Passion To Profession: Women in the Active-Outdoor Industries | Rue Mapp
Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro, shares her biggest “aha” moments, her thoughts on inclusivity, and the narrative of the outdoors as a force in her life and others.
To recognize role models in the active-outdoor industries, we’re featuring women in a myriad of leadership roles, asking them about their backgrounds, their biggest learning experiences, and the influence of nature in their lives. Learn about Rue Mapp’s journey to becoming founder of Outdoor Afro and icon for bringing people together in the outdoor community.
Did you ever have an “aha” moment in your career? what was it, and how did it inform your career path?
In 2014, the country was confronting police-involved violence in a way we hadn’t seen in some time. In the age of social media, these issues were front and center in our feeds—there were protests in the street, and it was striking us to our core, especially African Americans. I tried to figure out the role of Outdoor Afro in these very difficult moments for our community. The answer came to me in an epiphany: You do nature, Rue. That’s your lane.
So I took all that was troubling me and invited 30+ people to join me, and we took that pain and anguish to our Redwood Forest where we started setting our intention of how to be in nature, how to be in that space with each other, and how we want to listen to each other. In that space we could truly absorb and find a pathway to healing—it’s something African Americans could always do: lay down our burdens by the riverside. We wanted Outdoor Afro to be about finding a way toward common healing (not just getting outside), and that remained our focus. One such result is the Healing Hikes framework. Healing Hikes are designed to help us remind ourselves, and one another, of the power of nature to heal; that’s available in all of our outdoor experiences, whether we do it in a group or on our own.
The trees don’t know if you’re black. The birds don’t know how much money is in your bank account or what your gender is. There’s a moment of respite from the high tensions that face us and that are trying to divide us as a country. Being in those spaces of respite help us carry on and move forward.
Tell us about a role model who has impacted your life as an outdoorswoman for the better.
My dad. He was a black urban cowboy and rural farmer from Texas who taught me about nature as part of your everyday lived experience—and also about the importance of sharing nature with others and the value of hospitality.
What is one piece of advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
You are more powerful and capable than you believe. Resist the perceptions that others may have—you are okay just as you are, and you can and will do great things.
How would you describe the importance of the outdoors as a force in your life?
It’s the heartbeat of everything that I do and rally around. It’s a place that I know, not only that I can share with people, but that I rely on to get strength, find hope, and understand resiliency. When I look at the second and third generation Redwoods in the open hills, and remember that they were all clear cut at one point to help build homes as a result of the Gold Rush—and have grown back—it’s a story that needs to keep being told. We, as humans who have faced hardship, can embody this resiliency. Nature helps us do that.
What is your “special place”—your favorite place in the world to be outside, and why is it important to you?
The Sierra. California has a varied landscape because of all the seismic activity. There’s the Central Valley that nourishes us and puts food on the table across the country and the world. Then we have The Sierras—peaks that deliver the amazing water we get to drink—and then everything in between. In The Sierra, I always feel like my breath is different, my thinking is clearer, and a sense of calm comes over me. But at the same time, I have a deep respect for the wild of it and treat that wild with reverence.
I have lived in the Bay Area my whole life. I’ve seen where I live change in so many different ways—some really good and some really challenging to embrace. Because I understand the interiors of it, I’ve been able to go along the journey of its change.
“All that you touch you change, and all that you change changes you.” — Octavia Butler
What do you see as the most prominent/important active-outdoor industries trend of 2018?
Elevation. I love, right now, seeing the elevation of the different types of explorers and leaders (who haven’t traditionally been featured) and how they are becoming more centered. It helps us have an industry that looks more like America. I’m excited about the ways the industry is choosing, more and more, to get out in front and lead that representation and lived experience.
Outdoor Afro is one patch in the quilt that includes everyone in this conversation, and ultimately, in the wild. You don’t have to have an afro to be part of Outdoor Afro. We’re thankful to have an organization of participants that are representative of America. Our work has helped us to be one of the pulleys and levers—changing what is currently exceptional and featured to normal and ordinary.
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