Fresh Tracks is an outdoors initiative for opportunity youth that was inspired in 2015 by a call from President Obama for bold new programs that use the outdoors to broaden horizons for young Americans facing persistent opportunity gaps. It began with a successful pilot that took two cohorts of young adults from Los Angeles and Alaska on a shared journey from southern California to the Arctic Circle. Now in its fifth year, the initiative officially joined the Forum for Community Solutions team in spring 2020. Learn more about Fresh Tracks in this interview with Juan Martinez, Senior Fellow at the Forum for Community Solutions and Fresh Tracks Director.
FCS: Can you give a one sentence description of Fresh Tracks?
Juan: Fresh Tracks provides young indigenous, rural, and urban diverse leaders with cross-cultural community power building, leadership development, civic engagement, and action training. Rooted in the healing power of nature and indigenous values.
FCS: How did you get involved in Fresh Tracks and why do you stay involved?
Juan: Martin (Martin LeBlanc is Senior Advisor to Fresh Tracks and co-founder) and I got involved because we recognized there are forces and systems that rely on dividing our communities. The youth we work with identified that we need a generation of empowered culturally-diverse youth leaders and so Fresh Tracks came to be, driven from day one with youth movement leaders in the driver’s seat. Fresh Tracks brings together emerging leaders, partners, and supporters from diverse backgrounds, to develop comprehensive strategies for innovative solutions addressing systematic disenfranchisement, celebrate cultural heritages, and support action plans for confronting issues at the intersection of social and environmental justice. Fresh Tracks is a youth- and community – led movement to explore and highlight data-driven best practices for creative cross-silo partnership engagement, intercultural exchange, and leadership development.
FCS: What do you hope to achieve by joining the Forum for Community Solutions team?
Juan: Youth of color in communities across the country are some of the most severely and disproportionately impacted by systems like foster care and the justice system. They also face serious disparities in school discipline and suffer from extreme rates of violent victimization. These systems are some of the biggest drivers of the persistent inequities experienced by these youth, drastically increasing their barriers to opportunity. They are also root causes that reduce community cohesion. In order to change these systems and increase community cohesion, we need to support efforts that grow and strengthen leadership pathways for those who are most impacted by those systems – especially the next generation. Even though large systems like foster care and juvenile justice impact a diverse group of young people in our country, too often the advocacy opportunities to change those systems are siloed by geography, community, culture, and race. While some programs build leadership platforms for youth who are impacted by these drivers of inequity, they often focus on one ethnic group, one particular system, or one place. Movements to heal divides, improve these systems, and build community cohesion need leaders who can reach across these silos and draw on the strength of their diversity. This is why through Fresh Tracks we will lead an intentional cross-cultural approach to increase community cohesion.
FCS: How is Fresh Tracks pivoting during this uncertain time?
Juan: Fresh Tracks is built around a peer-to-peer mentorship model that reaches across time zones and communities. In response to the uncertainty of everyday life due to Covid-19, our network has leaned into these connections and tools that we have established over the last four years. Finding time to heal and celebrate joy in the outdoors for emotional and mental health. Our Fresh Tracks Council created a rapid response resource library to share information. We are gathering to share our ways of healing and finding joy and to acknowledge and listen to each others challenges. Fresh Tracks is a community that reaches across to connect with each other, we are finding reassurance that our model of connecting with each other is now more important than ever.
FCS: What is your hope for the future of Fresh Tracks?
Juan: Far too many young people in our communities, struggle with a day-to-day lack of safety, confidence, and support. This is true whether you’re a young Lakota man on a reservation in South Dakota, a white child in Alabama, or an African American young female in south-central Los Angeles. We believe the outdoors has the power to create this safe and supportive environment-free of judgment-so that these diverse youth can bring their cultures together, acknowledge and heal from trauma, and dialogue about these persistent inequities while building power together through community and youth driven actions. Through Fresh Track we will provide financial resources, technical assistance to support community actions and work with intergenerational and diverse stakeholders to define and expand community well-being outcomes through indigenous values.
If you are interested in getting involved in Fresh Tracks, please contact the Forum for Community Solutions Team at: firstname.lastname@example.org.