Ihunaanya Is Getting Minorities To Re-Connect With The Outdoors And Return To Nature

Ihunaanya: Understand Your Impact is a non-profit organization founded by Dominique Alston and Kellie Thornton with the intention to increase the participation of minority groups of the United States in nature. Conversations and platforms for POC to connect with the outdoors is sparse. Therefore, Ihunaanya seeks to raise awareness in the lack of participation and support for minorities in outdoor recreation and overall wellness.


When and why did you start Ihunaanya?


I attended a camping trip with The Xanadu Life: Eagle Tribe on Catalina Island, December 5, 2015.  The Xanadu Life is a collective of nature enthusiasts dedicated to creating a family of conscious adventure seekers that are drawn to intellectual conversations and deep heartfelt connections while inspiring wellness, education and green living.

The various perspectives on life shared by the participants, challenged me to pursue her own inner passions and bring them to fruition.  What she noticed as she attended more events was the lack of participation from minority groups, and specifically the Black community.

Although she continues to build a career around her performance and art, her community service and activism is a flame that does not die out.  May of 2016, she developed the idea to form a non-profit organization called Ihunaanya: Understand Your Impact.  Eventually creating an East and West coast foundation, and partnering with co-founder, Kellie Thornton.

Throughout the protests, rallies, and activism going on for Black human rights, a little Tender "Ihunaanya" and Care is what the Black community and many minority groups need.  I'm concerned with the fundamental change of society and its major institutions so I developed a new way of thriving amongst the mayhem of our country.  With this organization, my intention is to lead as an example so others will develop a new sense of well-being with ever-lasting, generational changes.


What does Ihunaanya mean?

The word “Ihunaanya” stems from the Igbo language of Nigeria, Africa.  There are different variations of the word, but Ihunaanya in all of its forms means love, romance and affection.  Therefore, Ihunaanya: Understand Your Impact focuses on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness of the participants while stimulating a constant flow of love and affection.  The mission is to better the areas of love with self, love for everyone, love in deep friendship, playful love, in love with God, long-standing love, and love in sexual passion and desire.


Why is it important POC and black folks in particular to participate in recreational activities?

Minority groups in the United States need to participate in outdoor recreation because their participation strongly attributes to social awareness, environmental education, and most importantly the achievement of spiritual and personal growth.  More specifically, the Black community needs to participate to gain peace and tranquility, broaden the scope and possibility of travel, and increase their knowledge of survival in the outdoors.


What do you think is our greatest disconnect with the outdoors? Natural world?

I do not believe there is a disconnect between Black people and the outdoors.  However, I do believe propaganda increases the fear of nature in Black people.  For example, Black actors/actresses dying first in horror movies centered around camping and a lack of Black representation in outdoor recreational advertisements. I'd look through a catalouge of camping and outdoor recreational supplies, it's rare to see a Person of Color.  So at a young age, I was steered away from various exciting activities. 

In Africa, many ancient tribes and our ancestors practiced natural healing methods, could conquer surviving in many geographical landscapes, and were one with nature.  Nature is a part of God and God is within all of us.  Returning to nature is vital.


How does the work you do compliment the ideology of self-love for the black community?

The work we do compliments the ideology of self-love in the Black community because that is our purpose.  As soon as a person arrives at our event, we give open heart hugs, share friendship bracelets, and affection.  During our hikes, Ihunaanya has a system in place to cater to everyone's personal dreams, goals, and aspirations.  The goal is to create one new friend by the end of the hike, to speak and act from a place of love, and to let go of all pain and suffering through diverse installations.  

Since this platform started – have you seen a shift in participation or perception?

Over the course of Ihunaanya: Understand Your Impact's growth, the perception has changed on participation.  There is no true definition of Blackness.  Therefore, our demographic has no true definition. Blackness is boundless.  Participants are 18-45 years old and we curate and share the Black experience as it has been experienced across the Diaspora.  We celebrate diversity and heritage.


What are some of the programs and activities you offer? What has been your favorite thus far?

During our events, I teach Mindfulness Meditation at each event.  A huge misconception about meditation is to forget or clear the mind, but meditation is a tool to help control the thoughts.  To be mindful of the words we allow ourselves to hear, thoughts we allow ourselves to indulge in, and the feelings that can help us travel through our days without feeling depressed or anxious.

Alongside meditation, we bring in yoga instructors, play games, and workshops that focus on the theme of the event.  For example, co-founder, Kellie Thornton, teaches a Happiness Workshop designed to really touch upon the love of deep friendships.


What has been your greatest challenge thus far?

The greatest challenge thus far has been marketing.  So much fear has been instilled in minority groups that most believe nature is a seemingly "bad place."  Outdoor recreation has been dominated by White people for so long many People of Color do not feel comfortable entering such a foreign domain; forgetting nature is vital to all humans.


What has been your greatest achievement thus far?

I have yet to reach my greatest achievement.  My greatest achievement will be winning a Nobel Peace Prize.  At 12 years old, I created a list of goals from my aspirations.  Thus far, I accomplished my goals up to 25 years old.  This included winning Junior and Teen Miss North Carolina, creating an organization for low income families with children diagnosed with Autism, attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, raising over $30k for the Children's Miracle Network and Masonic Children's Home of Oxford, NC, and competing twice in the Miss North Carolina Scholarship pageant for a chance at Miss America!  I have accomplished so much more in personal life, career, and activism but my work is never done.