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This is part 4 of our special Portraits of Allyship series, celebrating the people doing the all-important behind-the-scenes work making the outdoor industry more welcoming and inclusive. Read the complete series here.
In 2017, Noami Grevemberg was the only person of color attending a vanlife gathering in Washington when Jayme Serbell came up to chat and get to know her. Throughout the next couple of years, the two women found comfort and trust in talking to each other about things within the vanlife community that just never sat right with them. “Representation was one of those things. And [Jayme] was always very conscientious about how she presented information to the community, always striving to have an inclusive voice on their well-established van-build website. That’s something that I always respected.” shares Grevemberg. “Jayme was always reaching out and soliciting my opinion and creating a space for me to have a voice. That’s something that I never got from anyone else in the community.”
When Grevemberg wasn’t feeling heard or valued, Serbell was there to give her the moral and organizational support needed to turn the idea of creating Diversify Vanlife (DV), a platform to highlight the less-heard voices in the Vanlife and Nomadic communities, into a reality. From day zero, Serbell has contributed her influence, labor, skills, time, and financial resources to the development of Diversify Vanlife. “The romanticization of [vanlife] lifestyles has created barriers to entry for a lot of people and has alienated others,” says Grevemberg. For Serbell, “the motivator to do this work is, as cheesy as it comes, just wanting to create the type of world we want to live in.”
In simple terms, Serbell defines her most significant role as “being Naomi’s hype girl.” Beyond that, she is a reliable friend, a sounding board for ideas, and a megaphone for the messages of Grevemberg and the Diversify Vanlife community.
“I’ve been violently attacked on social media, and Jayme pretty much has entered into that space and allowed herself to be a barrier between me and all the aggression,” Grevemberg says.
Too often, social media can be a difficult place for emotional laborers, and Serbell has never hesitated to chime in and engage with folks who would otherwise have caused more harm to the people of color behind Diversify Vanlife. “Jayme pretty much plays a big role in this sense of educating other white people in the community of why this is an important space, why this is not divisive, why our community was already divided. And that this is a platform that will actually bring us closer together,” says Grevemberg.
On staying motivated
“This work feels like a responsibility more than anything,” Serbell says. “And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Any time it has felt mildly exhausting, I remind myself that I’m not the one going through the oppression.”
On the challenges of practicing allyship
“When someone tells you, ‘Hey, that hurt. Hey, that was wrong,’ they could tell you politely, or they could sound angry,” Serbell says. “Both are acceptable. And your response needs to go inward, not reacting outwards towards them. You need to allow the vulnerability of ‘I overstepped.’ Also we must consider that an apology is not words, an apology is actions. And we need to understand our actions and why they are wrong before we can fully apologize for them.”
Are you moved and impacted by people that you consider allies? Celebrate them on social media and use #InspiringAllyship to join the conversation. Let’s show each other what allyship can be.