In the outdoor leisure industry, commitments to inclusion are only worth as much as the actions taken to close the access gap. sun outdoors, a luxury camping company with 175 locations, takes its promise of inclusion seriously. In February 2022, the brand announced a partnership with outdoor afro, a national nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to nature for the black community. Outdoor Afro’s annual leadership training will be held this April at the Sun Outdoors River Run RV Resort in Granby, Colorado. 117 Outdoor Afro leaders from 56 cities will gather for a multi-day leadership training summit.
“One of the key goals since launching our new Sun Outdoors brand has been to find select long-term partnerships that share our passion for the outdoors, sustainability and accessibility,” said Nick DiBella, senior vice president of operations at Sun Outdoors. “Outdoor Afro is a perfect fit because they nurture and are rooted in nature and community, and that’s a big part of what we’re committed to at Sun.”
Annual Outdoor Afro Leadership Training
Church leaders who attend the training represent a wide range of backgrounds. Rue Mapp, CEO of Outdoor Afro, which represents more than 30 states, explained that there is no average profile of a leader in the outdoor Afro community. They come from all ages, professional backgrounds and levels of experience in the great outdoors. Typically, leaders have some prior experience of outdoor recreation and a strong passion for creating black joy through community building.
“It’s not your typical outdoor training experience. It has a homecoming feel, but absolutely has the rigor of helping leaders learn real skills like travel planning and logistics, health impact, environmental ethics and practices, risk management, and effective social media engagement. We also value the storytelling surrounding our community activities, which also highlight Black history in places that help build a sense of connection and belonging for everyone,” Mapp said.
READ: Outdoor Afro connects Colorado’s black community with the outdoors
Historically, passion for the outdoors is passed down from family members through generations. That’s one of the reasons why outdoor recreation is often limited to the white middle class. According to Mapp, Outdoor Afro’s theory of change involves sharing outdoor education and experience through the community, making the process inclusive and accessible. Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders are at the forefront of cultivating this change in their home communities. The summit serves as a catalyst for their development as leaders and outdoor stewards.
Sun Outdoors works with Outdoor Afro
This type of partnership is currently unique. Sun Outdoors and Outdoor Afro hope it will soon become the norm, not the exception. Many outdoor inclusion advocates have been calling for support from the outdoor industry for years. Many have yet to make a real investment in facilitating access to nature for marginalized communities.
READ: 5 organizations making Colorado’s outdoors more inclusive
“We can’t just share our affinity for nature [with Outdoor Afro]but we also have an opportunity to highlight our River Run Resort, which opened in 2019 and just recently completed phase one of development, in addition to all of the natural beauty that exists in Colorado,” said DiBella.
This year’s leadership training includes the largest cohort of Outdoor Afro leaders. Outdoor Afro held its first annual leadership summit in 2012 with a starting class of 12. In 10 years, the cohort grew to over 100. Mapp noted that in recent years 80% of the participants were repeat participants from previous years. Typically, their peaks take place on both coasts. This year sees the first summit in the Rocky Mountains.
“We really couldn’t have hoped for a better way to be introduced to the region and have the physical space that can accommodate people comfortably but also gives us the space to conduct our training that is so important to the success of our leadership is”, said Mapp.
Time spent in nature has been shown to have health benefits, including reducing stress, creating a strong sense of belonging, and releasing endorphins. The black community faces higher rates of chronic health problems, in part due to a historical lack of access to the outdoors. Outdoor Afro works to break down these barriers, and its volunteer leaders are driving these efforts forward in their local communities.
A long-term partnership
For Sun Outdoors and Outdoor Afro, the Leadership Summit is just the beginning of a long-term partnership. The two plan to collaborate on programs throughout the year. This kind of long-term commitment allows Sun Outdoors to continue to support Outdoor Afro’s mission and increase its commitment to expanding inclusion in outdoor recreation.
“Sun strives to be an informed leader in diversity, equity and inclusion transformation, and this initiative provides us with an opportunity to provide the resources to help build a foundation for change. Through its many nature-focused programs, Outdoor Afro has the ability to shape our future leaders and we are very proud to be a part of this crucial effort and hope to be involved in many more of this nature in the future be,” he told DiBella.
Outdoor Afro is one of the leading organizations working to create access and a sense of belonging to nature for the black community. With a network of over 45,000 community members across the country, their partnership with Sun Outdoors could open up more welcoming places for black travelers.
“Outdoor Afro is about really celebrating what it means to be in touch with our humanity and, by extension, with nature. It’s a reminder that nature is not a separate thing out there, that nature is us.” said Mapp.
You can learn more about Sun Outdoors and Outdoor Afro by visiting their websites.