A conversation with the creator of Outdoor Afro

In a recent bout of Googling, I fortuitously found the wonderful Web site and blog, Outdoor Afro. Outdoor Afro is a “website community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities.” The owner and operator of the website, Rue Mapp, sat down (virtually, of course) and talked to me about the passion behind Outdoor Afro and why conservation organizations should play a role in encouraging people of color to get outside and care about our wild places.

Read our interview here:

Andrea: Why Outdoor Afro?

Rue: I have always loved computer technology. My parents bought me a Commodore 64 program-it-yourself computer when I was 11 and I have kept a keyboard at my fingertips ever since. I intentionally use a mix of social media platforms (blog, Facebook, Twitter) because that is now the way to connect affordably with the broadest audiences possible and I want to use Outdoor Afro as a model that helps make diverse outdoor groups more visible and to inspire people of color to try something new.

Andrea: What do you want visitors to your website to take away from Outdoor Afro?

Rue: A sense of what is possible when all people participate in the outdoors and to shatter any perception that black people do not like the outdoors. There are some historic reasons why this observation and lower participation numbers exists, but I think we can unpack the past, understand and forgive it, then look ahead to a new vision of people of color in the outdoors.

Andrea: How did you become interested in connecting people of color to the outdoors?

Rue: I am a “connector” by nature, but because I love digital technology, recreational participation in the outdoors and my heritage, Outdoor Afro was a natural development for me and represents all the parts of who I am and what I am passionate about doing.

Andrea: What do you feel are the barriers to get people of color into the outdoors?

Rue: It’s certainly not money, as some would have people believe. Folks of color go to Disneyland, the Caribbean, cruises, etc. I actually took a survey of my readers, who are mainly African American, female, and between ages 35-44. This group said they did not get out into natural environments because of the time factor, and they are often not sure where to go or how to make it happen when they do have a moment. Once I knew this about my readers, I decided to focus a lot on dissolving these barriers, and as a result, people reported getting out, often for the very first time, to hike, bike, or camp!

Andrea: How can conservation organizations have a role in encouraging people of color to get outside? What can they do?

Rue: Tell them about Outdoor Afro of course! But also consider recruiting more people of color to be on staff to do outreach. People get inspired when they see people who look just like they do with a passion for the outdoors. I also strongly believe in visiting black churches. Even if it’s not a person of color doing the talking, churches are very welcoming places to share the outdoor message as part of the Sunday announcements (also appreciated is advertising in the church bulletin!).

Andrea: Do you see outdoor experiences as a way to encourage people to care for wild places?

Rue: Participation, across generations, is the only way to foster outdoor stewardship. If people don’t have a personal relationship with the outdoors through repeated, positive interaction, then it’s hard for people to have awareness about the outdoors, much less care for it. In the climate change consciousness of today, caring for wild places is not really an option for all our sustainability.

photo: Rue Mapp. Photo by Jordan Hall.