Rue Mapp wants people to find healing and connection in nature in the same way she does, especially across perceived differences, she said.
“I just felt like the story of Black people in the outdoors was told through a lens of victimhood, and pain and peril. And my family upbringing was the opposite in nature,” said Mapp.
Rue Mapp, CEO of Outdoor Afro and author of Nature Swagger, has received praise across the nation for her mission: unity and inclusion in nature.
Mapp will speak at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater as part of the Week Seven theme, “The National Parks: How America’s ‘Best Idea’ is Meeting 21st-Century Challenges.” Her lecture is titled “New Narrative.”
She said she plans to discuss what she has learned about creating welcoming space in outdoor experiences. In light of her passion, she will talk about her book that as “celebrates Black joy in nature,” as publisher Chronicle Books describes it, and its reflection on her organization.
Founded in 2009, Outdoor Afro is an organization that leads Black involvement with the outdoors. Networks of volunteers lead experiences ranging from fishing, kayaking, skiing, biking, hiking, swimming and more.
“I found that there was just this prevailing attitude that Black people didn’t have a connection to nature, Mapp said. “I wanted to tell a new narrative, … that really depicts Black people in the outdoors as strong, beautiful and free.”
The not-for-profit hosts intergenerational activities and is active in 60 U.S. cities. Twelve employees and more than 110 volunteers work at Outdoor Afro’s headquarters around the country.
Family history is a core value to Mapp. As a community, there are several unexplored family histories that she wanted to highlight in her book, plus a wide range of what it means to be connected to the outdoors, she said.
Mapp also considers healing as a major part of her journey in nature.
In 2020, Mapp and her organization participated in “healing hikes” after public tragedies, including the death of George Floyd.
“(It) felt really right for me, as an organizational leader, to give people another way to express their disappointment, their frustration, their confusion, in the surrounds of nature,” she said.
Mapp’s mission aside, she relates to nature as it connects with her outlook in life.
“Nature is God, and connecting people to nature is connecting people to God,” Mapp said. “Being able to help people to find that connection may open a door for them to be able to seek a deeper connection to the spirit in general. I love doing this work, because it allows me to connect with so many different types of people.”
Her accomplishments include being named as a 2019 National Geographic fellow and her participation in the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. In addition, Mapp was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honor from National Wildlife Federation, alongside Bill Clinton, in 2014.
“I’ve been quite delighted and deeply honored to be recognized for work that I really find to be something that comes natural, and something that I feel very passionate about,” Mapp said.
Furthering her mission to make nature inclusive, Mapp launched a clothing line with REI in 2022; the hiking apparel is inclusive to women and men of all sizes, allowing them to hike in garments that move with their bodies comfortably. Her line includes a wide array of colors, which allows people to make themselves proud and visible outdoors.
“What’s notable are the many bright colors we really leaned into, to show that people wanted not just be outside in a functional way, but they want to express themselves and be seen,” she said.