A Thousand Oceans

A Thousand Oceans

Carolyn Finney at the PGM ONE Summit—People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature & Environment (Photo by Michael Estrada)


Carolyn Finney is a storyteller, author and a cultural geographer. The aim of her work is to develop greater cultural competency within environmental organizations and institutions, challenge media outlets on their representation of difference, and increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to speak to environmental issues and determine policy and action.

Finney is grounded in both artistic and intellectual ways of knowing—she pursed an acting career for eleven years, but five years of backpacking trips through Africa and Asia, and living in Nepal changed the course of her life. Motivated by these experiences, Carolyn returned to school after a 15-year absence to complete a B.A., M.A. (both of these degrees focused on gender and environmental issues in Kenya and Nepal, respectively) and Ph.D. (which focused on African Americans and environmental issues in the U.S.). Along with public speaking, writing, consulting & teaching (she has taught at Wellesley, UC Berkeley and the University of Kentucky), she served on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board for eight years which assists the National Park Service in engaging in relations of reciprocity with diverse communities.  Her first book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors was released in 2014 (UNC Press).

A Thousand Oceans 2

Photo by Peter Forbes

In response to a quote by Thomas Jefferson: “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained…will produce convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” – from In Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in America by Carl Zimring, p. 20


A Thousand Oceans

I have cried the tears of a thousand oceans.

I have watched the dreams of my parents give way

To their devotion to that something better

Found in the soil that raised me


I have cried the tears of a thousand oceans

I have watched my mother cry secretly

While feeding squirrels and birds and us

Her own hands extensions of her own mother’s servitude

To whiteness that knows no bounds


I have cried the tears of a thousand oceans

As my father’s memory of himself slips away

He becomes the shadow of himself that he’s always been

Moving through a world that feared his presence

While eating him whole


I have cried the tears of a thousand oceans

Have you dreamed about Marshawn McCarrell

Vivid blackness and light

Who took his own life on the steps of the Ohio State House?


In my dreams, I hold him close

I tell him he is loved

I tell him he is loved

We are loved


I am loved


I have cried the tears of a thousand oceans

But do not mourn me

The tears you see are for the “us” that struggles to be

Do not be fooled into thinking that they are a sign of weakness

Because these tears can fill a thousand oceans

And I am all things considered

And then some


I am Cesar Chavez, Wangaari Mathai and Thomas Jefferson.

I am Issei, Nissei and John Muir.

I am Standing Rock, Flint Michigan and Yellowstone.

I am glaciers melting, seas rising and that clear day when you can see


I am in the streets, in the woods and in your head.

My humanity is fluid and flows like the Mississippi

And I will not be less for you

Because I have cried the tears of a thousand oceans

And I will NOT be less for you


So – to those who cannot see beyond their own fear

And try to blind me with their indifference and disdain:


Be warned


I am more than myself, than this brown skin connected by bones and

memories of Others who dreamed me; I am a thousand souls seen and

unseen. I am the coral reef and the elephant, the patch of grass I played

on as a child, I am blood spilled in your name and mine. I am the song

sung by the crickets in spring; I am the laughter of a child at Christmas; I

am snow falling, I am steam rising; I am ancient languages, I am glory

hallelujah; I am he, I am she and everything in between and beyond.

I am singular and I am many

I am few and I am plenty

I am the memory of us before we became


I am you always.

For we are part of something greater

Reminding us that we can be greater

And you might resist me, but

I remain in all my glory all that we are

So that you, too, might rejoice in the possible