#RiseUpwithOutdoorAfro Inauguration Weekend

On January 20-22, 2017, join Outdoor Afro as We Find Resilience in Nature

By National Program Director Zoë Polk
Some of our favorite musicians, poets, and activists remind us to look to nature for lessons on how to rise in the face of tough conditions.

“You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Maya Angelou

These lyrics, quotes and speeches serve as sources of inspiration and restoration on our journeys.

“You are not judged from the height you have risen, but from the depth you have climbed.”
Frederick Douglas

In the quiet of nature, we sing their words to ourselves and are instantly connected to our world.

“Rise up this mornin’
Smiled with the risin’ sun
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true”
Bob Marley

Most importantly, we understand that to #RiseUp is a daily practice.  And that nature provides infinite examples of how this act sustains life.

“And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up.”
Andre Day

On January 20, Outdoor Afro, in solidarity with communities across the world, will reflect on President Barack Obama’s legacy, and in particular, his 8 years of environmental stewardship.  During his tenure, Obama has created or expanded 24 National Monuments, including Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Pullman Porter National Monument, the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument  and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldier National Monument. He has protected 550 million acres during his time in office, covering more acreage than any other president.
As his presidency ends, we acknowledge that there is some wilderness ahead. We invite you to join us as we enter this new territory in the same way that we approach every wild space: relying on Black history as our compass, singing Nature Freedom Songs, nurturing seeds of hope, coming into bloom together, and reaching for the sunlight.

“Inauguration” is defined as the beginning or introduction of system, policy or period. It can take the form of a ceremony launching the start of something. On January 20-22, 2017, Outdoor Afro will hold ceremony in nature. We invite you to #RiseUp with us and take action in the following ways:

1. Visit a National Monuments designated by President Obama, honoring his legacy as an environmental steward.
2. Take a family friendly Healing Hike, including  beach walks, sunrise hikes, and snowshoes among winter blooms, focusing on what nature teaches us about resilience
3. Spend the entire day in the wilderness-  climbing to mountaintops, seeing the forest for the trees, and laying down your burden down by the riverside

January 20-22, 2017 Get Outside with OutdoorAfro Leaders nationwide.  Gather your family and friends and share your experience using #RiseUpWithOutdoorAfro on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram!


From Mount Whitney to the Appalachian Trail: Oh the Places We Go with KEEN!

“These KEENS are made for Hiking and Biking and Kayaking too With or without socks, these KEENS will play all day with you”


Written By National Program Director Zoë Polk

Like most outdoor enthusiasts, we love all things gear! We love researching and then buying a new product at our local REI store. We love breaking it in on the trail. We love talking about how footwear keeps us safe and encourage all our participants to invest in a good pair of shoes that protect you during your adventures, We also love cleaning and maintaining our gear so that it can stay with us for years of explorations.  

Our KEEN footwear has been good to us since we founded the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team in 2012. An early supporter of our mission to reconnect Black people to nature and each other through outdoor activities, KEEN has consistently been both a partner and a friend in this work.


When KEEN was founded in 2003, they made a commitment to act on inspiration quickly and now have a history of supporting good causes. They have given more than $7 million in cash and resources to nonprofit organizations around the world, including Outdoor Afro.

KEEN shares Outdoor Afro values of building stronger communities and a healthier planet. They have stood behind us and other partners,  as we have worked to inspire responsible outdoor participation, and land and water conservation. We have witnessed the KEEN Effect, the company commitment to preserving and the places we play around the world, firsthand through our networks from California to Florida.

We asked some of our 2016 Outdoor Afro Leaders to share the adventures they have had in their KEENS.  Whether backpacking on the Appalachian trail, urban hiking, training in Yosemite, crossing water or vacationing, our team finds it easy playing in KEEN:

