The August issue of Backpacker Magazine has a great feature on KEEN Ambassador Rue Mapp. Rue, of OutdoorAfro.com, has a passion to reconnect African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing, and more. Outdoor Afro uses social media to create interest communities, events, and to partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.
Here’s a preview of the article:
In October 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported on a “possibly unprecedented” moment in Yosemite National Park’s 121-year history: Two separate groups of African Americans toured the park on the same day, meaning there were more than 65 black Americans in the valley at once. They represented about one half of one percent of that day’s visitors. Rue Mapp wants to change that number. She envisions a future in which hikers of color won’t be newsworthy at all. They’ll just be hikers.
No one disputes that increasing diversity in the outdoors is an admirable goal, but few proponents have dedicated their lives to it like Mapp. Indeed, she’s sacrificed to become a full-time advocate. Her tools include Facebook, Meetup.com, and her website, OutdoorAfro.com, where she posts photos and reports from her and others’ trips. “Minorities need to see that these places belong to us, too,” says Mapp, of Oakland, California. “Sharing experiences creates a sense of ownership and permission.” And like a modern John Muir, Mapp hopes her efforts will inspire a population to first enjoy, then protect, our nation’s backcountry. She points to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate that by 2042, minorities will collectively become the majority. “If we want our parks and wilderness to survive, we need enthusiasts in this population.”
Mapp’s love of the outdoors was born on her family’s Northern California ranch and grew on an Outward Bound course she took in her 20s. In 2009, she decided to devote herself full-time to helping African Americans cultivate a relationship with the outdoors. She launched Outdoor Afro, began organizing group expeditions, and undertook jobs helping outdoor-oriented nonprofits. For each of the past three years, she traveled to the White House to attend President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors conference and con- tribute to a think tank for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. In 2012, she recruited a baker’s dozen of “believers” around the country to lead minorities on rafting, hiking, climbing, and camping trips in their areas. In 2013, this single mother of three will join an all-black National Outdoor Leadership School Denali expedition. “If I’m going to ask people to step out of their comfort zone, I need to do the same,” she says.
Mapp knows that her quest won’t be over any time soon. For many African Americans, the woods once seemed like a threatening place and still can feel foreign and unwelcoming. “I’m in the business of culture shift,” she says. “I’ll know I’ve been successful when I’m on a backcountry trail, and I see another African American, and it’s no big deal.”