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How to Get Your Nature Swagger Back

by Rue Mapp & Marya Skotte & Shannon Fino
Group of backpackers from Outdoor Afro on the Appalachian Trail
Outdoor Afro

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 CEO and founder of Outdoor Afro, she wants more people, especially Black 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 a Black 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.

As a vital component to supporting inclusion in outdoor recreation, Outdoor Afro focuses on three areas: connecting Black people to the outdoors, reimagining Blackness and Black leadership in the outdoors, and protecting the outdoors. From California to Florida (and even Hawaii!), Outdoor Afro leaders are spreading their love for the outdoors and helping thousands of people experience it with them.

Organizations like Outdoor Afro are making a significant impact on how communities experience nature and experience national parks and our nation’s history, and the National Park Foundation (NPF) is proud to partner with Outdoor Afro in amplifying Black voices and connecting the Black community to our national parks. Many of our national parks represent African American history, and NPF is committed to sharing these stories.

We 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.

First and foremost, I am an outdoors woman and I love redefining what that looks like for people. My day job is leading Outdoor Afro, 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 Black 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 and community. 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 three grown have children who have come of age with Outdoor Afro. And now I have a grandbaby who is doing the same.

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.

Finally, I am proud to share this vision with more and more people. The ability to reach people that may not see themselves as "outdoorsy," but with just a simple conversation they can see how they are connected to nature in even the smallest ways – by having a garden windowsill, by stepping outside for a stroll on your block – these are all ways that you can be in tune with the outdoors.

What is your ultimate vision for Outdoor Afro?

Our vision is ever evolving, and we continue to ask ourselves what can be done. When I started Outdoor Afro, there was nothing around like us. We are still looking at those uncharted territories where we can grow and expand. I was one individual with one vision to use technology and that was a really unprecedented way to connect with people. I was able to grow this audience in a real organic way, to have the [in-person and on-trail] conversations grow from this digital conversation of narrative shifting and visual representation.

We have really learned that there’s universality in being specific. Outdoor Afro is focused on reacting to a Black American experience in nature, and how that history is shaped, who we are, and how we connect with nature today.

My ultimate vision is that Black people enjoying the outdoors is not a “special” or unexpected event. 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!

What do you personally love about national parks?

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?

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. More unique events include ice climbing, kite flying, water sports, and snow sports.

Group of seven African Americans from Outdoor Afro hiking outside.

One 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!

What type of partnerships does Outdoor Afro have and how can the park partner community support your work?

We have lots of partners and collaborators in our ecosystem, from national retailers and foundations to local community organizations. We are so excited to continue our long-standing relationship with the National Park Foundation. With leadership all over the country, here is the best way to engage with us:

  1. Share about Outdoor Afro networks in your areas
  2. Connect directly with Outdoor Afro Volunteer Leaders and invite them to your events
  3. Engage with your community members on hosting and planning events, and decision-making when possible

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. You can also read more about Outdoor Afro's work with other outdoor recreation organizations during the Summit Seekers Initiative.

Close up on Joshua Trees
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