South Portland leader of outdoor retreats for Black and Indigenous people killed in Acadia hit-and-run

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Jun. 20—A South Portland woman who worked to empower and support Black and Indigenous people through retreats in nature was killed in a hit-and-run incident at Acadia National Park over the weekend, police said.

Maine State Police announced the death of Nicole Mokeme on Monday afternoon and said it is believed to be an isolated incident. They are asking for help in finding a black BMW that may have been involved in the incident.

The 2016 BMW X3 SUV with Maine license plate 5614WM is registered to 35-year-old Raymond Lester of Portland, police said. The vehicle may have damage to the front end or undercarriage — and anyone who sees it is asked to call police and not to approach the car.

Mokeme founded the Rise and Shine Youth Retreat, which was holding its Black Excellence Retreat 2022 at the Schoodic Institute when the hit-and-run occurred sometime between Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

The retreat was the second held in collaboration with the institute and was described as "a getaway for Black folks and their friends and families of all backgrounds to join together in community to celebrate Juneteenth, liberation and Black excellence," according to a post on the retreat's Instagram.

The retreat was scheduled from June 14 to 20 and was designed specifically to give Black youth and adults a laid-back time for deep rest, outdoor exploration and art.

Mokeme was featured by the Portland Press Herald in 2020 as a "Mainer to be Thankful For," an annual feature that celebrates state residents who do great good for others. She told the Press Herald at the time how she fell in love with camping during her first trip and started a camping weekend getaway for teens of color.

"When we think of wellness or yoga, we usually think of white women. I wanted young Black women to see Black women, who are a little older than them, in this field and sharing wellness," Mokeme said.

Mokeme, who used to live in Bowdoin, grew up gardening and playing outside in the Philadelphia area, but said she started to truly appreciate nature when she moved to Maine in 2008.

In 2014, she founded Rise and Shine Youth Retreat, a farm and retreat center in Bowdoin that offers cooperative living, outdoors programs, retreats and a plant share. Mokeme said she wanted to create a diverse community of teenage girls who celebrate themselves and support one another. Over the years, it expanded to include people of all ages.

"This work provides the BIPOC community a place to gather, a place for fellowship," she told the newspaper in 2020.

In a question-and-answer with Mokeme posted on the website for Coastal Enterprises Inc., a nonprofit community development financial institution, she described how Rise and Shine evolved to become a place for Black, Brown and Indigenous people to develop leadership skills, build confidence through outdoors experiences a sense of community.

"It brings me so much joy to see people of all ages running through the woods and experiencing complete bliss," Mokeme said.

A spokesman for Acadia National Park declined to speak about the Mokeme's death because it involves a criminal investigation and referred all questions to state police.

This story will be updated.