We met the Afrovivalist on a cold, bright November morning at Forest Park’s archery range, where she practiced a few shots in her “Black and Prepared” t-shirt. “You cannot take this thing on TriMet,” she laughs, as she shows me how to ground my energy and focus on my breath while taking aim.
She’s got serious prowess as an archer and sees hunting as a core survival skill. But it’s not all bows and arrows. If you spend any time on her website afrovivalist.com, you’ll quickly notice that she is a gun enthusiast. “I go into guys’ houses and see these ridiculous guns all over the living room walls. It’s like toys to them,” she says. “All you need is a pistol and a shotgun.” Seeing as gun culture in the PNW isn’t very diverse, she’s used to blazing her own trail. “Every time I’m at the shooting range, I look around and I’m the only African-American there.”
I believe in gun control, but it seems clear that If anyone should be able to arm themselves in American society, it’s black women. I wonder if there are other female African-American survivalists in the PNW she’s met over her decades at it? “No. I’m an original, sorry! I haven’t met anyone yet out on the field, out on the trails. It’s kind of sad. I started out going to Meetups. I was always the only person of color, and it was just so sad because I wanted to see more POC who are preparing.”
Sharon, as she’s called by friends and family, is warm, funny, and generous with her time and knowledge. Sure, she could take all her expertise on wilderness and urban survival, hunting, and off-the-grid living and keep it to herself. But instead she’s created a web presence to share what she knows with others. “I don’t just want people of color to be ready—I want everyone to be able to be ready,” she says. “Once I knew this was part of me, I knew I had to share it. My higher power calls me to be an educator. I didn’t know this would become a business venture. It was just a hobby, y’all!”
The Afrovivalist is not here to save you, but she will teach you how to save yourself. “I need to tell other people because this stuff is a big deal. When shit does hit the fan and I’m the only one sitting on top of that hill, it’s gonna be pretty lonely. At the same time, I don’t want a whole bunch of people coming to me then and saying, ‘I know you’ve got food.’ My thing is: If you’re not going to take care of yourself, what makes you think I should take care of you? Don’t come to my house.”
So as Sharon sees it, we’re all responsible for our own survival and it’s on us to be ready for whatever natural or man-made disasters the future may hold. Like all-the-way ready. It’s not just about stocking up on water, snacks, and a first aid kit—important as those things are. “Start going out and buying some water. Water is your number one thing,” she says. She sets an example by being a walking arsenal even on a simple trip to the park to hang out with Stay Wild. Our photographer Sera said she’s the closest thing to a real superhero she’s ever met, and I can’t disagree.
Like a post-apocalyptic segment of US Weekly’s “What’s in My Bag?”, Sharon turns out her very normal looking handbag during our meeting to reveal a pretty amazing kit: water, toiletries, a knife, binoculars, snacks, a flashlight, a light-up armband, a first aid kit, and a multitool. This is what she calls her everyday “bug-out bag,” of which she has a few. There’s also a “bug-out” vehicle (BOV) equipped with more of the same—a 1970s model because an EMS (electromagnetic shock) caused by a bomb in the atmosphere could disable modern cars with catalytic converters. The BOV, of course, would head straight to Sharon’s BOL (bug-out location) of choice.
In Afrovivalist terms, survivalism isn’t just about getting off the grid and building yourself an earthship. It’s also about working with what’s around you in an urban environment. “I want everyone to gain some knowledge on being prepared. Because if you’re someone who wants to stay in the city, be prepared for what might happen here. We’re sitting in Forest Park right now. You can take your skills outside. You can track for prints. You can do a lot without leaving the city.”
I ask her what I could eat if I got lost in Forest Park. “Morels. Chantrelles. They’re yummy. It’s just about knowing where they are. But harvesting for vegetation isn’t my thing. I would rather hunt.” And without missing a beat, she shows me how to squeeze water out of moss through a bandana.
During her day job at the Radiation Protection Services for the state of Oregon, Sharon serves on the radiological emergency response team. She’s also a member of the leadership community for the NET (neighborhood emergency response team) with the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. So how does she manage to carve out time for self-care while putting so much into keeping Portlanders safe? “I have no idea how I do it all. I just do it.”
But everyone needs some me time—especially real-life superheros: “Sometimes I leave my computer and go to a space like this with a hammock and lunch in tow, and I’ll find the perfect two trees. I put my headset on, and my dog is beneath me so if anybody comes up on me, they can’t sneak up. I just lay in the trees and have my lunch and drink my coffee and just let it all go. I just take that time for me. I have to.”