Meet the non-profit responsible for sending the first all black team (ever) to climb Kilimanjaro
Helping people take better care of themselves, their communities, and our environment is no simple task, but one that the nationwide non-profit organization and leadership network Outdoor Afro has taken on with full steam.
2019 marks the 10 year anniversary of Outdoor Afro. Originally founded by Rue Mapp as a blog that documented her outdoor experiences, the organization now takes about 30,000 participants outside each year. With nearly 80 leaders across 30 different states, Outdoor Afro has grown into a leading organization connecting black people with the outdoors.
Now, the organization takes about 30,000 participants outside each year.
According to the National Geographic, African Americans represent only seven percent of national parks visitors, despite representing 14% of the country’s population. Yanira Castro, Communications Director and Leader Director of Outdoor Afro, explains that while the statistic may seem jarring at first, the histories of both our country and the National Parks Services reveal why the stat may stand. “It doesn’t mean that black folks don’t get outside, it just means that maybe they don’t get outside in the sense of visiting national parks,” she says. Historically, national parks have been exclusionary for African Americans and many signs of segregation are still present in the environments of some parks today. “The National Parks Service has done a really good job of working towards bettering that, but we want to remember where that seven percent comes from and how it got there. Additionally, most national parks are located away from public transportation, where black folks often congregate and live.” These and other similar inequities are the sorts of issues that Outdoor Afro is looking to help combat through their community leadership network.
“We garden. We play different sports. There’s different ways of engaging in nature,” says Castro. “Part of why Outdoor Afro was started and why our leaders are very active in making sure they post photos and videos of their participants outside, is that it’s important for Outdoor Afro to change the visual representation of what it means to be an outdoor person. Black folks get outside all the time, it just wasn’t being represented in the media and that was one of the things that we have worked on this past decade, is shifting that narrative.” Their nationwide events address environmentalism and conservation efforts while also bringing visibility to diverse communities outdoors and simply providing the space and resources for people to get active outside.
We garden. we play different sports. there’s different ways of engaging in nature.
This summer, they set out to provide African American youth with the opportunity to undertake swimming instruction. “Black children die at 5 ½ times the rate of white children in the water. The water is a gateway to all sorts of other outdoor activities. If you’re afraid of the water you won’t go swimming, obviously kayaking, maybe you don’t walk around the lake, all sorts of things,” says Castro. Outdoor Afro awarded hundreds of swimmerships to participants around the country. All they had to do was apply and when selected, the recipients could take a swim lesson wherever it was convenient for them, with whomever was the best person to teach them. Furthermore, last June, Outdoor Afro sent nine climbing leaders to climb Kilimanjaro; the first all black team ever to scale the mountain. “I think some of them still don’t even realize what kind of impact they’ve had on other people around the world, that if they could do it, the single mom from New York City, the teacher from Boston, the retired military vet from DC, if they can each do that and they can each do it together, then others can as well.”
Through these experiences, Outdoor Afro is fostering nationwide community and actively positioning itself to redefine the narrative of what it means to get outdoors. “It’s important for people to see themselves in these spaces and to see themselves in nature and to see themselves rock climbing and hiking and backpacking and camping,” says Castro. “I know it’s an old adage, but if you can see it you can be it. It’s important for us to share these stories so that people are not alone. We need to continue to try and show these communities that we don’t have boundaries and also show children they don’t have any boundaries either.”
Want to get involved with Outdoor Afro? You can identify your local Outdoor Afro chapter and upcoming events via the map on their site here. Be sure to keep up with Outdoor Afro’s latest on Instagram @outdoorafro.