Group working to get more African Americans to enjoy great outdoors

BY JENNIFER DEMOSS jdemoss@newsobserver.com

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Hikers take in the scenery after descending the steps during the Outdoor Afro trip to Eno River State Park.

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Hikers on the Eno River Outdoor Afro hike take a moment to cool off.

On a hot July afternoon at Eno River State Park in Durham, a group of hikers assembled. The day had been unbearably muggy, and a thunderstorm loomed in the distance. Despite the sweat streaming down a few faces, the group was there for a hike, and they weren’t giving up.

The hikers were part of the Raleigh-Durham network of “Outdoor Afro,” a national organization aimed at getting African Americans outdoors.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Outdoor Afro’s conception in Oakland, California. Yanira Castro, the nonprofit’s communication director, said that last year Outdoor Afro connected about 35,000 people in the United States with nature through activities such as hiking, camping, rock climbing and cycling.

Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp first started what she called “a kitchen table blog” on her outdoor activities out of her Oakland home. She explained how she developed a love for the outdoors through her adoptive parents, who had left the Jim Crow South in the 1940s and built a rural paradise north of Oakland.

Mapp said the blog came about after she noticed that she didn’t always see a lot of other African Americans enjoying the outdoors or see many representations of that in advertising. When interest in her blog began to pick up, she put out a call for more African American leaders to begin guiding outdoor trips.

“I think there are these old stereotypes of black people that black people don’t swim or camp,” Castro explained. “Outdoor Afro shows people there are other people like you who you can go outside with and feel comfortable. We say it’s like finding your tribe.”

Beky Branagan was one of the first Outdoor Afro leaders, and she’s been exploring nature with participants in the Triangle area for eight years. The Raleigh-Durham network now has more than 3,000 members.

Branagan recalled an OA trip to hike Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the hikers wasn’t in the best shape and decided she would rest on a bench while the rest walked to the top. But as the group was enjoying the view from the top, strangers began telling them the woman who had stayed behind was now headed their way.

“All of the people that just happened to be climbing that day were cheering her on her way up Clingmans Dome and she made it up,” said Branagan.

 

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