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You might call Rue Mapp the hostess with the mostess—at least when it comes to welcoming people into the outdoors. Under the tagline “Where Black People and Nature Meet,” her organization Outdoor Afro aims to “celebrate and inspire African American connections and leadership in nature.” Since she started it seven years ago, the non-profit has connected thousands of people to outdoor experiences.
Mapp herself was invited to the White House for the kick-off of President Barack Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative and asked to participate in a think tank for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. She earned the National Wildlife Federation’s 2014 Communications Award and has been named a “hero” by Backpacker Magazine.
Not that Mapp set out to change the world. Back in 2009 she was a divorced mother of three young children who had just finished her college degree at the University of California, Berkeley. During a conversation with her mentor the question of the “ideal job” came up. If she could pick any career, what would it be?
“I said I would start a website to reconnect African Americans to the outdoors. I opened my mouth and my life fell out,” she said. “I’d always been a lover of art history, nature, technology and bringing people together. These constants were hiding out as hobbies or as passion projects. Once I gave those passions and hobbies and interests voice, that’s how Outdoor Afro came together.”
Today, Mapp said, she’s finally able to bring all of herself to work, something she noted few women have the freedom to do.
“As women, we get to work and can’t talk about kids or be too smart or be a tomboy and play in the dirt,” she said. “We can’t be a badass. There are all these things you have to leave at the door. And as an African American woman, you have to leave culture at the door and assimilate. This is the first time I’ve been able to show up in the boldest ways that I can be, all the while affecting positive and tangible change not just for the African American community, but for all the friends and colleagues I have the privilege of linking arms with to do this work.”
Her dream for the future of the outdoor industry is that women, regardless of skin color, will step up and participate in innovative ways—without waiting for an invitation.
“I hope more women can find joy in this industry by making their own mark, by being entrepreneurial and creating their own pathways,” Mapp said. “We don’t have to wait for the opportunity. We can create opportunities now that are unprecedented.”