By Edward Henderson, California Black Media
As much as Black people are defined by the contributions they’ve made to American culture, society also defines Black women and men by stereotypes that have evolved over time.
From the music we don’t listen to, the jobs we don’t take, to even the outdoor activities we don’t participate in, these stereotypes paint a picture that grossly underestimates the scope of the true Black Mosaic. Sometimes Black people buy into these depictions and the limitations associated with them and it takes people like Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro, to remind and educate Black people of their heritage, which includes a special connection to nature.
Outdoor Afro is a non-profit organization that celebrates and inspires Black participation and leadership in nature. It’s a national network with volunteer leaders reaching thousands of people. Outdoor Afro connects Black people with open spaces and parks, on-the-water experiences, and wildlife through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Examples of Outdoor Afro’s year-round activities include fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, gardening, and skiing.
“I really set out to try and shift the visual representation of who we imagine recreates outside, is empowered outside and lives a full life connected to nature,” Mapp explains to people interested in learning about the organization.
“These last few years, it’s been so important for us to have ways to find our healing and find our connection and find our community. When we get out into places of nature, we can let that stress go,” she said, speaking in a conversation with the Weather Channel for a Black History Month feature.
Outdoor Afro achieves this vision by providing a yearly outdoor leadership training weekend. Over 100 volunteer leaders receive training from Outdoor Afro staff and experienced volunteers as they share the organization’s history, values, best practices, and industry knowledge. Volunteers learn trip planning basics, health impacts of nature, conservation ethics, risk management, and effective social media storytelling.
After training, volunteer leaders create and guide monthly trips that foster local program collaborations and help strengthen community relationships with the outdoors nationwide. Outdoor Afro’s additional programs include ‘Making Waves’, a national initiative to teach Black children how to swim and an annual Juneteenth celebration in Oakland, California.
Mapp’s journey with Outdoor Afro began as a kitchen table blog where she would often write about her experiences in nature growing up in Oakland. In 2009, Mapp converted the blog into Outdoor Afro.
“It’s pretty incredible how we’ve grown from a few volunteer leaders. We have over 100 Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders who are in 33 states in 56 cities. 60,000 people who are getting out with us hiking, biking, camping, you name it. In the outdoors, in community learning new things, overcoming fears and anxieties that transform into a love of both nature and community.”
Mapp is chairperson of the California State Park and Recreation Commission and vice-chair of the governing council of the Wilderness Society. She is a board member of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Next on Mapp’s agenda is publishing her first book “Nature Swagger” which will be released in November. It is a combination of photos featuring outdoor adventures and compelling stories of Black joy in nature.
“When I’m out in nature, the trees don’t know that I’m Black. The birds are going to sing no matter how much money is in my account. Flowers are going to bloom no matter who I voted for. I think we can learn a lot from nature about how to BE.”
See a list of cities where Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders are hosting adventures in nature near you.