Ferene Paris Meyer discovered sailing on her first day as an entrepreneur. She had just launched her new business, All Heart Inspirations, with which she creates heart-centered offerings infused with storytelling vibes. A friend suggested that she treat herself to a cruise on Lake Champlain with Whistling Man Schooner Company to celebrate. Ferene confesses it was something she would have likely never done but in the spirit of launching into a new chapter, she sprung for it.
When they arrived at the dock on July 1, 2020, Ferene and her partner Josh were graciously welcomed by the Whistling Man staff and boarded the sailboat for an intimate sail that was accompanied by two other guests. The sensory experience struck Ferene immediately, “It’s a completely different perspective being on a sailboat on the water…looking back at your city and at your mountain ranges. I opened up my heart to the experience and I was doing this to celebrate myself, something I would never necessarily treat myself to.” Between relishing in the sounds and sights of the new surroundings, she chatted with Josh about the potential healing power sailing could have for others, especially Black Vermonters. As they chatted, one of the guests on the boat spoke up—they knew Hannah Langsdale, the owner of Whistling Man, and wanted to make the connection for Ferene. “Only in Vermont would something like this happen,” Ferene laughs. She’s a big proponent of speaking your truth and your voice, and this was one of those moments that enforced her belief.
Sailing as an industry here in the United States is a predominately white space with themes of entitlement. Access is a challenge for many, cost being one of the biggest barriers. Much like downhill skiing or snowboarding, it’s an enjoyable way to experience nature here in Vermont—but can be very expensive. Ferene, a Black, femme entrepreneur based in Burlington, wanted to reclaim some of that narrative and make sailing accessible for Black and brown Vermonters.
Ferene connected with Hannah in the weeks following her first sail and she shared her vision of a sailing experience on Lake Champlain infused with storytelling. One that provided space for guests to reflect on this moment during the global pandemic and where they could be unfiltered and feel safe in doing so—with themselves and with one another. Hannah responded enthusiastically and offered Ferene two dates in September 2020 for sailing adventures, to do with what she wanted. The first day was open to the public for anyone who wanted to connect with others in their community and the second became a sailing experience exclusively for Black femmes. It was especially during the second sail that Ferene witnessed in the guests what she believed to be true for herself—how cathartic and joyful sailing on the water could be.
In January 2021, Hannah touched base with Ferene on her thoughts of collaborating again for that coming summer. Ferene’s response to Hannah was yes, but that she had an even bigger idea in mind. The city of Burlington had begun planning its inaugural Juneteenth Celebrations and she knew it was the right moment to host the sailing experiences as part of that day’s celebrations and offer them exclusively for Vermonters who self-identified as Black, African-American, of the African diaspora, or of African descent. Ferene, her partner Josh, and Hannah met where the Whistling Man Schooners were being stored for the winter to develop Ferene’s vision. The Juneteenth Sails would be entirely free for guests—they could simply show up, celebrate, and be cared for. It would be an opportunity for them to relax and fully enjoy Lake Champlain in a way that many would have likely never experienced before. “A relationship with nature and the outdoors and water is literally medicine,” Ferene shared, “I wanted to reclaim and create that access for the Black community.” Hannah was again, completely onboard and ready to elevate and uplift Ferene’s vision.
As the plans for the Juneteenth Sails took shape, Ferene invested her time, energy, and personal resources—as she has from the inception of the idea—into extensive outreach and coordination with local businesses and individuals for sponsorships and donations. Collective support from the community enabled All Heart Inspirations to raise the funds necessary to treat 50 Black Vermonters to her heartfelt offering. All Heart Inspirations was also able to cover all the necessary expenses and donate $3,000 to Conscious Homestead, a learning urban homestead in Winooski that centers Black and brown land-based healing & liberation, community care, and the practice of living consciously with the land.
For each two-hour sail on Lake Champlain, Ferene invited (and compensated) Black community leaders as hosts for each of the sails. This included Will Kasso Condry, Erin Baker, Belan Antensaye, and Ferene herself (Marlon Hyde, Kiah Morris joined as leaders for the 2022 sails). Drinks and food were provided so guests could simply show up and enjoy a complete and nurturing experience. When guests arrived and came on board their boat, Ferene would prompt them, “When we pull away from the shore, whatever it is that might be stirring your core right now, leave it on the shore. The time right now is for you.” And when the sailboat had made its way out to the water and switched the motor engine off she’d invite them to listen to that transition and, “lean into that silence and tap into what’s natural: our voices, our heartbeats, the wind, the water…nothing artificial. We’re reminding ourselves, this is ours to have too!” The Juneteenth sails became affinity spaces where stories were shared, heard, felt, and affirmed. On the All Heart Inspirations website, Ferene calls the sails a “Sailing Celebration for Black Vermonters.” As a storyteller, word choice is important for Ferene, and the word “celebration” is no different. “It’s important to me because I’m here to celebrate you [the guest] and whatever stories you want to share. We want to honor you,” she says. The celebration and joy are palpable when looking at photos from the sails, beautifully captured by local photographer Isora Lithgow.
"Manifesting Black joy is our collective responsibility…Black liberation is a collective responsibility,” Ferene often says. Giving resources directly to people on the ground who know exactly what a community needs and wants is an incredibly effective way to provide meaningful impact. And support and funding—from local businesses and individuals—are essential for the Juneteenth Sailing Celebrations to continue. Ferene has already started looking for sponsorships for the 2023 sails and is excited about creating sustainable partnerships in order to ensure that the sails are a part of Burlington’s Juneteenth celebrations for years to come. “I’m trying to show people that when we weave our energy and resources together, we can create profound moments for people,” Ferene notes of her fundraising efforts. Individuals can make a donation directly on the All Heart Inspirations website and businesses who want to become sponsors or donate resources can also reach out to Ferene directly through the website. [https://www.allheartinspirations.com/juneteenth-celebration]
Images Courtesy of Isora Lithgow