Rue Mapp grew up in Oakland, but it was on her family’s ranch in Lake County that she learned to slaughter livestock, catch fish, and harvest vegetables. Many of her peers didn’t have the same access to outside activities. “There wasn’t a conversation about Black people in nature as strong, beautiful, and free,” she says. When Mapp founded Outdoor Afro in 2009 as a blog to help “reconnect Black people to the outdoors,” she didn’t expect it to become a national nonprofit with more than 100 volunteers leading 50,000 participants on everything from bird walks to ascents of Mount Kilimanjaro. Mapp’s work has taken her to the Obama White House’s America’s Great Outdoors conference and on a hike with Oprah Winfrey during her 2020 Vision Tour.
This article appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Alta Journal.
On healing hikes: “In 2014, Ferguson erupted…and Oakland was on the verge. I asked myself, How do I show up as a Black woman overseeing a Black-focused organization? The answer was clear. We got folks together, went to the redwoods, and did what Black people have always known we could do—lay our burdens down by the riverside.”
On lifting up Black stories: “We often find stories in nature experiences, like that of John Harris, the Black man who was denied entry to the Sutro Baths when his white friends were allowed in. His lawsuit was a test case for civil rights legislation in California. These histories are oftentimes off-placard. We lifted up Harris’s story, and now it’s part of the National Park Service’s history of the site.”
On the importance of swimming lessons: “I realized our community couldn’t start with ‘Planet or Plastics’ as a slogan. Black children were drowning at five times the rate of white children. This is our Jim Crow inheritance, when Black people couldn’t freely recreate in swimming pools or coastal areas. I decided in 2018 to teach every child in our sphere how to swim. Because if the child doesn’t know how to swim, they’re not going to give a damn about plastics in the ocean.”•