Some see Rue Mapp as a 21st century John Muir of the African American community.
A vocal outdoor enthusiast whose ideas are frequently sought by the White House, Mapp understands how nature can nurture not only our physical, but emotional wellbeing.
An Oakland, Calif.-based mother of three, Mapp also knows that families that engage in healthy outdoor activities like hiking, biking, swimming and camping can strengthen their relationships, while combating diabetes and other health problems that result from sedentary lifestyles dominated by computers and other electronic devices.
“Everyone talks about the healthcare crisis facing this country, a crisis that is particularly acute in the African American community. But engagement in the Great Outdoors is something anyone can right now to improve their physical and emotional health. They just have to get off the couch and do it.”
Unfortunately, black Americans are perceived to have little connection with the Great Outdoors. “How often do you see black people hiking in Yosemite, or sitting around a campfire in a family campground? Not enough.”
But Mapp is working to change that.
Through her website, OutdoorAfro.com, Mapp is starting a movement to get black America into the Great Outdoors. She’s doing this by networking African Africans who already have an interest in hiking or biking or camping or other activities with other African Americans with similar interests.
The idea, she said, is to encourage African Americans to network with each other and become more involved with outdoors. OutdoorAfro.com is not only a forum to discuss the need for outdoor engagement, but a planning tool for organizing outings.
“It’s as if she’s creating a black Sierra Club,” said Danielle Lee, a colleague of Mapp who has watched OutdoorAfro grow from an obscure website to one that is frequently accessed by people across the country.
Mapp has also partnered with the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) and Camp-California.com, which is helping her publicize her efforts in California and across the country.
But between running OutdoorAfro.com and making trips to Washington D.C. to provide input on initiatives ranging from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign to providing ideas to the Department of Interior on ways to engage African American families in outdoor recreation, Mapp realizes she needs more soldiers to fight alongside her.
“I can’t do all of this myself,” she said.
So Mapp has taken the next logical step: She has recruited a dozen people like her who share her passion for the outdoors. But these folks are not just advocates. They will also organize outdoor activities across the country, from day hikes to overnight camping trips.
“Nothing like this has ever been done before by the black community, at least nothing on this scale,” Mapp said.
Her “team leaders” will initially organize trips on a quarterly basis. But the effort could grow beyond that.
“I am blessed to have found a group of like-minded people who can help me literally move African Americans into the outdoors in greater numbers.”