How I Found My Tribe And My Freedom At Burning Man
Photo Credit: Erin Douglas

Never in a million years did I think I’d go to Burning Man. It sounded interesting, but I honestly didn’t get it, and camping in the desert on nonperishable foods for a week didn’t have me eager to learn more. 

But there I was, a gifted ticket in hand, one big suitcase, one large duffle, a bookbag, a box I previously shipped and unsettled nerves at the Reno airport waiting for my campmates to pick me up in their small RV before our seven hour drive to the dusty grounds of Black Rock City.

Driving in for the first time, I was overwhelmed with thoughts.

“BURNING MAN IS THE PLACE THAT ALL THE MOVIES ARE ABOUT.
IT’S MAGICAL. IF YOU WANT AN ADVENTURE THERE IS ONE TO BE HAD. IT’S LIKE, OMG I’M IN A MOVIE! ALL THE COINCIDENCES- IT’S SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST COINCIDENCES. IT’S BIO-MAGIC.  IT FEELS LIKE SURFING A WAVE OF MAGIC.” – JUJU

Admittedly, I was nervous. I only knew 2 people of color who had been and they were hard to find. I remembered my desperate desire for a relatable face to give me advice about what to do with my hair. I wanted someone who looked like me to tell me I would be okay—and they did. In fact, they assured me I would have the experience of a lifetime and I shouldn’t worry. That one short conversation gave me a sense of relief; as a solo traveler these emotions were new to me. I felt a sense of uncertainty about the cultural community I would experience among 70,000 people -the majority of whom would not look like me.

Photo Credit: Erin Douglas/@blackburnerproject

“IT’S LIKE AN ENDLESS HALL OF MIRRORS. YOU CAN LOOK THAT DEEP WITHIN  YOURSELF. IT BOILS YOU DOWN TO YOUR MOST ESSENTIAL SELF. EFF WHO YOU WERE. YOUR JOB, YOUR SOCIAL STATUS. ARE YOU AN ASSET? LIKE, WHAT MORE CAN YOU DO? FROM THERE YOU CAN FIND OUT SO MUCH MORE ABOUT YOURSELF.” -BK GEORGE

“IT’S AS IF THE EARTH CRACKED OPEN, IN HALF, AND YOU’RE WALKING IN THE CENTER. IT’S SO OTHER WORLDLY, BUT ROOTED. PEOPLE AT THEIR MOST KIND, CREATIVE AND FREE SELVES” -DANICA

Historically, Burning Man has been known and publicized as an event that provides little evidence that people of color attend. Other than lacking the knowledge that the event even existed, I started to understand why we (people of color) weren’t out there like that. To feel unwelcome entering into a space you felt wasn’t created for you, on top of not seeing faces that resemble your own, can cause anyone to feel apprehensive or anxious. 

And when there’s a lot of money involved, why would you go?

Then there’s the sex, drugs, and EDM. All of which I was not interested in, as word on the street was that’s all Burning Man was about. I soon found that to be false. Yes, there is a large experimental culture present, but if that’s not your thing, that’s okay. It’s not for any one person who does or believes in any one thing. It brings with it no pressures to do anything you don’t want to do, nor any judgment when you do anything you want (or nothing at all). Burning Man is otherworldly with layers and depth regardless of the music, harsh conditions and challenges. Burning Man is what you make of it, and offers so many options that can change the course of each day. From yoga to workshops, food, to parties, bars—anything you can imagine. It’s a fully functioning city like any other, but too unique to compare to any.

Imagine meeting people for the first time, going off into the night, covering miles of a city together and staying up to watch the most beautiful sunrise on top of a moving 30-foot art piece, all while having conversations as genuine and deep as those you’ve had with some of your closest friends. Those are the special moments that often happen. 

It’s a place that gives you what you need even if you didn’t know you needed it. My first year, I had a hard time mentally and I struggled with the concept of the dust on my skin, feeling “dirty” or “ashy”. If forced me to let go and to realize any change in your perception would change your experience. My 2nd year I cared less about the dust, becoming one with it, saving me time and mental energy. I realized these issues were only ones I had within myself. Once I let that go, knowing a little dust wouldn’t kill me and no one else cared, it was easy to let a lot of other things crowding my mental space go.

Photo Credit: Erin Douglas/@blackburnerproject

It’s like you meet yourself for the first time again and again, with everything it throws at you; you grow. It brings forth all the thoughts, emotions and issues you never allowed to surface; yeah, you will meet them all there waiting patiently for you to handle. 

Burning Man is a place of growth, reflection, radical expressions—like you’ve never let yourself expreess before— community, creativity, problem-solving, self-care, connections, and love. There’s no “witchy” business, if that’s what you heard. You’re greeted with hugs only.  Each person is there for their own personal reasons. It’s about intentions and being open-minded.

You walk away at the end of the week feeling like anything is possible.

Photo Credit: Erin Douglas/@blackburnerproject

 “THERE’S AN UNEXPLAINABLE MAGIC ABOUT IT. I STILL CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT.” -Ken

It’s beautiful and crazy. I’m pretty sure you’ll have a mouth-drop moment. I started the Black Burner Project to create an informative space that would inspire and encourage other people of color with curiosities to explore the unfamiliar. There just isn’t enough representation in the dust and although we are out there, I truly feel more of us should be witness to the magic and encounter this transformation experience. It’s not for everyone but, it’s for you if you’re for it. Regardless of how much I try to explain, you’ll never get it until you go yourself.

Hope to see you on the playa in 2020.

Photo Credit: Erin Douglas/@blackburnerproject
Photo Credit: Erin Douglas/@blackburnerproject
Photo Credit: Erin Douglas/@blackburnerproject
Photo Credit: Erin Douglas/@blackburnerproject

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