Last weekend the people of New York State lost a leading citizen, the children of Albany lost a dear friend and the Adirondacks lost a trailblazer. On Friday, December 5th, Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi passed away unexpectedly at the age of sixty four. His substantial contributions to the Adirondack region were only a small part of his many undertakings. But from the perspective of the ongoing work to make the Adirondack Park a more inclusive, welcoming and life-changing place for everyone, we have suffered an incalculable setback.
Brother Yusuf was a tireless doer, a walker of the walk who gave the experience of the outdoors to countless urban children. He was also a man of courage and staying power who struggled through war and personal adversity and emerged as a voice of dignity, commitment and wisdom. His story is a great American story and his accomplishments were many (you can read a brief article about his life here).
As an trailblazer in the work to make the Adirondacks more open to young people of color, Brother Yusuf lent his expertise and advice to the work of creating the symposium “Towards a More Diverse Adirondacks.” Being one of those rare people with natural eloquence, his advice and participation left a strong impression. The authority of his experience and his sincerity, directness and strength were distinctive assets to the conversation.
The evolution to a more inclusive Adirondacks begins with children. It is through their innocence and idealism that the afflictions of prejudice and class can be abated. But children need to value nature too, value what we have here and carry that value out into the larger world. It is no accident that understanding and love of nature is of a piece with understanding and love of those who might be different from you. Yet in this era of increasing urbanization, ubiquitous smart technology and instant gratification, an immersive experience of nature is both rarer and more needed.
Brother Yusuf knew this better than anyone. He devoted himself to giving urban kids the same opportunity that so many of us have had: to form our truest selves, our sense of the world and our values in the woods and waters of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. In doing so he blazed a trail for those who would seek to make the Park a better place for all people as well as an irreplaceable part of life for many who might never have otherwise experienced it.
Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi was – and remains – an example and a moral force for the intersection of nature and humanity. We owe it to his legacy to carry his work forward.
Photo: Brother Yusuf at the Symposium “Towards a More Diverse Adirondacks.”