How creator Rue Mapp articulates it.
“Outdoor Afro represents what the Black community has always strived to be,” said Mapp, founder and CEO, “beautiful and free.”
Compelling words and experiences that have recently inclined CLIF® Athlete and tennis icon Venus Williams to beach hike with Outdoor Afro at Miami’s historic Virginia Key Beach summer 2022.
Oprah to Oakland redwood roam with the network back in February 2020.
Sign up for a local Outdoor Afro network activity – gardening, fishing, kayaking, skiing, biking or hiking – across its Northeast, Midwest, West, and South regions, and moments of multigenerational Black joy in the outdoors are guaranteed.
And, no. Participants don’t have to sport an “afro” to join these immersive adventures on land, in water or with wildlife.
All are welcomed. Annually, more than 60,000 people take the network’s open invitation to get outdoors. Safely and sustainably.
What started as a kitchen table blog in 2009 by Mapp sprawled into a national, not-for-profit organization by 2015. Headquartered in her hometown of Oakland, California.
Now, the network offers cutting-edge events in neighborhoods throughout the United States.
Its mission: straightforward. Celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature.
How it accomplishes this assignment starts at Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (OALT). Held yearly in April, the training includes a select group of applicants – known as volunteer leaders. Each is equipped with fundamental tools to guide their hometowns in nature.
Organized by Outdoor Afro staff and veteran volunteer leaders, OALT educates newer volunteers about the network’s history, values, best practices and outdoor industry knowledge.
A dozen outdoor enthusiasts took Mapp’s call to become volunteer leaders. Long before Outdoor Afro even incorporated.
That commitment has produced more than 100 volunteers who help family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers navigate nature-based, community fun.
“I’m really big on making people feel comfortable,” said Danae Gaiter, OALT Class of 2022 and Tennessee-based volunteer leader. “I reassure our participants that there’s safety in numbers within group experiences.”
Takeaways volunteers reinforce after training concludes are risk management, conservation ethics, health impacts on nature, trip planning basics and strategic social media plans to reshare network activities with the world.
By assessing comfort levels and community interest, Gaiter and fellow volunteers develop and pilot activities that participants truly want to explore.
Participants have access to anywhere between 1,000 to 1,200 in-person to online activities happening each year. In up to 60 cities and 32 states, including Washington, D.C.
The volunteers’ local networks center Black joy and healing. Designed to disrupt a false perception that Black people don’t have a relationship with nature.
See: Mapp came from a farming family. A large one at that.
Tending to livestock with her father; fishing and cooking with the elders; and swimming with cousins and friends were in her outdoor DNA.
Outdoor Afro simply became an extension of her Oakland-meets-rural roots.
She embodies her father’s East Texas outdoorsmen identity. Her mother’s Louisiana homesteading and Southern belle charm.
Her parents abandoned the Jim Crow South, relocating to California for better economic opportunities. Making Mapp a first-generation Californian.
Since Outdoor Afro’s beginnings, brands like outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), CLIF BAR®, KEEN and The North Face have collaborated with the network to change the visual representation of who gets and leads outside.
Helping to highlight Black excellence and Black expertise in nature.
“When I started Outdoor Afro, you didn’t see these visuals,” Mapp said. “That was a problem for me.”
It took almost 10 years of persistence to get the story right.
Outdoor Afro’s narrative mobilized on its site and social, forming a ripple effect of online followers to grow the brand. Contribute to OALT and newer programming.
Because of Mapp’s grassroots work in the outdoor industry, glossy magazines of today document more people who look like her. More like America.
But that wasn’t enough for Mapp.
The 5-foot-9-inch tall outdoorswoman with hips, thighs and legs knew outdoor gear and equipment didn’t exactly work for more curvaceous Black people and their outdoor lifestyles.
Building on her solid relationship with REI, Mapp collaborated with the co-op to solve the unmet need and cultural barrier.
She formed for-profit enterprise Outdoor Afro Inc. in 2021 to develop and provide style, fit and functionality in fashion for the Black community. Advancing Black opportunity from nature leaders and influencers to outdoor designers and creatives.
Outside of REI’s typical color waves, the daring papaya, shoreline gold and sea forest hues of the co-branded, 22-piece hike collection launched September 2022 across REI stores nationwide and sent social media into a digital frenzy.
A multiyear collaboration Mapp never expected.
She compares her design process for the for-profit business and not-for-profit organization to her mother’s quilt-stitching skills:
“Outdoor Afro is like a patch of this larger quilt of connectedness,” she said, “creating something unified. Stitched together with the story of all of us.”
ABOUT JUSTIN'S CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Candace Dantes is a fourth-generation farm girl and award-winning journalist based in the Georgia Black Belt Region. Raised on her great-grandparents’ cattle farm, Candace’s family still owns and stewards 300 acres of farmland. Currently, the print-to-digital content creator serves as project manager for U.S. Department of Agriculture research grant Black Farmers’ Network, and marketing and communications manager national nature not-for-profit Outdoor Afro.