Heading into the outdoors feels like second nature to some of us. Rangle up a few buddies, throw your camp stove and headlamp in a backpack, and head out for the rock strewn trails you know and love. It’s that easy, except when it's not. Geographical restrictions, lack of gear, and a general weariness of the outdoors have kept plenty of people from experiencing the wilderness. Rue Mapp and her organization, Outdoor Afro, are changing the status quo one outing at a time.
Whether talking policy change or paddling white water, Rue Mapp spreads her love of the outdoors with everyone she encounters.
Growing up in Northern California, Rue spent her formative years exploring the hills and ranches behind Oakland. She called it her “nature laboratory,” a hands-on-the-land experience where she watched the night sky rotate, rode bikes along country roads, watched fruit trees bloom and connected to nature. It was a cornerstone of her community and something she shared with the whole family - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. “We were never backcountry mountaineers, but we were an outdoor loving family” and that was enough to change her life forever.
Intent on changing the image of what the traditional “outdoor community” looked like, Rue started a blog in 2009 with the goal of getting more African Americans outside. Relying on social media, Rue built an outpost of knowledge and general understanding of all things outdoors. It became a community where people could share information and resources that might alleviate the stresses associated with actually getting outside. From first-time summits to the roasting their first s’mores over a city park grill, Outdoor Afro became a place where black people and nature meet. And as anyone who’s roasted their own s’more knows, one taste of the outdoors just leaves you hungry for more.
Engaging the whole family is a powerful step toward making the outdoors more inclusive and accessible.
In 2013, Rue rallied her first group of 13 leaders to connect African Americans to nature beyond the blogosphere. With representatives from across the country, Outdoor Afro leaders came together to train on everything from effective community engagement to tying knots. Armed with new skills and a super-duper support team, these leaders went back to their communities with the goal of getting whole families to get outside, just like Rue’s family had. Whether it was hiking, whitewater rafting, yoga in the park or conservation efforts, every experience outdoors was a worthy and life-changing experience.
Outdoor Afro has expanded its leadership community to nearly every corner of the United States.
Rue’s efforts to establish community leaders has been an absolute smash. By 2015 her group of Outdoor Afro leaders had doubled, and 2017 has seen the group jump to nearly 70 leaders across more than 30 states. They’ve connected over 20,000 people to the outdoors, many for the first time. From conservation work to Healing Hikes, Outdoor Afro has become an outlet for people from all backgrounds to get outside in whatever capacity suits them best.
From backcountry trips to city walks, all outdoor experiences, no matter how challenging, can be life-changing.
If you want to get involved or join an Outdoor Afro meetup, there are tons of opportunities this Spring and Summer. If you’re looking to partner with Outdoor Afro (and trust us, you do), they’re all about connecting with like minded organizations to benefit access for all. As a brand and as individuals, we at Toad&Co find Rue and the whole Outdoor Afro vision to be totally inspiring. We believe in access for all and that all people deserve the right to explore, whether it be the local park or the tallest peak in the state. So good on ya Rue, and we can’t wait to see which mountains Outdoor Afro scales next!