How to Get Your Nature Swagger Back

Outdoor Afro’s Rue Mapp on Empowering the Next Generation of Outdoor Leaders
Group of backpackers from Outdoor Afro on the Appalachian Trail

Rue Mapp has dedicated much of her life to empowering men and women across the country to not just discover the outdoors, but to become outdoor leaders. As an outdoor trailblazer and the innovative leader and founder of Outdoor Afro, she wants more people, especially African Americans, to reconnect with national parks and other outdoor spaces. She wants people to love the outdoors, live healthier lives, and become stewards of the environment.

Rue started a blog detailing her experiences as an African American woman in the outdoors, as she wondered why she often didn’t encounter more people who looked like her in her travels. The blog became a resounding success: growing into a community that became known as Outdoor Afro.

We recently sat down with Rue to find out more about Outdoor Afro’s work, her vision for the organization, and the importance of encouraging all people to enjoy the outdoors.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I run a national nonprofit based out of Oakland, California. I am so proud to oversee our leadership program helping men and women discover their potential and success as outdoor leaders. More people, especially African Americans, are reconnecting to parks as playgrounds – we’re helping folks live better and healthier lives and to become stewards of the environment.

How did you come up with the idea for Outdoor Afro?

Outdoor Afro group posing in front of Lake Merritt in Oakland, California

One day I was speaking to my mentor and was asked what I plan to do next professionally. I was somewhat surprised at my reply, and as I like to say, “my life fell out.” That conversation was an epiphany experience that was the culmination of years of connectedness to nature, community, social justice, and I started the Outdoor Afro blog just two weeks after that revelation. My next step was to transform the Outdoor Afro blog into a living, breathing network.

What accomplishments are you most proud of today?

I am proud of being a mother and to have children who have grown up with Outdoor Afro. My children are champions for the outdoors, due to their ability to be part of my work at every stage of their lives.

I’m proud to have a life that’s completely integrated with my passions, people, and things I love. With Outdoor Afro, I’ve had the fortune to enjoy everything in one place. I truly have a fulfilled and integrated life. It came with a lot of risks, but it has been worth the reward.

"...where our lives are more integrated with the outdoors so that people can get their nature swagger back!"

What is your ultimate vision for Outdoor Afro?

As we’ve evolved, the vision has focused on how Outdoor Afro can be more active in land stewardship. I envision Outdoor Afro partnering with more national organizations, as this work can’t move forward without us working together.

I would love to see us move to a place where our lives are more integrated with the outdoors so that people can get their nature swagger back!

How do you find your park? What are some of your special park experiences?

Many of the parks that are the most enjoyable are the ones that are closest to home – you don’t have to go hundreds of miles away to find your park! I’m very fortunate to have Golden Gate National Recreation Area right in my backyard and I use it to connect with colleagues, family, and friends.

I’m addicted to other people’s wonder when they discover an outdoor place they love. I love when people go, “ah wow! I didn’t know we had this here!” I feel most connected in the outdoors when I’ve empowered people to experience someplace new.

Tell us about the Outdoor Afro networks around the country. What are some of the unique things folks are doing? How can people get involved?

Each network is connected to our headquarters, but they plan their own outdoor activities. Outdoor Afros do all kinds of outdoor activities, but we are focused on teasing out the history of places. We do our research ahead of time and work with interpretive staff to ensure we’re getting the best natural and cultural history of a place.

Group of seven African Americans from Outdoor Afro hiking outside.

Every year, our Outdoor Afro leaders complete a signature event. This year, our leaders completed an Underground Railroad-themed backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, following a route Harriet Tubman used to lead slaves to freedom. This was a powerful experience for our eight leaders, two of whom had never backpacked before!

Next year, our leaders hope to bike the epic Buffalo Soldiers route. While Outdoor Afro focuses on highlighting the African American experience and stories in outdoor places, we always say, “you don’t have to have an afro to be an Outdoor Afro!”

If you had two sentences to entice somebody who has never been to a national park to visit, what would you say?

If I told you that I could take you to a place that could fill you with awe, wonder, happiness, and spark your imagination, would you come with me?

Headshot of Rue Mapp, head of Outdoor Afro in Oakland, California

Learn more about Outdoor Afro by visiting the website and be inspired to get out and find your park! You can also keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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