Interview: Outdoor Afro Founder, Rue Mapp

TGSG Note: I’m excited to have Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro, stop by to share her story. I first connected with Rue via The Children and Nature Network, and then on Twitter. She does great work, and I know you will enjoy the interview. Big thanks to Rue for taking time to talk to us.

See ya outside! ~ The Grass Stain Guru

1.    What type of kid were you? Can you share a favorite play memory?

I was a pretty outgoing kid and just loved to get outside as much as possible. I recall getting out in our Oakland neighborhood without direct adult supervision by the time I was about 5 years old. A  favorite play memory I have is a scene of so many neighborhood children outside. On summer days and evenings especially, there were kids of all ages out playing. The big boys would play touch football in the middle of the street, taking breaks to allow the infrequent car to pass through. We grade school kids were either on bikes or roller skates, zipping in and out of sidewalks and driveways. It was also not unusual for me to have a lemonade stand in the summer. What I remember most in those moments was feeling like the children owned the neighborhood.

2.    How did you develop a connection to nature and the outdoors?

I don’t think I could have escaped it. My parents were from the rural South (Texas and Louisiana) and even though they migrated to Oakland as adults, they held on the practice of living in close contact with  the land. So they kept a property in Lake County, which was a two-hour drive north from Oakland. We spent every major holiday, summer, and several weekends over the school year on this property. We had livestock, gardens, and an English walnut orchard. In this setting, I was able to explore more broadly than in the city, and play in the local creek, fish, hunt, take long bike rides on quite country roads, and see just how bright stars looked outside of the city. I did not know it then, but I was incredibly fortunate for these experiences. Back at home, I got involved with the Girl Scouts, which provided  for me my  first structured camping experiences. From then on, the outdoors and nature became simply a part who I am.

3.    I love your blog, Outdoor Afro. Why did you start it, and what are you hoping to accomplish with your message?

Journaling about my outdoor experience has been something I have done since I was a child. I recently found an old Hello Kitty Diary that chronicled in great detail my first overnight camping trip with the Girl Scouts. I was also introduced to computer technology back in elementary school and learned BASIC programming in class — so  throughout my life there have been two constants forces that have captivated me: computer technology and the outdoors. In my 20’s , I discovered the internet as an excellent tool to connect with outdoor recreation groups and found the Oakland Yellowjackets, a local multicultural bike club that opened my eyes to a whole community of people of color who liked to bike.

Outdoor Afro is more than a website, it is a call to action to partner with people and organizations who care about diverse participation in the outdoors, and is one way to dissolve whatever barriers exist between people of color and outside spaces. Sometimes that barrier is ourselves. So it’s important that Outdoor Afro speak directly and authentically about the experience of being a person of color who enjoys the outdoors and help expose the variety of ways many people of color are already involved.

4.    As a member of the Connecting People With Nature movement, you know that many of today’s children are growing up without even a basic connection to the natural world. Do you have any advice for parents to help reverse this?

Sometimes the biggest barrier between children and the outdoors are the adults who care for them. In response to this troubling trend, Outdoor Afro specifically encourages parents of youth to get outside themselves. I especially encourage parents to start getting comfortable with their own neighborhoods again by getting to know their neighbors; organize a block  party or play up holidays such as Easter or Halloween, or get familiar with new traditions. I understand that some communities have taken a social and economic beating  over the last couple of decades, but small steps  like these can help caregivers feel more comfortable over time about allowing their kids to be outside if they have a relationship with one another. Essentially, this is about rebuilding  and reclaiming our “village“.

5.    I spent a decade working in the conservation movement, where there is a real desire to connect with the African American community.  What advice do you have for organizations and parks/facilities to reach out to this audience more effectively?

This may seem obvious, but the most important thing is to staff your organization and outreach to reflect and relate to the constituencies with whom you want to connect. For example, how could an organization connect with a Latino population if no one in the organization speaks Spanish? While there is no singular experience of being African American, it is important to have at least some visual representations wherever possible, such as in advertising and in other outreach efforts.

6.  Name your five can’t miss nature moments for kids and/or adults:

  • Watching the transformation from a tadpole to a frog
  • Taking a walk under a star and moonlit sky
  • Walking through puddles in rain boots after a hard rain
  • Cooking a meal over an open flame
  • Counting how many types of bird sounds you hear on a quiet morning

Rue_MappRU-231x300Rue Mapp is the founder of Outdoor Afro, a community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, fishing, gardening, skiing — and more! Outdoor Afro uses social media to create interest communities, events, and partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.

Rue has a B.A. in the History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied the artistic representation of the American forests. She is also a successful entrepreneur. Rue currently lives in Albany, California with her children.

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