Jefferson Award Winner Shares Her Passion For The OutdoorsBy Sharon Chin

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) Rue Mapp shares her love of nature with her group Outdoor Afro.

“Like here, beautiful Lake Merritt, the site of the oldest wildlife sanctuary in the country — a lot of people don’t even know that’s right here, so close to home!” Mapp said, standing at the shore of the lake in Oakland.

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Rue grew up fishing and hunting at her parents’ Lake County ranch and has she’s loved the outdoors all her life. But as an adult, she tried to find other African Americans with the same passion.

“I found I was the only one far too often,” she explained. “So I decided to do something about it.”

She started a blog seeking other outdoor enthusiasts, and discovered:

“People around the country said, ‘Me, too! Me, too!'”

She founded Outdoor Afro in 2009 so African Americans could meet up through social media and enjoy nature together, from bird watching to camping. Today, there are 1800 Bay Area participants, and Mapp has trained 30 members to lead 15 Outdoor Afro branches nationwide. Now more than 5,000 people take part in 15 cities. Mapp has even been to the White House to take part in President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative.

“They all have this fire in their belly to connect other people to nature,” she said.

One of those leaders, naturalist Clay Anderson, says Mapp inspires them all.

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“She brings an attitude of positivity that’s unbounded,” he said with admiration. “We’ve only grown because of it.”

And there’s more to Outdoor Afro: Mapp says the activities aren’t just about connecting African Americans with the outdoors, but also with their shared history.

Jamylle Carter recalls one outing, where participants pondered the legacy of poet Maya Angelou.

“It was just so much more about the hike and just nature,” she said. “It was a way of honoring our ancestors as well.”

The group also took “healing hikes” after the Ferguson riots, pouring out their hearts under the redwoods.

“We did what African Americans have always known we could do: that is, to lay down our burdens down by the riverside,” Mapp said.

But Mapp also has a saying: “You don’t have to have an Afro to be an Outdoor Afro.” Everyone is welcome. People of several ethnicities joined the outing when KPIX 5 was with her at Lake Merritt.

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So for connecting African Americans with the beauty and power of nature, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Rue Mapp.