We are all People of the Earth
Spotlight on the Long Beach, California group, People of the Earth and some of its members: Jesse, Collin, Lance, Kimberly, and Veronica.
At the 2021 Saguaro Half Marathon, we had a chance to catch up with some great folks from the Long Beach, California area who are raising awareness for veteran mental health and environmental justice. Jesse started People of the Earth to provide an outlet for veterans to get together and enjoy the outdoors with one another. They’re a small group, but those who have joined them are already sharing feelings of peace and belonging.
When asked why he started People of the Earth, Jesse replied that a lot of veterans and active military men and women make the decision to serve at a young age. “When we joined, we did not understand the long term effect that serving can have on an individual’s life,” he shares.
Collin shares, “depending on the experience you had while serving in the military, it can have a negative impact on you for the rest of your life.” Heads nod in affirmation. “But how you respond to that negativity can really depend on who you surround yourself with.” Collin shares that for him, he wanted to surround himself with people who didn’t want to stay in that “trapped” feeling. He wanted to be with folks who were actively trying to progress, get better, and find alternate ways of dealing with things. “That’s one of the reasons I like People of the Earth and running. With running, you get physically tired, so you don’t have the time or energy to think about the mental challenges that you are dealing with.”
Lance, another member of People of the Earth, shares that life before, during, and after deployment has always been about challenges. For him, joining this community was just another encouraging challenge. “I like to connect with people who have aspirations to be better, and I try to surround myself with those people.” Across the group, everyone seems to agree with this sentiment: that the best way to grow and move forward is to surround oneself with people that are living the example that you want to live. Our peers can teach us so much, and People of the Earth is keenly focused on building a community where individuals can support one another. Every person has something to offer whether they know it or not.
The organization says that returning from deployment is hard for a lot of people. They share that civilians value their service but don’t “get it.” They understand why civilians don’t comprehend what veterans are experiencing, but it can still make some interactions tough or awkward. “Sometimes people want to know what I did, or what we did, but I don’t want to tell them that stuff,” Collin shares. Mentally revisiting or being asked to share their military experience isn’t something all veterans want to do. It can be painful for them to talk about and some may not want to share unpleasant experiences with civilians. Sometimes it’s simply too much to explain to someone who wasn’t there.
Collin elaborates that he was a firefighter in the military, but then he got injured and could no longer do the job. “I lost my career and I felt like I lost my tribe.” When he went to school on the GI bill, he still felt out of place because he was years older than everyone else. “Groups like this help. I lost one tribe, but new ones come around in different forms,” he half-smiles.
One of the reasons People of the Earth started was to give veterans another outlet to meet other veterans, to enjoy community, and to explore the outdoor world. “We tend to focus on our differences, but I think that just highlights the need to remember our similarities and what we share,” Lance comments. People of the Earth say they are all there as part of the same nation, the same love for the outdoors, and the same joy for running. They may not all be at the same pace, but they are all there together. Kimberly laughs and points out, “I was definitely slow in the group today, but I had fun!”
We tend to focus on our differences, but I think that just highlights the need to remember our similarities and what we share.
Kimberly works for the Sierra Club and Veronica works for California State Parks, and both women are always thinking about how they can help more people from different backgrounds get outdoors. Kimberly adds, “the outdoor space isn’t always representative of people of color, so we like to remind folks that these spaces are open to anyone, and we want to make it easier for folks to get out and enjoy nature.” Kimberly adds that she doesn’t have a car and many other urbanites don’t either, so getting groups together through People of the Earth and other organizations is a great way that folks can go together and carpool.
The group hopes more Long Beach area veterans and people who want to connect through the outdoors will join them, and they plan to do more outings soon. Jesse says they would like to run a Marathon with People of the Earth for Mental Health Awareness Month which happens every May. The marathon hasn’t been confirmed yet, but people can follow @pote_krew and @contrivedimagination on Instagram to see when a race is decided.
Miles That Matter, is Vacation Races' blog segment where we share inspiring and touching stories from our runners. Some stories may make you cry, some may surprise you, and others may give you the grit to get out there and do the darn thing. Over the years, we've been inspired by the compassion and determination of our runners and this is just one small way that we can share their stories to uplift even more people. Our runners do the hard work; we're just here to share their voices.