2020 Smokies hiking program to initiate conversations on race, inclusion proves fruitful

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — In response to social unrest across the country last year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash initiated the Smokies Hikes for Healing program to provide a space for people to have open conversations about racism, diversity and inclusion in a place long recognized for its incredible diversity.

“As an African American man and son of a police officer, I found myself overwhelmed with the challenges we faced in 2020 and the endless news cycle that focused on racial unrest,” Superintendent Cash said.

The park provided an ideal backdrop for rich conversations among the 60 individuals who participated in the hikes, along with hundreds of others who visited the Smokies Hikes for Healing website for information or to download resource guides to lead their own healing hikes.  

“My medicine for dealing with this stress was a walk in the woods, and I felt called to share that experience with others.” 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash

From August through December 2020, Cash joined up to 10 individuals on hikes across the park. The hikes were led by trained facilitators, David Lamfrom, Stephanie Kyriazis, and Marisol Jiménez.

More than 200 applications were received for the opportunity. To help meet the demand for participation, facilitators developed resources for others to start conversations in their own communities. These resources can be downloaded at www.smokieshikesforhealing.org.   

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