Outdoor Afro Los Angeles Leader Ivan Guillory wore his Voyaguer Mid Boots to lead a group to the summit of Mount Baldy.When leading kayaking expeditions, Outdoor Afro Afro Austin Leader Starla Simmons wears her Newport H2 SandalsWhile scouting Myakka River State Park for an upcoming Outdoor Afro event, Orlando Leader Hillary Van Dyke wore her Voyaguer mid boots because she needed ankle support and low arch boots that could handle any kind of terrain.
Whether hiking with his son on a sunny day in the Bay Area or trekking 40 miles in the rain on the Appalachian Trail, Cliff Sorrell relies on his Summit County boots.When climbing on rocks on the White Oak Canyon Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Outdoor Afro Baltimore Leader, Brittany Leavitt wears her Koven Mid WP.On a family hiking in Castlwood State Park,St. Louis Leader Mario Charles, found his  Logan Mid WP  to be perfect for a hot day hike with challenging terrain with numerous elevation changes. His Dad found the same comfort in the Durand Low.
Because of their breathability and style, the Skyline Ankle Wedge are perfect for day of wine tasting in Sonoma for Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO, Rue MappAtlanta Leader Stefan Moss likes the freedom of movement, security and adaptability of the KEEN Uneek for lounging on the beach or ziplining through the rainforest.When climbing the San Francisco hills to reach local city parks,  Leader Zoe Polk prefers the versatility of the Santa Cruz Canvas
When hiking the Taum Sauk Mountain potion of the Ozark Trail St. Louis, Leader Duane Williams wears his  Durand Mid WP. According to Duane,
“My Keen Durand Mids give me the comfort, durability, and keep my feet dry so I can conquer the mountain!”
While crossing streams, basking in the spray of the waterfalls, and tromping through the steep mountainous trails in Pisgah National Forest,  Outdoor Afro Miami Leader Ta-Shana Taylor wore her  Maupin and  Outdoor Afro Charlotte Leader Yanira Castro wore the Newport H2.At Rocky Mountain National Park, Outdoor Afro Boulder Leader Roz Katonah wore their Durand Mid WP, which were perfect for the rocky, wet ascent to a waterfall.

Thank you KEEN for being trusted ally in our outdoor movement!


Get Free in Nature with #UndergroundTrailMode

This weekend, Hike with Outdoor Afro and Honor the Legacy of Harriet Tubman, and all of Freedom Seekers of the Underground Railroad.

Written By National Program Director Zoë Polk
From October 6-9, 2016, seven members of the 2016 Outdoor Afro Leadership Team  will hike the Maryland Portion of the Appalachian Trail. Beginning at the Pennsylvania border, our team will Blackpack along the South Mountain Ridge Top to the Harpers Ferry National Park. Their 40 mile trek will be done in tribute to the thousands of African Americans in history who found their freedom in nature.
In honor of this history and in solidarity with our Blackpackers, we invite you get in #UndergroundTrailMode with us:

Atlanta, Georgia

#UndergroundTrailMode on the Appalachian Trail October 8

Austin and San Antonio, TX

#UndergroundTrailMo­de: African Americans in Austin – A Lasting Legacy tour October 8

Bay Area, California

Hike 10 Miles in Solidarity with OutdoorAfro Blackpackers October 8


Underground Trail Mode: A House of My Own October 8

Charlotte, NC

#UndergroundTrailMode at Latta Plantation  October 8

Charleston, South Carolina

#UndergroundTrailMo­de Solidarity Kayaking Trip on the Combahee River (CANCELLED DUE TO HURRICANE MATTHEW) October 8

Chicago and Northwest Indiana

Burnham Wildlife Corridor Hike in Solidarity with #UndergroundTrailMo­de October 8

 Cleveland, OH

Night Hike Along the Hemlock Loop Trail October 8

Detroit, Michigan

#UndergroundTrailMode Walking Detroit October 8

Los Angeles, CA

#UndergroundTrailMode Solidarity Hike on Mount Baldy October 8

Louisville, KY

Fall Black History Hike October 8

Miami, FL

#UndergroundTrailMo­de 12 mile hike in Fakahatchee October 15

Miluakee-Madison, Wisconsin

Explore the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin October 8

Minneapolis, MN

Solidarity Hike at Wild River State Park October 9

Newark, NJ

#UndergroundTrailMo­­de 7.5 mile hike Jockey Hollow – Grand Loop Trail October 9

Portland, Oregon

#UndergroundTrailMode: Animal Tracking and River Exploration October 8

Phoenix, AZ

Healing Hike at Lost Dog Wash Trail October 9

Richmond, VA

#UndergroundTrailMode Solidarity Hike at St. Petersburg National Battlefield October 8

