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Rue Mapp is the Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a national not-for-profit organization and social community reconnecting African Americans with natural spaces through outdoor recreational activities. She oversees a volunteer leadership team of 80 men and women who represent 30 of the United States.
Through Outdoor Afro, Mapp shares opportunities to build a broader community and leadership in nature. Not only has her work has generated national recognition but she’s someone we admire very much. If you’re able to, please consider supporting Outdoor Afro.
ODP: Your journey in building Outdoor Afro started as a successful blog. How did you know you were at a point where you could take your initial idea and turn it into an organization and a movement?
RM: I quickly started to hear from others that they enjoyed the outdoors as well and I realized I wasn’t alone. People were interested to hear my stories, but more importantly they wanted to share THEIR stories. And these were people all over the country, not just in my home city of Oakland, CA. They also shared the desire to be in community with one another in nature. That’s when I developed the first Outdoor Afro Leadership Team.
Another flashpoint was when Ferguson was happening, that was a big moment in my awareness that this work was needed. That weekend I got about 30 people together and we took to the Redwood Trees and walk down the bowl to the stream– doing what African Americans have always known we could do. And that way lay down our burdens down by the riverside.
ODP: You’ve talked previously about lowering the barriers between African Americans and the outdoors, what are some of those barriers?
RM: The outdoors has not always been a place of healing for African Americans. It was a place of violence. We have a living generational memory of signs that said ‘Blacks Not Allowed’ at this beach, at this wild space, at this public area. Our parents and grandparents being legally kept from nature spaces is a barrier.
Outdoor leadership has been glaringly homogenous. Research shows that you are more comfortable doing something new with someone you share a similar background or experience with. Not having African American leadership is a barrier.
The belief that the outdoors is only big, wild spaces is also a barrier. We have to expand the idea of what the outdoors looks like and give people space and opportunity to find their version of the outdoors.
ODP: Outdoor Afro focuses not only on getting African Americans into the outdoors but also building leadership within your network, why has leadership development been such an important emphasis for you?
RM: As mentioned above, we need African American leadership in all spaces of this work – not only in the field, but also in the boardroom. Outdoor Afro has trained hundreds of leaders – many of them who make a career transition into the outdoor industry. More importantly, our volunteer leaders are in charge of their community. It is critical for us to provide tools and training for them to serve their local community as best as possible. They, in turn, are teaching their community how to get out and lead their families and other community members in the outdoors. Each one, teach one.
ODP: Last year was your 10-year anniversary, where do you see Outdoor Afro in the next 10 years? How can the broader environmental/outdoor community support you in your goals?
RM: We’ve had an amazing 10th year, which officially ends in April. We will continue to do more work in D.C. to ensure that it is known that African Americans care about the environment and that our constituency has a voice.
We have had incredible support over these 10 years and continue to see an outpouring of love. The best thing the outdoor community can do is to keep lifting us up and let us do what we do best – which is connecting African Americans to nature and developing leaders in this work.
ODP: Is there an outdoor place you’re looking forward to visiting in 2020? Also, what was your favorite adventure of 2019?
RM: One of my favorite things to do is raft the American River. I lead a rafting trip every year for our Outdoor Afro community in California and it has become the highlight of my year.
My favorite adventure in 2019 was a biking trip with Backroads. It was an incredible journey through the South where we were able to bike under shady live oaks shaded in Spanish moss, breathe in the aroma of blossoming jasmine, and explore the strong and beautiful cultural history of African Americans in that part of the country.
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