2012: An Amazing Year!

Outdoor Afro Leader Reginald Mitchell

As many of you know, this year marks a big transition as I fully embraced Outdoor Afro as an important part of my purpose, and since, the quality of my life has improved as it allows me to spend more time enjoying my family, and nature!  But beyond the scope of my personal life, for me Outdoor Afro represents a chance to help make a positive difference for the world, and I am grateful for each friend and colleague who believed in this vision and cheered me on.


Now for some highlights of 2012
In May, we received our first grant from Toyota Audubon Together Green, and launched the first class of the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team (OALT) that reflected each region in the US. These leaders, hailing from diverse backgrounds, helped get more than 500 Outdoor Afros off the couch and into the outdoors.  I am grateful and proud of them, and aim to help this team grow and continue to succeed in 2013. Check out our current Indiegogo campaign and Chicago OALT leader Viva Ama’s reason for being on the team:

Outdoor Afro was humbled by the tremendous media recognition this year, including ABC, CBS, and Backpacker Magazine.  I was especially floored, and a little more than tickled to make The Root 100, where I was recognized as one the most influential African Americans in the country and later to receive a humanitarian award by Hidden Villa Ranch. Each of these moments helped to push the message that black people do have a relationship to the outdoors, and show the ways we each can take meaningful action that gets more people connected to nature.

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We are sustained by the many partnerships we have formed since Outdoor Afro began, and thrilled about our new corporate partners, KEEN footwear, REI, and Clif Bar. I have also enjoyed working on important projects this year with NAAEE, EE Capacity, The Children and Nature Network, Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Georgia River Network, the Maryland Coastal Bays, California ReLeaf, Akiima Price Consulting, the Oakland Museum of California, National Wildlife FederationCamp-California; the RV community, and many public speaking opportunities that have helped me to further the work of connecting more people to nature in ways I never imagined.
But the work and community of Outdoor Afro depends on the support and involvement of each of you. This includes all of you who join our conversations on Facebook, Twitter, (Retweeting, Liking, Sharing), or attend our many fun events all around the country – each action and each one of you matters! And you don’t need an afro to be involved!
So thank you Outdoor Afros for a fabulous 2012. Please join me now to celebrate our success, and spread the world to help more people live better lives through meaningful connections to nature.
Happy New Year,
Rue Mapp
Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO

Happy Holidays!

Hope you are enjoying the winter and holidays as much as we are! Join us on Facebook and share your outdoor winter fun photos with us, like this one!


Homecoming: Discovering Great American College Art and Architecture

B.C.C. Campus, NYCHello Outdoor Afros:
My name is Morgan Powell and this is my fourth blog here at Outdoor Afro.  I’m the founder of Bronx River Sankofa – a documentary series on Cable TV and Facebook featuring African-American environmentalists from New York City’s greenest borough.  This meditation on the sprawling college campus as outdoor museum will be a departure from the more conventional green profiles I am known for.  I hope you enjoy, share and post comments!  This one’s for the historic preservationists out there.  This piece borrows the motto that, “The greenest building is the one that’s already built.”
Have you ever heard about the Emancipation Oak at Hampton University?  This Virginia Landmark on the Chesapeake Bay helps define that fine HBCU campus.  It is a silent witness to the freedom of our people through education for over 150 years.  Great buildings and great institutional campuses – many inspired by the University of Virginia – can command our attention and tell critical stories too.  BCC - Gould Library InteriorI have found this to be true at my own alma mater.  Did you attend one of our nation’s many temple – hilled public institutions like me?  These places, largely built in the exuberant nineteenth century, communicate a powerful sense of place with their generous lawns and buildings inspired by ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.  They can be a lot of fun to visit and walk around.  Perhaps you live by one such place and can savor their architecture and landscape planning as a free recreational treat.  Welcome to mine.
Bronx Community College (B.C.C.) in New York City acquired the former uptown campus of New York University in 1973 under the leadership of Bethune – Cookman University’s second president, James A. Colston.  This campus’s most famous landmark is also America’s first hall of fame.  The Hall of Fame for Great Americans includes two bronze busts by African-American sculptor Richmond Barthe.  There you can see his casts of both Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.  Dr. Colston wrote the following letter to his students at the close of the school’s first full academic year.  His words say so much about the power of time spent in an exalted place.  I like to believe this letter you are about to read was also written out of the mind of a man who contemplated the opportunities and challenges before the Civil Rights Movement’s first children.  The sites displayed here -in the order they appear – are: the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, Gould Memorial Library and a composite view featuring the Hall of Fame, Language Hall, and Gould Memorial Library as seen on their west facades.
BCC iconic library
To the Class of 1974:
The Commencement that will honor your graduation this year is significantly different from all previous such ceremonies in the college’s history.  It will be held outdoors in a beautiful, park-like campus setting to mark a new era at Bronx Community College.
You have been fortunate to have experienced the excitement and thrill of moving to a “new” campus, and it is my sincerest wish that the uplifting experience you have had during this first year at the University Heights campus will provide the impetus to your post-BCC phase, be it at a four year college or the world of work.  I hope you will come back to visit us and bring that “special” feeling you have as the first graduates of the Heights campus to a reinvigorated Alumni Association.
Of course, we hope to welcome you back not just as alumni but as subscribers to the life-long learning process.  Your degree does not close the book on benefits you can derive from BCC.  There are many programs and courses, both credit and non-credit, that can help you toward a better career and a better life.
All of us cherish fond memories of the “Old Main Building” [at Creston Avenue and 184th Street] and the mad dashes under the Jerome Avenue El to get to class on time.  In those widely separated facilities, we created an inner campus of “spirit.”  Even though we now have a real campus, we have all profited from the personal fortitude that enabled us to transcend our surroundings and achieve education and closeness.  You are special because you have experienced the best of both worlds.
If there is any lesson to be drawn from your unique experience, it could be that a consciousness of one’s past is the only reference point for determining the future.  A life motivated in escaping the past, no matter how humble, will abort any real sense of purpose.  We release ourselves from the enslavement of escapism by recognizing the essential connection between past, present and future.  The totality of perception is sometimes called heritage or culture.  It is the mark of civilized man.
Sincerely yours,
James A. Colston
This article is dedicated to Chuck Vasser who publishes a blog called Community Green. He is a founder and current board member to the Bronx River Alliance whose articles of Incorporation he signed. He first got involved with the Bronx River as an earlier Director of Community Affairs (promoted from Human Resources Director) at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo. He was advocating for active lifestyles, food security and neighborhood greening city-wide as a New York City Housing Authority consultant at the time of publication.

