Vermont Dialog: Reclaiming the outside and discovering Black pleasure

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When Rue Mapp walks, she doesn’t just smell flowers and enjoy the view. She breaks barriers.

Mapp challenges the idea that nature is only for white people. In 2009, she founded Outdoor Afro, a blog to “reconnect Black people with the outdoors through education, recreation and outdoor conservation.” Today, Outdoor Afro is a national nonprofit operating in 60 cities with more than 100 volunteers guiding 60,000 participants on everything from forest walks to bird hikes to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“It wasn’t part of our national narrative to even think about black people and their connection to nature, so I set out to change the narrative about who we think is going outside,” Mapp told the Vermont Conversation.

The problem is not in nature.

“Nature is inviting. The trees don’t know what color you are. The flowers will bloom no matter how much money is in your account. The birds will sing no matter who you chose. So nature is not to blame. It’s just people and guidelines,” she said.

Mapp was referring to the Jim Crow era, when public pools and recreation areas had “Whites Only” signs. One consequence: Black children did not learn to swim and drown up to ten times more often than white children.

“Besides this exclusion, besides this obviously racist reality, there was a persistence by black people to find their destinations in nature,” Mapp said. In 2019, Outdoor Afro launched an initiative to teach 100,000 black children and their caregivers to swim.

People & Places

Tags: BIPOC Women, Outdoor Education, Outdoor Recreation, Podcast, Rue Mapp, Vermont Conversation

About David

David Goodman is an award-winning journalist and author of a dozen books, including four New York Times bestsellers, which he co-authored with his sister, Democracy Now! Hostess Amy Goodman. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, New York Times, Outside, Boston Globe and other publications. He is the host of The Vermont Conversation, a VTDigger podcast featuring in-depth interviews on local and national issues. The Vermont Conversation is also an hour-long weekly radio show aired on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. on WDEV/Radio Vermont.

Email: [email protected]

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