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Devin Brown is blazing a trail with her kayak on the Mississippi River

A woman looks jubilant in a yellow kayak on the Mississippi River
contributed
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Samara Gaitan
Devin Brown is a kayaker on a 2024 quest to be the first Black woman recorded to kayak the length of the Mississippi.

Brown is on a quest to be the first Black woman recorded to kayak down the entire Mississippi River. We checked in with her at Camp Winnie, home of KAXE volunteer Lisa Arnold.

LAKE WINNIBIGOSHISH — After a brutal day spent crossing Cass Lake in a kayak in 25 mph winds, Devin Brown needed a respite. She found just the place: Camp Winnie.

"Camp Winnie" is a cabin on Lake Winnibigoshish owned by Lisa Arnold and husband Tom. When Arnold heard of Brown's attempt to be the first Black woman to kayak solo along the entire length of the Mississippi River, she became interested and wanted to help.

Arnold and Brown joined the KAXE Morning Show on Friday, May 31, and Brown explained her experience from the previous day’s paddle.

“My hands are so swollen right now," Brown said. "They look like little Vienna sausages from holding on to my paddle for dear life.”

The solo trip has not been easy so far thanks to fluctuating weather patterns.

“As a kayaker, I am typically one of the only women and definitely one of the only people of color, and it's such a wonderful and beautiful sport.”
Devin Brown

“Things just change at the drop of a dime. Like the wind direction just would shift and I would have to change the direction that I was paddling in to accommodate the ways that the waves were hitting me,” Brown explained. “Had I known it would be 25 mph going into it, I would have probably not been on the water.”

Kayaking the Mississippi, or completing a Source to Sea paddle, has been a dream of Brown's for the last decade. Originally from New Jersey, she now calls the place where the river begins her home.

“I actually moved to Minnesota specifically to learn the Mississippi River and to do this journey. So it's all meant to be," she said.

Brown is the community program manager for Mississippi Park Connection, where she works to enable people to build a wilderness toolbox and hosts paddles for Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

“As a kayaker, I am typically one of the only women and definitely one of the only people of color, and it's such a wonderful and beautiful sport," she said.

While she hasn’t encountered any racism on this trip, Brown has experienced hate while paddling before.

“Nature is everyone's birthright as citizens of Earth, and so many people are made to feel like we don't belong in nature by others that feel like they dominate the space ... when I'm made of water, iron, copper — all of the minerals that the earth is made of," Brown said. "So I want people to really embrace and get to know nature, because nature is our healer.”

Arnold supported Brown later Friday on Lake Winnie, through which the Mississippi meanders. Arnold followed along in her pontoon with sandwiches and fresh vegetables.

The day was again windy and exhausting, and the kayak needed some repair. Local resort owners on Winnie stored the kayak and Devin was able to spend the night at Camp Winnie again.

“I’m exhausted, and all I had to do was sit on a pontoon!” Arnold said. “No doubt, she has a higher power that saved her and is guiding her.”

Each Friday, a KAXE member gets the spotlight. From oatmeal to oat milk, only black coffee to Fruit Loops, pancakes or poached eggs — it's a delightful way to start a day listening to your friends and neighbors.

Support along the way

KAXE began announcing Brown’s trip on the air earlier in the week, asking for people who might want to host Brown along the way. From Grand Rapids to Brainerd to Memphis, people came forward with lodging, solidarity paddles and more.

Listen to Devin Brown's conversation on KAXE above!

The Arnolds' Camp Winnie is known to fans of KAXE's Saturday night program Green Cheese Trivia, and Arnold often becomes involved in community causes.

“I told her, if you're friends with KAXE, you're going to have friends that whole entire river, all the way down," Arnold said.

Brown wrote about working toward her Mississippi quest: “Throughout my time here there have been ups and downs, trials and tribulations but every single day I woke up and fought for the opportunity to learn from her, The River. Every move I have made in the last decade has brought me to the point where I could peacefully drift in the current and connect with her.”

Follow Brown’s journey at @afrodiskayak on Instagram.


Have you kayaked the Mississippi in Northern Minnesota? Let us know!

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Jennifer has worked at Northern Community Radio since 2006 and spent 17 years as Membership Manager. She shifted to a host/producer position in 2023. She hosts the Monday Morning Show and is the local host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" a few days a week. She also writes public services announcements and creates web stories.
Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.