Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

A quick chat with… Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro Rue Mapp

Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of California-based Outdoor Afro. (Contributed photo)

Rue Mapp is on a roll.

The founder and CEO of California-based Outdoor Afro, Mapp has appeared across outdoors media platforms recently with feature stories about her minority hunter-recruitment efforts in Outdoor Life, Meateater television, as well as public-speaking engagements at the Outdoor Writers Association of America conference and the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers annual rendezvous earlier this summer.

She also has a new book coming out this fall entitled, “Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors.”

A National Wildlife Federation Communication Award recipient, Mapp spent 30 minutes with Outdoor News via phone in August, sharing her vision for her organization as well as broader hunter recruitment efforts and some of her hunting experiences.

ON: You founded Outdoor Afro writing a blog from your kitchen table in 2009. How big is it now?

Mapp: We have programs in 40 states and 56 cities. We activate our work through a recruited and trained volunteer network. Those are folks all over the country, and we’ve been fortunate to have representation from New York to Ohio, Chicago, Detroit, as well as the Twin Cities. We’re in 50 states!”

ON: Your outdoors journey started with some family property that your dad owned, a hobby fruit farm. You call that a “base camp” and it seems core to so many people’s hunting and outdoor story whatever their race, creed, or color. How do we provide access to the people who didn’t have that sort of base camp like you did?

Mapp: That’s what Outdoor Afro is all about: providing that sort of base camp/family reunion experience for people. My work has values my father gave me – the value of hospitality, the value of welcoming, the value of helping people discover places they didn’t know existed or feel comfortable discovering on thei r own. My work is about helping people feel welcome in those places.”

ON: In a chat with Hal Herring via the BHA podcast, you said you like hunting because, unlike an academic exam, you can be totally prepared and still fail. Why do you consider that an asset to hunting?

Mapp: Once you get to be 40 to 50 years old and you have your professional chops in the field you’re in, there are fewer opportunities for adults to become learners. I feel like hunting is one of those activities that allows you to be new and vulnerable again. Kinda smacks that ego a little bit, too.

It’s not all about you out there or how much money you spent on your gear. It’s about factors you can’t control. Animals may not show up. Weather may get in the way.”

ON: Let’s talk R3 programs – recruitment, reactivation, and retention. Some folks at Outdoor News have been mildly critical of R3 because there’s a lot of focus on taking kids fishing to an event, then we never hear from them again. Are these programs working? Do they need refinement?

Mapp: I believe these programs are coming from a good place. I, for example, didn’t cut my teeth coming up through the conservation community, so I don’t have any natural attachment to all of these acronyms we associate with it. I come at it from realworld experience as I try new things in the outdoors.

In general, whether we’re talking R3 or any kind of engagement work, when we’re connecting with youth, it’s cute, it makes us feel good, it photographs well, but I find that it’s a very self-serving experience. Yes, you feel good about doing something wondrous and magical and memorable. But young people are attached to families, and families are attached to communities. Children do not come home and turn their families into environmental stewards.

The story is like a broken record: We take this mythical kid from a bad neighborhood then insert any outdoor experience – hiking, hunting, camping – kid has a hard time, then a breakthrough, then child goes home and becomes an environmental steward.

That is a conservation fairy tale. What really happens is kids go home and their parents ask – and I know because I’m a mom of three – “How was your field trip?” and they say, “Oh fine.” And that, I introduce to you, is the terminus of your work.

So Outdoor Afro has been deliberately multi-generational for that reason, recognizing that parents and caregivers need nature, too. When I find a family comes into this experience, it’s a lot more likely that they’ll be able to incorporate that experience into their own life. And people need multiple touches. I didn’t get here through one backpacking trip; it was the family ranch, Girl Scouts, and the many groups I’ve participated in that built that viewpoint.

ON: What’s the reaction to you being outdoors? As an African American woman afield, do you feel welcome?

Mapp: Yeah. Sure, there are fears and perceptions out there that are informed by some of our past where there was exclusion, Jim Crow-style. But I’m thankful in these times we live today that these are not our day-to-day realities. In fact, the problem these days is sometimes feeling over-welcomed.

Where people go out of their way to make me feel welcome, and I’m just, “OK, just chill a bit. It’s cool.”

ON: You’ve describe yourself as a fidgety hunter. Many folks reading this have struggled with that on a deer stand. How’d you overcome it?

Mapp: Just practice … as well as enduring glares from my fellow hunters asking, “Why are you pulling out that wrapper right now?” I’ve gotten better. Hunting offers an exercise in stillness and raising awareness of your surroundings.

When you’re living in a world that invites multi-tasking as a norm, hunting is a complete re-set of that way of being. You just need to have your senses sharp and work on being undetectable.

ON: In one interview you talked about the term “future-tripping” What is that?

Mapp: It’s when we sometimes get so wound up about what’s going to happen instead of worrying about the thing we’re doing. I think we need to be more in the moment. Hunting has been a great platform for me to stay in the “right here, right now.” Because really right now is all we have.

ON: Earlier this summer in Michigan, the state’s DNR received some critical comments for sponsoring a “black hiking event.” Can you explain why you think such events are necessary to those who might say, “Why can’t it just be a hiking event?” Why is a group like Outdoor Afro necessary?

Mapp: Another way to think about it is if other types of events were welcoming and engaging with broader communities, there wouldn’t be a need for it. It’s not about exclusion, it’s about invitation. You’ve got to make a compelling invitation for people to say, “Yeah, that’s for me.”

It’s about getting specific about the invitation versus a call out to exclude anyone. I find that once people get comfortable in this broad conversation of the outdoors, they do things on their own, and they feel more comfortable joining larger groups.

Trust me, I joined my fair share of groups that are not racially specified, and they almost always tend to be white and people are performing at a level that I’ve not yet developed to. And I know how it feels to be the only black person in an entire activity or group and not feel up to the level to participate.

So when you create affinity groups, people can dig in, relate to each other, find a bond. I think back to the moms groups when I was a new mother and finding that common ground.

ON: Have a favorite hunting trip or experience?

Mapp: I love duck hunting.

That’s my favorite. Duck hunting brings together a lot of things that bring me joy and peace, like I love being out in the blind in the dark and hearing how the world opens up and hearing the layers of sounds and music from the environment. It’s water. And ducks are just so damned tasty.

ON: Congratulations on some pending nuptials in September.

Mapp: Yep, I’m getting married to the man of my dreams who also has gotten into hunting and will share a hunting blind with me for life.

Learn more about Rue Mapp’s organization online at www.outdoorafro.com.

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