Faith Kroma, a sophomore at UrbanPromise Academy and active participant in UrbanTrekkers, told the story of her personal connection to the Cooper River at the New Jersey Land Conservation Rally this past weekend. Her story exemplifies the senses of belonging and ownership that many students feel as they paddle the urban rivers that run through their own neighborhoods in Camden. Stories like Faith’s lead the way in advocating for access to nature for Camden’s residents.
Growing up, my favorite thing to do in the whole wide world was going to the zoo. I remember every first Sunday of the month, my father and I, along with my sister, would wake up reaaaaallly early, eat breakfast, pack a picnic and drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge to the Philadelphia Zoo. Oddly, my favorite part of those Sunday morning trips was not seeing those exotic, outlandish animals at the zoo.
My favorite part was passing this canal called the Schuylkill River. I can just remember having my two centimeters from the car window trying to catch a gaze at the beautiful boat houses with tiny Christmas lights outlining their structure. I remember cheering on the boat racers as they flew across the river like the speed of light and seeing people playing and jogging around the river.
And I couldn’t forget me thinking that that place just over the bridge HAD to have been the best place on earth. That river was my first real intimate relationship with a piece of nature.
The community I grew up in didn’t have a place that came CLOSE to the beauty of that river. But when I came to Camden, and I enrolled at Urban Promise, I started taking these paddle trips on the Cooper River. The Cooper River is literally a block away from house. The first time I paddled on this river, I mentally rolled my eyes at the comparison to the Schuylkill River. There was just so much trash and debris and abandonment to the Cooper River, and it made me just want to give up on it. However, the more I paddled on the Cooper River, the more potential I saw in it.
Now, I don’t see the Cooper River as just a body of moving water, I see it as a friend. And my friend Cooper here is having some really bad problems right now and needs a buddy like me to stick up for him.