where she regularly posts her daily activities.
“I’m going to be making natural hair videos,” she said, adding that she’ll “do videos about how you handle your period in the outdoors, and even doing fun stuff like tent talks every week for my Instagram.”
For Gray, the journey combines her many passions, and she intends to use it as inspiration for her performance art and writing. Her plan is reportedly to bring her joy to communities at engagements in Peterborough and Toronto — and in her hometown of Detroit.
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