LEAF October Retreat 2020

LEAF Retreat was exactly what we all needed at a time like this. Celebrating 25 Years of community and connection with Safety, Gratitude, & Intention allowed us to go back to our roots – a small family-focused gathering that connects people to the world, each other, and the best in ourselves. It is the spirit of LEAF’s mission. It was a weekend that showed us we can have events that fulfill our souls’ desires while also prioritizing the safety we need. The world is shifting and LEAF is prepared to adapt as necessary. The very first LEAF Retreat was nothing short of magic and gave us all a sense of hope for the future. Being involved with global arts preservation and education assures us that we are in good and caring hands. Everyone who came to the retreat would agree that it was the most love, hope, and fun they’ve experienced in a safe social setting all year. Keeping LEAF alive is keeping hope and love alive! Just look at these notes of LEAF Love and joy: 

This weekend at Retreat was by far my brightest spot in a very long time. -Meg L

“This is what I so needed for my soul. It was like reopening my soul and feeling that everything is going to be ok” -Bennett

“Love is our centerpiece and LEAF is our Mecca. We look past all our stigmas. We are LEAF. LEAF is priceless.” -Greg Swentor

As an organization, we waited to make a final decision about an October gathering until we saw the outcome of Camp Rockmont’s and the YMCA’s Family Camp Retreats at Camp Rockmont this Summer & Fall. They shared all of their planning and protocols with us and because there was not a single COVID case reported from the Camp retreats we felt confident to move forward. 

“LEAF has been so influential on me. I couldn’t understand why in America young people had been so excluded as their parents were discovering the world of music.  LEAF was the 1st organization that brought me to work with kids and was a festival for families. It was life-changing.  When a person goes to a festival and sees people from Uganda, Rwanda and other places all ages start to embrace cultures, music, and the world. People showcase artists but they don’t really care about the culture and artists- they are checking boxes. The LEAF audience and Vols were So different and filled his spirit. They embraced, engaged, cared, and connected. LEAF has been the model. You bring something in the US that is strongly lacking in other orgs & festivals- the energy of the space is just right. The love of Culture and diversity. LEAF works with small communities and directly w people. Communities will not have value unless they are part of the building. When I came to LEAF – the website can’t impart- how everyone loves to welcome everyone even the schools – LEAF was like a global family.  One of the best ways of fighting racisms is global education- that is what we do through the music and culture.” -’ Kinobe, Uganda | Dance of Hope & UNICEF Artists since Age 15 and a key organizer from October’s retreat.

We required masks and social distancing. We took the temperatures of attendees before they entered the grounds and ensured that every area was sanitized and had as much airflow as possible. The weekend was filled with music and performances from Kinobe of Uganda, Steep Canyon Rangers, Save our Brass + Sporty’s Brass Band of NOLA, River Guerguerian, Somewhat Petty, Street Creature Puppets, AVL Mardi Gras Collective, Unifire, Billy Jack, Mike Guggino & Barrett Smith, Standing Room Only, Carol Rifkin, Adama Dembele, Otto Vaquez, New Song Artists & others. 

Throughout a beautiful Black Mountain weekend, a small portion of our community enjoyed Lake Eden in a serene setting while engaging in treasured LEAF traditions. From the Luminary Ceremony on Lake Eden to Drum Circles by a fire. With a combination of healing arts and earth skills then artists booths and vendors. There were culinary treats, and lake fun with paddleboards, canoes, and zipline. The weekend was sacred. We hosted sessions and small concerts that connected the audience to the world, other cultures, and inspired the spirit to seek and offer understanding and love. Held in a historic place where families, individuals, and creatives came together to dream and change the world, those who came, left with the energy to do the same.

Perhaps the most meaningful moment from the retreat was the luminary ceremony. In honor of people we love and miss, LEAFers made and decorated luminaries. 4 years ago this sacred tradition on Friday night at LEAF began to remember and celebrate two young brothers Logan and Patrick. On this night, their godfather River Guerguerian and his band Free Planet Radio played on Eden Hall Porch with the music magically flowing across the waters of Lake Eden as people carefully placed their luminaries onto the lake. Now a LEAF tradition, and in a year of so much pain and loss, it is especially powerful to come together, reflect, and say goodbye. 

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also acknowledge the luxury of the entire experience. What a gift it is to have land to call home. How lucky we are to have a community that rallies behind each other in a time of crisis and that takes the time to reset, reflect, and reimagine. We believe in the power of the collective and the healing capabilities of art, nature, and cultural experiences. That’s why we do what we do. We believe that everyone can benefit from intentional time submerged in the culture of the world. We know that experiences like these can change lives. And we’re grateful to be on a journey on spreading access and opportunity to our communities near and far. 

Thank you to those who made this October weekend full of enough LEAF Love to last a lifetime. And for those of you, who seek to join us on this journey, we invite you to join membership, engage with our community online and we look forward to seeing you at the next LEAF Retreat.

Mayani is a Maasai boy from longido Arusha. He went to boarding school at 6 years old and lost his Maasai language and tradition. Since joining the LEAF program, he has learned to sing Maasai songs, practiced the ‘jump’ tradition and wear Maasai shukas (traditional clothing). Mayani is extremely happy and is currently teaching other youth the culture.