February 17, 2016
Bridging Diversity and Nature
By Kris Paritt
Photo at right: The 2015 Outdoor Afro leadership training group celebrates the last day of training on the steps of Camp Hill in West Virginia. Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro
The group’s tagline says it all, “Outdoor Afro is where Black People and Nature Meet.”
The concept for Outdoor Afro started in 2009 in Oakland, California by Rue Mapp, who was recently appointed to the California State Park and Recreation Commission by Gov. Jerry Brown, Jr.
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, Mapp’s mentor asked what she would do if time and money were no object. Mapp answered that she would “start a website to connect African Americans to the outdoors.”
Mapp’s childhood was steeped in the outdoors in Northern California and she saw a need to reconnect black people with nature. By creating the Outdoor Afro nonprofit she has helped over 10,500 people connect with nature through 18 Meetup.com groups across 17 states coast-to-coast.
Mapp has also helped with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” health initiative and President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative.
In the Northwest
Paulette Brown and Matt Reese are the two Outdoor Afro co-leaders in Seattle and they run multiple events in Western Washington for people of all races to connect and experience the healing aspects of nature.
Pamela Slaughter is the Outdoor Afro leader in Portland, Oregon. Often Brown, Reese and Slaughter connect to brainstorm ideas—sometimes with the 30 other leaders throughout the nation—for events designed to bring people together.
A graduate of Evergreen College on the Tacoma campus, Brown studied Urban Development and Sociology.
“I love birds, but I love kids more,” explained Brown, the mother of two boys, on why she transitioned from her position as the Membership and Outreach Director for the Audubon Society in University Place, into working with early STEM education with Wayout Kids and the Go Green Project in 2015.
Brown’s other passion is bringing people together into nature to heal. It was a passion that helped her recover from a divorce.
“I realized that being outdoors in nature was the best prescription for me,” she recalled. “From there I started getting outdoors more and I joined the Audubon Society.
“While I was working there I started Therapy Thursday hiking groups. It was a diverse group of people and we talked about healing while we hiked. Life is about how you take it. Having the outdoors and those hiking groups helped me to be who I am now.”
Next Thing I Knew
A month after Brown heard about the Outdoor Afro group in Seattle, the Executive Director at the Audubon Society told her that the group was looking for leaders.
“She handed me the application and, being curious, I applied. Next thing I knew I was in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, at the National Conservation Training Center, next to Harper’s Ferry in the middle of a Civil War memorial area completing a four-day leadership training with Rue Mapp and 30 other leaders,” said Brown.
Supported by respected outdoor industry leaders, Outdoor Afro’s leadership training events have received gear and equipment donations from REI and Kleen Kanteen, and sponsorship from the Sierra Club. The training was last April and since then Brown has thrived as a leader.
“Each leader of Outdoor Afro can create their own events and schedule and each group is diverse in activities,” she said.
Brown has led apple-picking and a family entourage to Franklin Falls off Interstate 90 near Seattle. She also restarted a Therapy Thursday hiking group. Other Outdoor Afro Leaders have created music hikes where they bring instruments along and play on the trail. Others have lead Ugly Sweater hikes in December.
Just the Beginning
Compared to Chicago’s Outdoor Afro community of 1,554, Seattle’s 290 members is very encouraging to Brown.
“This is the just the beginning, especially for people in the Northwest,” said Brown. “We are all connected. All you have to do is support diversity in the outdoors. Outdoor Afro is not exclusive of race, it’s about diversity, inclusion and support.
“This is therapy for multi-racial communities. It’s there to have access to nature and for healing. Being in nature
inspires people to keep pushing on despite what is going on in their life.”
Kris Parfitt is the Managing Editor of OutdoorsNW magazine and is looking forward to joining an Outdoor Afro event in 2016.