A profile on Rue Mapp, the founder of Outdoor Afro.
Renowned speaker, author, environmentalist, and business owner, Rue Mapp, is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit organization and social community reconnecting African Americans with nature. Through community building and advocacy for nature, Mapp has created an inclusive and inspiring legacy. She now oversees a volunteer leadership team of 80 men and women from thirty states who continue her work and the mission of Outdoor Afro.
“Nature Never Closes”
Rue Mapp said this to the world when it was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She insisted that while many businesses and even parks were closed, tiny plots of large swaths of land were still free to visit and explore. For Rue, “Nature Never Closes” had been a message she’d been spreading throughout the Black community for years: “Nature is never closed to anyone based on the color of their skin.”
That message was the driving idea when she created her blog, Outdoor Afro in 2009. In that blog, she sought to educate and enlighten people about this idea. She wanted to create a family that sees nature as always open and always inclusive to everyone.
Rue - The Mapping of a Revolutionary
Rue grew up on a farm, spending much of her time outdoors. Her family would take her camping and fishing, and all the while, she would journal her experiences. In those experiences, she noticed something was wrong. She didn’t see many people who looked like her. This sparked an idea that would grow into something larger than she could have ever imagined.
After graduating with a BA in Art History from the University of California, Berkeley, an idea began to take form. That idea would become a blog Rue started in 2009 from her kitchen table, a blog she would name Outdoor Afro.
Since creating this blog, her idea has skyrocketed her to stardom. Rue is now a superstar champion in the national Black community, gaining Official Recognitions as a National Geographic Fellow, National Wildlife Federation Communication Award Recipient, and former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative Contributor.
Apart from being the entrepreneur of Outdoor Afro, she’s also an in-demand public speaker and a Public Lands Champion. She has been featured on Netflix’s MeatEater series with Janis Putelis. Plus, she’s an author with a book coming out on November 1st, 2022, called “Nature Swagger,” which promises to chronicle Black joy in nature through photos and stories. She achieved all of this while being a proud mother of three.
How did she get here? It turns out that despite Outdoor Afro being born in 2009, it was conceived during Rue’s childhood.
Renowned speaker, author, environmentalist, and business owner, Rue Mapp, is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit organization and social community reconnecting African Americans with nature.
The Conception of a Cause
Years before she would ever publish a single word online, Rue was writing her experiences in a journal. As the sole Outdoor Afro community member, she’d jot down the things she noticed on camping trips and fishing expeditions with her family. The locations they’d visit, the fun they would have. Over time, one thing became abundantly clear: she almost never saw anyone who looked like her on these trips. She quickly realized why.
She noticed that when white people went camping, they didn’t have much to worry about other than getting the best spot or finding the right trails. She realized black people who took those same trips were cautious campers. They needed to ask unique and challenging questions:
What kinds of people will I be surrounding myself and my family with? Will they harbor any kind of hatred in their hearts? Would the sight of Confederate flags be a regularity in the area? Not if, but who was going to harass them this time based on the color of their skin? Even at a young age, she knew this was something that simply couldn’t be accepted as normal.
Outdoor Afro - “Where Black People and Nature Meet”
As she grew, her ideas did, too. Rue wanted to create a nature-loving community, an all-inclusive family devoted to enhancing the visibility and participation of Black people in the great outdoors. In 2009, from her kitchen table, she brought the spirit of that journal to the web in the form of Outdoor Afro.
Since then, the nonprofit has broken down the walls of insecurities and fears that hold back many Black travelers from exploring their dreams. It’s brought awareness of conservation through sharing first-hand experiences with nature, connecting people to the land, and showing them what is worth saving. Her idea, first conceived in a child’s journal, has spread across the nation.
Through partnerships with CLIF BAR, Disney, Stanley, and The North Face, Outdoor Afro has been able to host programs including:
Endurance Hiking - Bringing out the leadership role in anyone through long hiking trips.
Making Waves - A swimming program with the express goal of teaching 100,000 children and caregivers how to swim within the next ten years.
Multi-day Nature Experiences - Dedicated to sharing Black history and food culture in a racism-free environment.
The recent Juneteenth Commemoration - Where participants were asked to spend 2.5 hours outdoors to represent the 2.5 years of extended slavery of the 250,000 enslaved people of Galveston, Texas. People were finally freed on June 19th, 1865.
Now, Outdoor Afro, based out of Oakland, California, has become a nationwide community spanning 40,000 people and over 100 volunteers over 30 states and counting. It has molded interested members into community leaders. Her dream of creating a family where everyone can feel at home in the great outdoors has become a reality.
Outdoor Afro inspires transformation on a personal and community level. It sets out to inspire that same transformation on a national and even planetary level.
Rue Mapp is an outdoors woman, entrepreneur, community builder, and humanitarian.
Outdoor Afro grew from a blog into a movement that allows Black people a more inclusive way to experience nature.
Reu is nationally recognized as a National Geographic Fellow, National Wildlife Federation Communication Award Recipient, and former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative Contributor.