Seattle, Washington

#UndergroundTrailMode Solidarity Hike and Seattle Black History Exploration October 7

St Louis, Missouri

Hiking Through History – 3 Mile Hike in Hop Hollow #UndergroundTrailMo­de October 9

Tampa, FL

Urban Hike in Solidarity with #UndergroundTrailMode October 6

Washington DC- Maryland- Northern Virginia

#UndergroundTrailMo­de: Harpers Ferry Maryland Heights AT Hike October 9

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE: Assemble your Friends and Family for a Hike October 6-9, 2016 and share your experience using #UndergroundTrailMode on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram!


#UndergroundTrailMode: BlackPacking the Appalachian Trail

In Furtherance of our Mission to Celebrate and Inspire Black connections to Nature, Outdoor Afro Invites You to Hike History October 6-9, 2016

By National Program Director Zoë Polk
This October, Outdoor Afro is going Blackpacking again! Last year, hundreds of Black people around the country honored the Buffalo Soldiers’ trailblazing of Mount Whitney through #WhitneyHiking.  In 2016, we will lift up Harriet Tubman and all of the freedom seekers of the Underground Railroad by getting in #UndergroundTrailMode

BlackPacking the Appalachian Trail

From October 6-9, 2016, six members of the 2016 Outdoor Afro Leadership Team  will hike the Maryland Portion of the Appalachian Trail. Beginning at the Pennsylvania border, our team will Blackpack along the South Mountain Ridge Top to the Harpers Ferry National Park. Their 40 mile trek will be done in tribute to the thousands of African Americans in history who found their freedom in nature.

Meet the Team:

PicMonkey Collage (1)
Beky, Outdoor Afro Leader, North Carolina Triangle                            Brittany, Outdoor Afro Leader, Baltimore, MD

Cliff, Outdoor Afro Leader Bay Area, CA                                       Melody, Outdoor Afro Leader, Baltimore, MD
Kelly, Outdoor Afro Leader Newark, NJ                                       Chris, Outdoor Afro Leader Chicago, IL


Val, Outdoor Afro Leader Chicago, IL

The Appalachian Trail and the Underground Railroad
Before the Appalachian Trail was founded in 1937, formerly enslaved Americans of African descent crossed the Potomac River, trekked through the Appalachian Mountains, and made their way to freedom. Harriet Tubman was one of the most famous “conductors” on this intricate system of hiking trails and safe houses. Abolitionists, freed Blacks and slaves referred to these paths as the Underground Railroad, and they used railway metaphors as code to discuss escape plans. Slave catchers stated that when Black people were on those trails they seemed to just “disappear underground.”
In fact Black people on the Underground Railroad weren’t traveling via loud machines on trails made of concrete, iron and steel. They quietly hiked on grass, dirt, moss, and through rivers. They relied on the illumination of the moon to light their paths. They foraged for herbal remedies and food. Their leaders, Harriet Tubman and other “conductors,” weren’t steering massive machines and shoveling coal into fires. Instead they were following memorized paths, gazing up at the vast night sky to identify the Big Dipper and the North Star. They studied birdcalls and mimicked them to communicate danger and safety. They used their relationship with nature to get them to freedom.


Artwork by Kadir Nelson


#UndergroundTrailMode: A National Black to Nature Movement

In remembrance and in honor of these #OutdoorAfros of their time and in solidarity with our Blackpackers, we invite you get in #UndergroundTrailMode with us Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend, October 6-9, 2016:

*Join your local Outdoor Afro leader on a solidarity hike

*Discover and Hike the #OutdoorAfro history in Your City

*#FindYourPark and Find Underground Railroad Stops and Passages

* Assemble your Friends and Family for a Hike October 6-9, 2016 and share your experience using #UndergroundTrailMode on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram.

Thanks to The North Face Explore Fund for their generous support!

Placing Waterfalls: How Niagara Falls Powered the Niagara Movement

“To ignore, overlook, or apologize for these wrongs is to prove ourselves unworthy of freedom.”

