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

Nicole Mokeme was the founder of Rise and Shine Youth Retreat in Bowdoin. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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.

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. Anyone who sees it is asked to call police and not to approach the car.

The search for the vehicle was continuing Monday night, said Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Mokeme was the creative director of the Rise and Shine Youth Retreat, which offers wellness retreats and other programs for Black youths and adults. She was one of the organizers of the Black Excellence Retreat 2022 at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor when the hit-and-run occurred sometime between Saturday night and early Sunday.

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. She partnered on the retreat with the Racial Equity and Justice Organization and other activists.

“She was always planning the next thing on how to bring community together to heal and build,” said Desiree Vargas, co-founder and co-director of the Racial Equity and Justice Organization. “She was a light to everybody.”

Mokeme was featured by the Portland Press Herald in 2020 as a “Mainer to be Thankful For.” 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 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.


The website for the Rise and Shine Youth Retreat says she founded the program in 2014. It grew over the years to include a farm and retreat center in Bowdoin that offers cooperative living, outdoors programs, retreats and a plant share. Mokeme, who used to live in Bowdoin, 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 and create 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.

The directors of the Racial Equity and Justice Organization said they did not want to discuss the details of her death or speak about the investigation. They instead wanted to lift up the work she did for many organizations in Maine to bring people together and especially to connect them with the outdoors.



David Patrick, co-founder and co-director of the Racial Equity and Justice Organization, described Mokeme as a “soothing presence.” He valued their conversations about creating space for men of color to gather and heal.

“She has this aura about her where she’s not immersed in negativity and a lot of the things that happen that we get caught up on,” Patrick said.

Mokeme was deeply involved in planning the Black Excellence Retreat, and the event showed the way she created community.

Patrick estimated 70 people of all ages joined the retreat, whether they stayed for one day or several. Mokeme greeted all the guests and personally showed them to their sleeping space to make sure they were comfortable. Patrick said she advocated for the group to stay together in the campus dorms instead of scattered cabins, and he was wary about that plan until he saw the effect.

“She knew exactly what she was doing,” he said. “Without us all being in that central location, I don’t think we could have had this experience. By being in this dorm people just became babysitters and chefs and walking buddies and your dining group. … That was the genius of bringing people together.”

Vargas said Mokeme brought a notebook to the campfire during the retreat and asked people to write in it during their visit so she could collect their stories. She planned all sorts of outdoor activities, from sailing to fishing to biking. And she talked about all the things she wanted to work on next: gardening and herbalist projects in community gardens, a retreat in Jamaica, jewelry making with other women, a park cleanup.


“There’s so many people across Maine who really, really loved Nicole,” Vargas said.

Mokeme was fondly remembered by Pastor Kenneth I. Lewis of the Green Memorial AME Zion Church in Portland.

“As a member of the Green Memorial AME Zion Church, Nicole’s presence and spirit was profound,” Lewis wrote in a post on social media Monday. “If one ever had a chance to engage Nicole, one left her presence both impressed and impacted.”

Lewis urged members of the congregation to pray for her family and friends, “and most of all for her daughter Delaney.”

Her uncle, Emeka Mokeme, also mourned his niece’s death.

“My heart is devastated and sad. We lost an amazing lady and a beautiful soul, my niece Nicole Mokeme to a hit-and-run driver. May her soul rest in peace,” Mokeme wrote in a message posted on Facebook.

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

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this story.

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