Lifestyle

Outdoor Afro: Connecting Black Seniors with Nature

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Some 60,000 Black older adults nationwide are connecting with nature, other seniors, and their  communities – and it all started with a blog.

Outdoor Afro Begins

“Outdoor Afro started as a blog in 2009 – a reflection through stories and images of my family and life experiences in nature,” explains Outdoor Afro’s Founder and CEO Rue Mapp. “I had so many benefits from nature and community connections, but I did not see enough representation and stories of Black people in the outdoors as strong, beautiful, and free.”

“Outdoor Afro began as a platform to elevate that narrative,” Mapp continues.

In 2015, Outdoor Afro was incorporated as a 501(c)(3). Now, in its 14th year, Outdoor Afro boasts a 60,000 participation network, with more than 1,200 online/in-person events, and some 100 selected and trained volunteer leaders nationwide. Now in 60 cities and 32 states (and Washington, D.C.), it reconnects Black communities with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation with programs for fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, gardening, skiing, and more.

Leading into Nature

Creating intergenerational experiences requires training. “One key value of Outdoor Afro is helping more people feel confident to become a leader in the outdoors. Each year we recruit and train folks from a variety of backgrounds and professions to lead outdoor experiences in their own communities,” Mapp says.

“This year’s class is more than 100 people. After our organization’s annual Outdoor Afro Leadership Training held in April of each year, these individuals help more people discover and appreciate those natural gems close to home, and support people to have more tools in their activity toolbox to find connection, healing, and joy through nature-based experiences,” Mapp points out.

Besides growing as leaders, members enjoy health benefits like improved mobility and flexibility, even lower blood pressure, “Studies have shown that just walking in nature helps to lower blood pressure. One of our major DMV activities is hiking. I’ve come back stronger after questionable health challenges; I had to make make myself ready to participate in Outdoor Afro-leader expeditions,” notes Raymond Smith Jr., 62 (above right, leading an Outdoor Afro fly fishing activity) and a volunteer leader of the Outdoor Afro DMV network.

“Outdoor Afro has taught me to appreciate my connection to nature, the world, my ancestry, the environment, and what it means to truly be a leader”

Smith continues, “Outdoor Afro ignited something in me. While I knew this passion was there, Outdoor Afro allowed me to share the best parts of me with others, who appreciate me as being unapologetically Black, while being outdoors. I’ve been able to connect with so many people who otherwise would not have the shared experiences of the joys that simply being outdoors can bring.”

Social Connections

There’s no shortage of opportunities to meet new people and develop lasting, friendships while exchanging wisdom and life experiences. “Elders in our community should consider joining our local network because nature connections improve our quality of life over the course of our lifespan.”

“Whether you’re younger or older, being in nature and enjoying it with others makes life sweeter”

Whether you’re younger or older, being in nature and enjoying it with others makes life sweeter,” points out Kim Ruffin, a volunteer leader of the Outdoor Afro Chicago/NW Indiana network.

Fighting Stereotypes

Outdoor Afro also understands the visual misrepresentation of who gets outside, how inaccessible nature may seem, and how daunting it can be to figure out which activities make sense and where to start. Valerie Morrow, 64, a former Outdoor Afro volunteer leader in the Chicago area, shares how she broke free from the mold and found herself: “At this stage in my life, I am finally doing what I love without the cultural alienation that came from being the only Black person in the group. It’s been life-changing to meet many Black women in my age group who share my love of the outdoors.”

“No matter your age, or race, there’s a place outdoors for you!”

Outdoor Afro invites you to age with attitude: “For folks like me, who are north of 50 years old, we may not have seen a lot of positive representation of what mature living can look like and how rich experiences can be in this phase. So like Outdoor Afro’s beginnings, I think it’s important for us to tell a new narrative about how we can age with adventure and energy. It’s never too late to embrace new challenges and experiences so that we can elevate our own vitality and inspire others,” shares Mapp. “No matter your age, or race, there’s a place outdoors for you!”

Ready to join? Find your local chapter here or:

Explore Outdoor Afro’s Midwest Network

Explore Outdoor Afro’s Northeast Network

Explore Outdoor Afro’s Southern Network

Explore Outdoor Afro’s Western Network

Learn more about Outdoor Afro’s programs here.

YOUR TURN

How do you enjoy being in nature? How has it improved your life? Let us know in the comments!

NaBeela Washington, an emerging Black writer, holds a Master’s in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University and Bachelor’s in Visual Advertising from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been published in Eater, The Cincinnati Review, and others. Learn more at nabeelawashington.com.

  • Rue Mapp headshot: Photo by Tiffanie Page
  • Raymond Smith Jr. action shot: Photo by Joe Klementovich
  • Outdoor Afro Ocean School: Photo by Outdoor Afro 

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