The restorative properties which rain brings to ourselves and our communities is mirrored by the actions of precious few people I have met in my travels. These individuals are genuine, they are driven, they present themselves to their communities like the fresh rain I enjoy today. Their purity brings new life to the world by the actions they take.
Thursday I met another person with such quality, his name is Chad Brown and his program is Soul River.
We sit in his modest storefront in Kenton, once the hub of industrial activity in the early 1900’s. The neighborhood reflects the diversity of the world and the myriad of cultures who call it home. From tattoo parlors to furniture stores, from Korean restaurants to hipster coffee joints, from a local butcher shop to art galleries, from a 30 foot tall Paul Bunyan statue to homestyle Cajun food – this is the place where where worlds collide. This is where Chad put his stake in the ground and seeks to change the lives of disadvantaged youth and veterans found throughout the PNW.
Using the local culture to draw from, along with his own talent and vision, he forges a path unique and counter to the popular culture of the fly fishing industry. This man walks the talk. He follows no one. He trusts his gut, sets himself on the mission and executes.
We spend most of the afternoon comparing notes on what similarities we share in our vision of the future of the fly fishing industry, and the efforts we take toward creating a brighter future for our outdoors lifestyle and conservation communities.
Chad speaks to me about the communities who have come forth to support his efforts to bring youth out of their homes and into the wild. He shares with me the profound effect it has had on him personally as he battles his own demons from the conflicts he suffered through while serving in the Navy.
He tells me of growing up in Texas, traveling the world, and landing in Portland. He speaks of meetings with local, Federal, and State programs who offer their support. While these are all important to note – nothing brings a smile to his face like when we speak about the youth and veterans he seeks to help.
I hear how one or two hour sessions teaching or speaking end up becoming four to six hours long because he loses himself in the moment. Chad and I seem to fall in the same place when it comes to this issue. The lives we are touching fill us with something that money can never buy and that we happily give because it is our nature. Too often this point is overlooked, and Chad beams a great smile as we touch on it.
Soul River is more than just a program seeking to put disadvantaged youth in touch with nature and help veterans through the healing properties of teaching and fishing. In my opinion, Soul River seeks to create a shift in the culture of the fly fishing industry and conservation community. Chad seeks to bridge the gap between the current conception of the sport as being white male dominated exclusivity, and flip it on its head by bringing the flavor of urban youth culture and sensibility to it.
His presentation to the world reflects this in his shop and the imagery speaking directly to this point. The layout is full of images inspired by his youth and veteran projects, the furniture is rough hewn from the hearts of the woods we call home. The visual appeal of his designs and sensibility for urban style is reflected in his choices for apparel and packaging. He offers everything from fly rods and reels, to scented candles infused with the essence of the rivers and places he frequents in his travels.
Chad brings the qualities of the beautiful rivers used to heal himself to all those he touches in hopes they will deliver the same peace. Chad and I loose ourselves in the conversations and the hours swim by quickly. This is telling of what I hope our friendship will continue to provide and grow. Our shared desire to achieve by any means necessary the goals to provide meaningful experiences and share the beauty and healing nature of the rivers and streams which heal our souls.