Getting Outdoors with Outdoor Afro
For many in the African American community, memories of experiences with land and water conjure up feelings of anxiety, and all-too-real intergenerational fear. Black Americans' relationship with the outdoors is a long and complicated one.
Outdoor Afro is out to change that, with a focus on healing, creating new opportunities, and building a different kind of narrative centered on connection, resilience, and love.
Who is Outdoor Afro
It all began ten years ago with a blog that started as a passion project created by then financial consultant Rue Mapp. Ten years later, Outdoor Afro is a nationwide movement led by everyday folks. It's a movement that has inspired Black people from all walks of life to step up and become leaders in the outdoors and in their communities.
Now Rue Mapp, CEO, can be spotted leading outdoor trips for participants like the recent kayaking trip on Lake Merritt in Oakland. “We’re selective about where we choose to lead events," Rue says. "We're not just organizing events or just leading trips. We're curating experiences for our participants to come outside, have fun, and be in community. We're creating spaces for people to derive joy from being outdoors."
Outdoor Afro Mission
Outdoor Afro is all about celebrating and inspiring Black leadership and connection in nature. It has created a unique model that equips dedicated volunteer leaders across the country with training, skills development, and ongoing support to activate their local communities. Each year more than 35,000 Outdoor Afro participants go out into parks, onto trails and, at times, into water, to embody this mission and share these experiences with others in their communities.
It's a noble cause worthy of support and celebration, which is why CLIF Bar is proud to be one of Outdoor Afro's earliest partners. "CLIF Bar has been supporting Outdoor Afro as a National Partner since 2013, with the shared belief of building strong communities for a healthy planet," say Nikki Ferenz, Sports Marketing Specialist at CLIF.
Through this community organizing work, Outdoor Afro's volunteer leaders plan, scout, and lead nearly a thousand events annually, connecting Black people all over the U.S. with positive and meaningful experiences in the outdoors every day. These activities not only help participants learn new skills and discover hidden gems in their cities, but they also carve out a unique space in which participants are able to embrace the joy of the outdoors.
Reconnecting with Land and Water
Now in its tenth year and recognized internationally as a leader in building community in outdoor spaces, Outdoor Afro is working to tackle some of the African American community's biggest challenges getting outside.
Cue the Swimmership Initiative. Launched just this spring, this latest undertaking aims to address the Black community's historically troubled relationship with water. From the ancestors lost at sea who never made it to the Americas, to the segregation of the last century which kept this generation's grandmothers and grandfathers out of public pools and away from public beaches, it's no surprise that African Americans face some of the highest rates of drowning in the United States. So, with the wisdom that the only way to overcome one's fears is to face them, Outdoor Afro wanted to address this issue head-on.
The Swimmership initiative is a new scholarship available to people of any age around the country who want to learn to swim, improve their skills, and get their families in the water. Outdoor Afro's goal with this program is to create a ripple effect in the Black community.
"We really want to see Black folks unpack their trauma associated with water and heal from it," says Adrienne Troy-Frazier, Charleston-area leader and inspiration behind the initiative. "These swim lessons equip Black people with this life saving skill and empower them to change our collective story."
By distributing scholarships and telling the stories of those who receive them, the organization is making a concerted effort to help more people cultivate positive relationships with water, while inspiring others to splash, play, and learn in an environment that for too long has been restricted from African Americans.
Volunteers like Kellie, a former Outdoor Afro leader in Birmingham, AL, understand this well. As a mother and outdoor trip leader, she's well versed in the importance of Black folks getting comfortable with being in water. That's why she wants to see everyone in her community, from her one-year-old to her adult Outdoor Afro participants, to learn to swim and build a healthy relationship with water. "In my volunteer work with Outdoor Afro, I've become inspired to be intentional with my own family and expose my children to water early," she says. "It is my hope that exposure to water sports and learning how to swim will increase their confidence beyond those bodies of water."
This is the other component of the work that makes Outdoor Afro so unique in the way of nonprofits. Empowerment, from the leaders themselves to the participants they interact with, is at the heart of Outdoor Afro's mission and work. Not only does the work of getting African Americans in outdoor spaces build community, it inspires leadership in the folks who experience it - increasing their confidence beyond a particular trail or body of water. These are the kinds of experiences that change minds, common narratives, and the world.
And it takes a certain something to be able to pull off what Rue Mapp has created in Outdoor Afro: a carefully selected team, an unwavering dedication to one's people, and a whole lot of heart. This is what Outdoor Afro brings to our industry, and we're so glad to see them on the trail with us.