Photos by Mac Smiff
The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural scenery and wildlife. In Oregon, the complex system of rivers and creeks flowing from gorgeous glacial mountains draws visitors from around the globe for hiking, skiing, boating, fishing, foraging, and other outdoor activities. That said, for reasons varying from racism to cost barriers to inexperience, Black residents often feel excluded from one of the regions most notable benefits. That’s where Camp Yoshi looks to even the scales.
In summer of 2020, OPB found that Black, Indigineous and Latino people are underrepresented as visitors to state parks. Later that year, chef Rashad Frasier and his wife Shequeita decided to turn their extensive remote camping experience into a business promoting and curating outdoor experiences for Black people. In addition, they teamed with accelerator Built Oregon to start hosting The Cookout, a networking event for Black folks in the Portland Metro area.
I got invited to The Cookout after attending another Black-focused outdoor event Built Oregon hosted in collaboration with Love Is King back in October, when we met up for fly fishing at Barton Park. Eager to get back outdoors with my people, I pulled up a little early with my camera, walked a short trail or two, and took a few pictures.
As I traipsed back toward the waterfront, now comfortably late to the Friday afternoon meetup, I didn’t see anybody around who looked like the folks I was looking for. A couple of park rangers kept their distance, but I saw no sign of the covered areas discussed in the confirming email sent just a few hours ago letting us know that the event was good to go rain or shine. A quick call to Stephen Green (aka “The Plug”) and he put me in touch with Mitch, Director at Built Oregon, who quickly came and found me on the wrong end of the hill.
I was met right away by a few familiar faces, just before chef Rashad and his family of 4 (with one on the way) pulled up in a Rivian R1T. I’d never seen any of Rivian’s Electric Adventure Vehicles in real life before and it’s a pretty smooth design, combining both practicality (like the front trunk between the rear cabin and the wheel well) and futuristic design (like the glowing light bar that spans the front of the truck). While Shequeita and the kids showed off the truck, Rashad and his team got busy pulling out baked chicken breast, saukatash, sweet pickles, slaw, baked beans and a jalepeno cornbread that will make you apologize to your mother.
With absolutely no agenda, as promised, The Cookout quickly turned into jokes and conversations about everything under the partially obstructed sun. From talk about the Portland Celtics making the NBA Finals to discussing Nigerian names, there was conversation abound. At one point a police car slow-rolled through the park and there was a collective groan that turned to collective laughter as someone made the inevitable, “I guess they heard we’re here,” quip.
A few folks talked about how rarely they go to Lake Oswego. I’ve been out there twice this year, most folks said they hadn’t been in years, a few lived out that way. Most of us–self-included–had never heard of George Rogers Park before that day. An almost magically beautiful place, it’s hard to wonder if our ignorance wasn’t by design. There I was with people who own dispensaries, coffee shops, entertainment companies, non-profits and credit card processing outfits, yet we were all tickled about being Black, together, in this space.
As our designated end time came and passed, and the sun began to fall behind the hills and trees, I begrudgingly packed up my things and said my goodbyes. Till the next meet, outside, together.