Teresa Baker: Kindness, kindred spirits and Nevada City | TheUnion.com

Teresa Baker: Kindness, kindred spirits and Nevada City

I assumed that there would be very little in the way of diversity at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, and it lived up to my expectations.

What did take me by surprise, perhaps due to my perception of the area, was the friendly and inviting atmosphere. From the moment I entered festival headquarters, I was met with nothing but sincere welcomes and offers of assistance.

Race has played a role in every aspect of my life, especially my outdoor experiences. I visit parks and campgrounds where I’m almost always the only African American around. I have yet to encounter a situation that I wasn’t able, through God’s grace, to finagle my way through. Yet it’s no secret how lack of diversity in outdoor spaces is a major issue and making headway seems to be slow at best.

My first introduction to the festival had come through Jason Fitzpatrick of The Muir Project. He reached out to me about the festival couple of months after filming our Muir Campfire discussion on relevancy and inclusion in the outdoors, summit, held in Yosemite. That gathering was an event I had partnered on with the National Park Service and Robert Hanna (great, great grandson of John Muir), and the resulting film was eventually picked for inclusion in the festival. Being new to all of this, I didn’t know what that meant. So I did a little research on the festival and learned that most of the films are geared towards environmental protection efforts. This got me really excited. So I accepted the invitation to appear.

It was amazing for me to feel so welcomed in a space I’d never been, among a crowd that had very little in the way of diversity, but was over abundant in charm and class.

Not being familiar with the area, I again referred to the Internet to find the best place to stay. I came upon a little inn located in Grass Valley, Lambs Victorian Inn. I read all the reviews and decided that this would be my little home away from home while at the festival. The owners of the inn, John and Janet Lamb, were as welcoming as possible. There are a lot of neat little features that make up this inn, my favorite being a little placard “Rules of the Inn.” I got the biggest chuckle out of reading it.

I got situated at the inn and quickly made my way back to Nevada City, where I wanted to find all the film venues and decide which ones I would have time to see before the viewing of our film on Friday night. Walking the streets of Nevada City, one couldn’t help but notice the lack of diversity in the crowd. I was determined to find at least one other face that I could give the “what’s up?” nod to. That opportunity did not present itself.

As I made my way into the first venue, Nevada Theatre, the film “The Fire Next Time,” was playing. It’s about the fires in and around Yosemite. What a frightening and amazing film it was. My next stop, Vet’s Hall, where our film, Diversity & Inclusion in Our Wild Spaces, was playing. As I entered the venue, not really sure if I was at the right location, nighttime had fallen, and the person at the door greeted me and asked if I needed assistance. I asked if I was at the right venue for our film, she responded, “No dear, that venue is across the street. Let me walk you.” By this time, it was pouring rain and seeing someone in a rowboat would not have been surprising. We quickly walked down the hill a bit and into the venue for the film. She escorted me in and asked if she could help me find seating. I said no and thanked her for her assistance.

Once in the venue, the room was packed. There were a few films playing before our film would start, but these were amazing films as well. After the showing of our film, several people came up to me asking about the work I do and how could they get involved in my efforts. One gentleman approached and said it was a joy to see not only an African American, but an African American woman braving the weather and the “whiteness of the area” to present a film on such needed efforts. He and I talked awhile before I headed back to my home away from home.

Sunday brought the next showing of our film. As Jason and I sat waiting for the film to begin, a gentleman approached us and started asking questions about the film and the purpose behind it. We talked for a while then he said, “You know this is the whitest town in California.” I pondered that for a second, and he must have seen the expression on my face, because he said, “I’m not joking, it really is.” After the showing, as Jason and I were leaving, several people approached us about how well the film was received.

After having lunch with Jason and Ric, I walked around town knowing that I would be leaving for home soon. As I stood under an awning at one of the establishments, a lady approached me and said, you must be Teresa, I said, “How did you guess?” We both laughed. We talked for a while about the festival and how much we were both enjoying the rain. As we parted, she said, “Make sure you come back to our lovely town; we’d sure love to see you again.”

It was amazing for me to feel so welcomed in a space I’d never been, among a crowd that had very little in the way of diversity, but was over abundant in charm and class. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball when we least expect it, and kindness shines above all else.

Thank you, Nevada City.

Teresa Baker lives in Martinez.

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