“We’re not about one story, but viewing outdoor participation through a different lens,” says Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit organization that plans events nationwide to encourage Black people to connect with nature through camping, hiking, fishing and more.
Mapp created Outdoor Afro in her hometown of Oakland, California, in 2009. Since then, it has grown to include more than 60,000 participants, 1,200 online and in-person events and 100-plus volunteer leaders. Outdoor Afro uses social media to create communities and events, and to partner with organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.
“We are very selective with our trip leaders and do a lot of training, giving them tools not just for preparedness but also in areas like conservation ethics and public land policies,” Mapp says. “But also allow them flexibility to find their own versions of joy in nature.”
“It’s all about the journey and fellowship,” adds Antoine Skinner, an Avondale resident who serves as an Arizona outdoor activity leader. “Our mission is to create a safe space and non-judgmental, encouraging environment. Everybody experiences the outdoors differently.”
Skinner is a lifelong outdoorsman and contributor to Mapp’s book Nature Swagger (Chronicle Books, $24.95), which tells real stories of Black people reclaiming their place in the natural world. His events include an “open huddle” in which introductions are made, and discussions on Black history and land acknowledgement are incorporated into trips to build camaraderie and respect for ancestral lands.
When recreating outdoors, Mapp offers some simple insight: “Be as in nature. Trees don’t know what color you are. Birds don’t care what’s in your bank account. Take your cues from nature and leave human narratives and stereotypes behind.”
Inclusivity is part of the organization’s mandate, she says. “You don’t have to have an afro to be part of Outdoor Afro,” Mapp says. “There are many ways to link arms in support of the mission.”
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