The media surrounding our industry focuses on two things. The first is the hero shot, the epic trip, or the latest and greatest in graphite technology. The second is impending environmental doom, shrinking public access, or imagined dragons that need slaying with catchy hashtags and social media warriorship. What we lose in this eddy of bullshit is the incredible work that is being done by men and women around the country who are making a real impact both in their communities and throughout the angling world.
I also realize that as a publication, we focus on our region of interest. I’m convinced, however, that if we expect our friends from around the country to come to our aid when we need help, we should stand behind those in other areas when there is a fight worth winning. For that reason, I’m hoping that by bringing this subject to your attention, we might send our support to a man in the Pacific Northwest that genuinely deserves it.
Chad Brown is the founder of Soul River, a fly shop in Portland. What sets him apart however, is Soul River Inc., the non-profit side that brings veterans and inner city youth together to create a community of healing. Recently, Chad was generous enough to spend almost an hour on the phone with me, and I was left both humbled and encouraged after our conversation.
Chad didn’t have an easy childhood, and the ease with which he speaks about knife fights and other things most of us are lucky enough to avoid is refreshing. He joined the US Navy in 1991, and earned a Master’s Degree after his service. After a time in the ad world of New York City, Chad headed to Oregon. This move, and a constant struggle with PTSD, led to a moment on the banks of the Clackamas River when he was prepared to take his own life. In his words, he “could have been gone.” After time in the psych ward at a VA hospital, Chad was given the opportunity to go fishing. That day changed his life. After his doctors allowed him to cut off the meds, he realized that “nature is the medicine (he) needs to take.”
Now, Chad uses fly fishing as a tool to heal the wounds that affect inner city youth and veterans. “I don’t push the sport; I push the community,” he told me. He uses deployments, his term of choice for the expeditions that take participants into nature to explore public lands, to bring these two underserved groups together. These deployments might be as close to home as the Deschutes or as far away as Alaska, but the projects don’t end when everyone returns home. The kids are paired with veterans, and it’s clear that this isn’t a one-way mentorship. What sets this organization apart from so many others is that the experience lasts long after the deployment.
“This is my second chance to do what’s right.”
In the Native American tradition, warriors were welcomed home and cared for the by the community after their battles. This is far from a political publication, but Soul River aims to provide the community for veterans that, in too many instances, is missing upon their return from battle. I’ve seen the effects of PTSD firsthand, as I’m sure many of you have, and for someone who knows that fight to speak openly about his experience to help others is to be commended.
For the kids from broken homes, with “a mother on crack, a dad in jail, and a brother hustling,” the experience is similar in some ways to that faced by vets. While the fights are different, the impacts sometimes are not. In this unlikely pairing, Soul River has found a way to provide a community of healing.
While Soul River has found support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Urban Wildlife Conservation Fund, he counts on the support of the community to make his dream a reality. This year, he will be leading a group of fourteen kids and seven veterans from the Portland area to the Arctic Circle in Alaska.
Chad needs your help to make this a reality. All donations of $25 will get you a patch to commemorate the deployment and, more importantly, the satisfaction of knowing that you had a hand in the healing. A documentary about the deployment is also being made, and all donations of $75 will earn you a place in the credits. I hope to see a few of your names in there.
I also have another favor to ask of you. In most cases, I selfishly appreciate when you share our posts. New readers mean better numbers, after all. This time, however, I hope you’ll share it for the cause. Share a link to this article if you’d like, but at least point your friends toward Soul River Inc. It would be pretty cool to see the Southeast represented in the credits of that documentary a year from now.
From time to time, we’re going to highlight people like Chad who are making a real difference in our community. As I said, they might not be in the Southeast. While 99% of us might never share a river with Chad, we will only grow stronger as a group if we band together to support the causes that matter.