Outdoor Afro fosters a relationship between the Black community and nature

As a network of 100 volunteer leaders in 56 U.S. cities, Outdoor Afro is normalizing being outdoors.

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After seeing scant Black representation in the outdoor recreations through the media, Rue Mapp grew determined to change the narrative.

That determination inspired her to found Outdoor Afro — a network connecting Black people with nature experiences — with a mission to do just that.

The Oakland native created a blog in 2009 to document her experience growing up with nature. Then it grew into something bigger.

Rue Mapp speaks at the National Park Foundation’s Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque event aboard the Creole Queen during Essence Festival weekend on July 7, 2018 in New Orleans. (Photo by Josh Brasted/Getty Images for National Park Foundation)

Now she is among a number of Black climate leaders doing the work to fight environmental and racial justice.

“It’s been so important for us to have ways to find our healing and find our connection and find our community,” Mapp said. “And I find that when we get out into places of nature we can let that stress go.”

What started as a small group of volunteers in Oakland turned into a national movement. The nonprofit has offices in Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C., and a network of men and women who represent dozens of cities across the country.

Outdoor Afro is in a race to the ordinary. The end goal is to normalize living in a world where people engage in nature.

“We have over 100 Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders who are in 33 states, in 56 cities… and 60,000 people who are getting out with us, hiking, biking, camping, you name it,” she said. “In the outdoors, in community, learning new things, overcoming fears and anxieties that transform into a love of both nature and community.”

Mapp draws examples from nature and teaches us about what we as humans can learn from it.

“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,” she said. “And so I think we can learn a lot from nature about how to be.”

Young or old, Outdoor Afro gives its audience the full experience to explore while grounding oneself.

One participant described her experience as beneficial for her. 

“It’s helped me to be more centered with myself, giving me a little more serenity,” Samara Cole-Mercado said. “If I have some anxiety, maybe it’s with school, maybe at home, if you really just step outside and listen, it’s just so beautiful to hear all those things.”

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