Declaration of Principles, Niagra Movement, 1905


Today, on 111th anniversary of its founding, we are reflecting on the significance the Niagara Movement, a civil rights organization that held its inaugural meeting on banks of one of the most prominent natural spaces in the United States.
Niagara Falls had long been a simple of Black Liberation. Underground Railroad conductor and Outdoor Afro of her time, Harriet Tubman demanded her passengers to “Come look at the Falls!” as they made their way to freedom in Canada.  Niagara Movement Organizers, W.E.B. DuBois and William Trotter connected the roar of the falls to their demand for racial justice and their rejection of accommodation and conciliation.
So from July 11-13, 1905, intentional on the significance of their environment to their cause, they named their organization “The Niagara Movement” to be representative of a “mighty current” of change its leaders sought to bring about.
Over the course of three days, the participants met around the dining room table of prominent Black American Mary Talbert and created their Declaration of Principles. The nineteen paragraph document which urges Black Americans “to protest emphatically and continually against the curtailment of their political rights” resonates as we reread them today. And it is an important reminder of how the outdoors have inspired Black leadership and revolution.

niagara-page-002 niagara-page-003

Implementing #BlackLivesMatter in the Outdoors

“What is my role in the Movement for Black Lives?” has become the most critical question of our time. 


Black Lives Matter flag

Written By National Program Director Zoë Polk

Each year, Outdoor Afro enlists individuals from all over the country to advance our agenda: to celebrate and inspire Black connections to nature. Founder and CEO Rue Mapp, launched the Leadership Team to activate Black leadership centered on Black Health and Black Joy in the outdoors.   During leader recruitment, we encourage applicants to reflect on how their outdoor leadership fits in with the Movement for Black Lives.  At our annual training, we challenge leaders to adopt our strategy for Black outdoor engagement and to return home as “nature community organizers.”
Inspired by Black history, literature, stewardship, music, and radicalism, our leaders have implemented “Black to Nature” tactics in cities including Minneapolis, Oakland, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, and Charleston, cities that by name recall despair, trauma and rage. Cities that we know by other names: Jamar Clark, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

In 2014, Outdoor Afro issued a call to action for #HealingHikes. Outdoor Afro leaders around the country invited friends, families, church groups and organizations to turn to nature to provide a pathway to healing.  In one #HealingHike in Oakland, California, folks descended into the bowl of second growth redwoods and came upon a waterway. The weight of current events held within the light of the beautiful scenery recalled the words of a Negro Spiritual:

Gonna lay down my burden,

Down by the riverside

 And on that river bank, participants released their pain and then collectively resolved to take action within their families, workplace and communities.

In 2016, the need for #HealingHikes has continued and Outdoor Afro Leaders have organized forums for communities in response to murders in Orlando, Baton Rouge, and Falcon Heights. In Boston, leader Chaya Harris reflected that after learning about the execution of #AltonSterling, she started the day feeling angry, lost and feeling defeated. That evening she lead a healing hike in the Blue Hills and reflected  “Thanks to these Outdoor Afro who joined me,  my day’s ending with strength, positive energy and a smile. We shared how we practice self-care, and ways we can support others with mental health. At the end, we felt energized, strong and refreshed.”
In the wake of continued racial discrimination and violence, Outdoor Afro is reaching out to our networks to affirm our commitment to healthy and free Black Lives:

Our Renewed Commitments to You

1) We will continue to create relevant outdoor experiences, including #HealingHikes, that promote Black Health and Black Joy.

2) We will continue to strengthen relationships between our communities and the outdoors by telling known, little known, and unknown stories about Black connections to public parks, watersheds and wilderness. We will continue to reclaim our green spaces.

3) We will continue to urge our network and our communities to take care of themselves, in the spirit of Audre Lorde:


“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”


4) We will continue to cultivate and empower Black Outdoor Leadership. We will steward a network of Black Outdoor Leaders who love each other and the communities they serve.

5) We will continue to lift up legacy of Outdoor Afros in history through their own words:

“Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream”


Our New Commitment 

Starting today, Outdoor Afro will launch an open enrollment for our Leadership Team.  Motivated individuals who share our values  and want to make a difference in their communities can complete an application by visiting our website. We will work with you to ensure every community has access to healing in nature.
We remain grateful to our leaders and network who contribute to our work. While we will never be able to prepare for or inoculate ourselves from injustice, we will continue to heal and move forward in community.