Interview: REI on Relevancy in the Outdoors

Recently, Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp, had a chance to chat with Laura Swapp who leads the Diversity and Inclusion efforts of REI out of their Kent, Washington corporate campus. She shares steps REI has taken to help the outdoors be more relevant and inclusive. Read more:


Rue Mapp: So Laura, it’s so great to connect with you again! Can you tell us how was your role imagined – this is a completely new role at REI right?
Laura Swapp: Yes it is a new role, and the position was born from the question posed internally, “What does diversity and inclusion mean to REI?” And in the process of answering that question the organization recognized they could better develop the internal capacity to define what is relevant for what the outdoors meant for the field and for REI now and in the future.

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RM: What is a key value that informs the philosophy on relevancy?
LS: We believe employees are customers first – so we focus on diversity and inclusion with our employees, and we make sure to also recognize the organizations and individuals who get out and represent America’s diversity such as Black Girls Run, the NOLS Denali 2013 team, and of course, Outdoor Afro!
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We especially want more people to know that REI is a great place to work so we can continue to grow and support our diversity from within.

RM: How will you get the word out?

LS: Just recently, we launched a new microsite, it can be found at www.diversity.rei.com. It is a portal to target the conversation for a diverse audience, as well as a network where people can join and get a behind-the-scenes view of REI. The site is intentional in that it is working to connect to new audiences in new ways.
We now have an easier way for people to navigate our opportunities, and tell stories through images that we feel cater to a younger, more racially diverse audience. One might think of it as a magazine that delivers content, context and images that are most relevant to the reader.
We don’t think of diversity in terms of philanthropy, but as smart business strategy. Our challenge is not that there’s not a younger, more racially diverse market, it’s that they’re not necessarily gravitating toward the brands of the outdoor industry. So now we are thinking of an expanded definition of the outdoors – meeting people where they are.
RM: Yes! And this is also what Outdoor Afro believes! Please say more about this.
LS: We want people to know they don’t have to climb a mountain to work here. Sure, some of us do, but others might want to chill in the park or bike in the city with the friends.
REI hopes the industry as a whole can be inspired to engage with more audiences in a new way. The biggest outcome is to cultivate innovation and an infusion of co-creators of our brand. We want to create synergy versus dictate – and we are open to change at a point in time where we feel anything is possible.
REI is a proud sponsor of Outdoor Afro, and our official national outdoor retail co-op. Are you a member?

Make it Happen for Outdoor Afro Leadership!

Click to support our Indiegogo campaign to train locally relevant and inspired leadership!

As the founder of Outdoor Afro, you know I am passionate about the great outdoors for everyone to enjoy. Here is more:

Outdoor Afro Kickstarter from Community Bridge Video on Vimeo.

Inspired by my family, I started Outdoor Afro in 2009 to share this passion using social media. The message quickly resonated with thousands of others from around the country who shared their own images and stories that affirmed African Americans do have a positive and historic relationship to nature.
In May of this year, we launched the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team that went to work connecting folks of all ages to nature right in their own backyards. Since then, team members from nearly every region in the US have altogether connected nearly 500 people to the outdoors through recreation and conservation activities.

