June 20, 2022 – We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Nicole Mokeme, who was killed in hit-and-run incident in Acadia the weekend of June 19th. Her mission to elevate people, especially young people, who are Black, Brown and Indigenous, through outdoor experiences and retreats was inspiring and served as a reminder that there are a lot of ways to promote social justice and equity. We are honored to have had the opportunity to meet Nicole through CEI’s Women’s Business Center and share her story during Black History Month 2022.
As a nursing student deeply involved in community care, Nicole discovered a passion for earth-based medicinal practices. When she became a mother, she was inspired by the youth in her community to create a retreat to address the emotional needs for young women in Maine. In 2014, Nicole founded Rise and Shine Youth Retreat to offer one-day wellness retreats for Black teenage girls.
Over the past seven years, it has evolved to become a place for Black, Brown and Indigenous people to develop leadership skills, build confidence through outdoors experiences, and establish a sense of community.
Q: Tell us more about yourself.
Nicole: My name is Nicole Chioma Antonette Mokeme. I identify as an Afro-Indigenous Nigerian American woman. Originally from West Chester, Pennsylvania, the native land of the Lenape tribe, I moved to Wabanaki territory, also known as Maine, in 2008. I have an Associates Degree in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Biological Science. I started school as a nursing student and quickly realized that I preferred earth-based medicinal practices and community care. I became really active in community and began my lifestyle as a traveling artist. My favorite things to do are to create joyful intergenerational spaces and to adventure outdoors with loved ones.
Q: What does Rise & Shine offer?
Nicole: Rise and Shine Youth Retreat is an accessible rejuvenation center for the liberation of Black People in Maine and beyond. The mission of Rise and Shine Youth Retreat is to strengthen intergenerational relationships between people and the Earth through outdoor recreation, wellness retreats, science education and art. Rise and Shine Youth Retreat highlights the voices and responds to the emotional needs and creativity of BIPOC of all ages. Over the years we’ve hosted retreats for various groups with various interests. Our adventures include weekly outdoor fitness, community meet- ups, sailing, guided educational hikes and customized health/wellness plans.
Q: What inspired you to start Rise & Shine?
Nicole: As a stay-at-home mother I was seeking to connect with other women. At the time I didn’t have the resources to experience a tropical retreat in a warm location so I decided to design a local retreat for women here in Maine. During my planning process I learned about the self harm of some young women in our community. This awareness urged me to develop our very first retreat for young women between the ages of 12-18. They enjoyed the experience so much that a one-day retreat was expanded to weekend retreats for deeper connection. It also inspired us to develop annual camping getaways and weekly wellness clubs in public schools. Over the years we’ve expanded our offerings and have evolved from working with teens to working with people of all ages.
Q: What are some of the most positive experiences in your journey with Rise and Shine so far?
Nicole: It brings me so much joy to see people of all ages running through the woods and experiencing complete bliss. Something that really made me proud in 2021 was when our youth couldn’t believe that the Black scientists that we were working with are real marine biologists. To them, learning with adults who share their culture helps them feel more confident in their learning environment and that they too could some day become scientists. Our community comes from all over the world, with varied backgrounds in education, art, science, fashion, engineering. And some folks are recovering from the experience of sex trafficking, drug addiction, homophobia and domestic violence. Rise and Shine provides a space where people are celebrated for being themselves, where we can speak in our diverse cultural language and where we experience true liberation.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges for you and your business?
Nicole: The biggest challenge that I experienced is getting business funding because of the lack of trust. Another barrier is that we do not have a location we call our own to run programs in. As much as we appreciate other organizations who share space with us, we have to work around their schedules. In order for us to have longevity and stability, we need to have more control over space, operation and schedules. We have established a land acquisition fund to raise money for a space that we can share with our community. We are hopeful to acquire the space that we have access to year-round for planning and enrichment.
Q: What are your goals for the business?
Nicole: My goals are to continue to provide quality experiences to the Afro-Indigenous community. To continue to provide quality compensation to our organizers and educators. In the near future, we hope to provide outdoor gear for all participants, and to acquire land access for our community offerings, which include a recreation site and a lodging space for overnight retreats. The other fun thing that we will do more of this year is to explore local trails. I hope to share with our community that we don’t have to travel too far from our homes to experience an outdoor adventure.
Q: What is the one thing you want others to know about black-owned businesses?
Nicole: Let us take the lead!! The people who are supporting help bring the plan to fruition. The purpose of supporting others is to allow them to take the lead and design the plan. Fragility makes it hard for folks to step back and trust the process. True community is working together to fulfill a mission that brings safety and joy to all.
Go to Rise and Shine Youth Retreat to learn more about its programs.
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Check out the full range of CEIs Business Advising offerings at https://www.ceimaine.org/advising