In 2013 we want to significantly increase the number of people we connect to nature, and to accomplish this goal we need to provide greater professional development for the leadership team to enhance their outdoor skills (hiking, camping, birding, etc).
Why is this important?
In the face of alarming rates of obesity in the African American community, and the need for more people to care for our fragile planet to support its sustainability and local community health, we all need to get out and build a relationship with nature and the outdoors like never before.
Please help us reach our goal of $15,000
The Impact
Outdoor Afro is about connecting more people to the natural world through fun and relevant outdoor experiences. And we know that people respond positively to leadership that reflects their community.
People need nature now like never before. More people getting outside now means healthier people, communities, and greater stewardship for our precious natural resources our futures depend on.
With a start-up of volunteers and monthly training calls this year, we have successfully been able to organize nearly 500 people, from all around the country to be tomorrow’s Outdoor Afro leaders.
Your support today means a significant increase in the number of people getting outside through a strong leadership team!
Please support the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team today!
Other Ways You Can Help
Make some noise about the Outdoor Afro community wherever you go!

Every action makes a difference!
Thank you for your support!

Apps Bring National Parks to Life on Smartphones

Submitted by Outdoor Afro Lesly Simmons
I love spending time outdoors, but I have a bit of a problem-I’m addicted to my devices. Its so sad, but rather than beating myself up about it I tried to find ways to use my iPhone and iPad to help enhance my outdoor experiences. Turns out there are a ton of great apps that cover all the details of our national parks and many local ones across the country. Here are my favorites:

Fotopedia’s National Parks app is my favorite. Its easy to spend an hour lost in the incredible photography that populates the app–famed nature photographer QT Luong shot every national park in wide format film and 3,000 of his images are here on display. It’s a great source of travel inspiration for your next outdoor trip and looks great on iPhones and phenomenal on iPads. The free app is currently only available for iOS devices.

Chimani has developed individual, practical apps for several national parks with maps, park histories and news updates specific to each location. If you’re headed into a park this is an app you’ll want to take along. Even better, to mark Earth Day this year the company offered to give away 1 million copies of their apps for free. Regularly priced from $4.99 to $9.99, this is a great deal. Available for iPhone and Android.

National Geographic has developed app guides for the 20 most visited national parks, priced at $1.99 each. These are useful for advance trip planning and has a critical mass of current details and useful links in one place, along with the latest weather and statistics on the parks. Available for iOS only.
Closer to home, I’m blessed to live just a few blocks from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The GGP Field Guide app, created by the California Academy of Sciences, is the perfect tool to explore the park beyond the common trails. It highlights family friendly scavenger hunts and recent plant and animal sightings. The free app is currently only available for iOS devices.
These are a few of my favorite options to bring tech into the outdoors. What are yours? Or are you able, unlike me, to leave your tech at home?

And Let the Church Say Amen – To Nature

Just recently, I had the privilege of being invited to my Levias family church, St. Paul Church of God in Christ, to speak on the topic of community health. I was raised in the sanctified COGIC tradition, where I learned how and was encouraged to become a public speaker. That girl sure can talk, I would hear the saints say, and felt then a sense of pride in a skill that serves me well in my work today.

While my traditional church participation has fallen off considerably as an adult for many reasons; like most African Americans, I still consider the church an important, sacred space and source of support.
It felt great to share the work of Outdoor Afro as a native daughter of the community, but it was even more energizing to exchange ideas about how people can begin to re-activate their connections to the outdoors. We talked about memory – historic traditions from the South to easy things to do today in the city, such as noticing birds, or investigating local parks, and getting to know neighbors better. The reception of this discussion was warm, punctuated by many Amens!  that reinforced the fact that people are already engaged with the topic, and it led me to imagine what is possible if we deliberately included the church more in the quest to connect more people to nature in ways that mattered to them.

For many, the church is not only a place of worship, but also our town hall. There we receive the most relevant and discerning messages from the larger community. Thus, the church can be a key influencer of African American social structure and behavior.

In this work of connecting more people to nature, I find myself in many rooms, advisory meetings, and email threads with the discussion of relevancy of the outdoors for African Americans (and other less represented populations) in the center. How can we connect the outdoors to more audiences people ask. With 87% of African Americans who associate themselves with a church (Pew Center for Research), the church must play a key part in our planning and partnerships.

While some mainstream environmental organizations and programs shy away from the topic of religion, other non-profits are connecting the church to environmental concerns and nature as a part of congregational values and activities – and we can learn from their success. For example, Chicago’s Faith in Place, an important partner of Outdoor Afro, works across several denominations to inspire and support environmental education within the common value of stewardship. From their website:
Our mission is to help people of faith understand that issues of ecology and economy—of care for Creation—are at the forefront of social justice. At Faith in Place we believe in housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. But even if we do all those things, and love our brothers and sisters with our whole heart, it will not matter if we neglect the ecological conditions of our beautiful and fragile planet.
In Oakland, California, Memorial Tabernacle Church has built a ministry dedicated to organizing activities in the community through their Health and Garden Ministries. “We focus on improving several aspects of congregant life,” says Tiffany Grant (33), who leads this effort that includes church hikes, and a productive church vegetable garden.
Most in the outdoor related fields agree that a key way to connect more people to nature starts with being relevant to the intended communities. Therefore, we are remiss if we exclude the black church from the table of discussion to support connections to the natural environment that ultimately benefit us all.
Does your church have a ministry that connects members to nature? Do you need support to make this happen? Let us know in the comments below!