Featured image: Rue Mapp, founder of Outfoor Afro, is the 2023 JourneyWoman Award winner | Photo provided by Rue Mapp
Our 2023 JourneyWoman Award Winner shares the ethos and inspiration for her new book
by Carolyn Ray
Now more than ever, many of us find healing and stillness in nature. In a world where we are often overwhelmed with information, nature reminds us we are a part of the earth and that we are all connected. But is nature really separate from us? Or is it a part of us?
“From my perspective, nature is not someplace that begins the moment you step onto a trail in a remote wooded area,” she says. “Instead, nature is who we are, and what we’re made up of as human animals. It is the air that we breathe that was once rain – it is the responsiveness our bodies have with the lunar cycle, which is not surprising, given the majority of what makes us up is water. Therefore, we are all walking tides.”
2023 JourneyWoman Award winner Rue Mapp
Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors
Nature is the theme of Mapp’s latest book, “Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors”, recently published in November 2022.
Written during the pandemic, “Nature Swagger” documents Mapp’s personal experiences while pioneering and is intended to shift the representation of Black people in nature from victimhood to being represented as strong, beautiful, and free.
“Nature Swagger was important to bring forth because it was a continuation of the stories that began in the form of a blog in 2009,” Mapp says. “These are the experiences that I grew up with, and lived in for all of my life, yet the contemporary narrative was so much about exclusion and a lack of media representation that made the idea of Black people having agency in nature seem like a far-flung idea.”
It was important to Mapp that the book be filled with many different stories and images to show the richness and diversity of Black experiences all across the United States.
“Our youngest contributor was only nine years old, and our eldest was 99 at the time of printing,” she says. “There are stories and photos of everything from bird watching through a kitchen window to community gardening, to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania! In the end, it is a love letter and an invitation for everyone to share their own story in nature.”
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Her happy place in nature
Where will you find her? Mapp says her happy place is the stands of redwoods that live along the far west edges of California’s central and north coast.
“These fog-loving trees are still sometimes found in their ancient form, but today in the San Francisco Bay area where I live, we have the most access to the second and third generations of those fallen ancient trees that grow in the footprints of their elders who were taken to meet the booming demand for housing and such during the California gold rush,” she says. “What is remarkable about the redwoods today is that they were able to return, and now thrive. I have often gone to the redwoods to meditate on what it means to have things in your life be clear-cut, and what it means to regenerate to become mighty and strong again.”
Inspiring the next generation of women
“Hope is what defines my life,” Mapp says. “Especially as I think about my own grandmother, who worked as a domestic cook. If you had told her that her granddaughter would have the chance to lead a national movement and impactful business that would open the door to careers and travel for more Black people (especially women) all around the United States and abroad, she would not have believed you! But perhaps she did dream of that possibility, yet it might have been considered a wild one!
So today I’m present and thankful to be my grandmother’s hope and wildest dream – and I encourage Black women all around to contemplate what their own grandmother’s dream might have been for them, and to be the wildest version of it too!
About Rue Mapp and Outdoor Afro
A mother of three, Mapp is an awarded and inspirational leader, speaker, public lands champion and outdoor gear designer. In 2009, Mapp founded the national not-for-profit organization Outdoor Afro, which she established as a social enterprise, to celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. What started as a kitchen table blog is now a national movement with offices in Oakland, California, and Washington, D.C. Today, Outdoor Afro selects and trains more than 100 volunteer leaders who impact more than 60,000 participants across America in 32 states and 60 cities.
Rue Mapp on a kayak adventure
Over the years, Mapp has been recognized with many awards and distinctions. In 2021, she was recognized as an AFAR Travel Vanguard Award recipient, National Geographic 2019 Fellow, Heinz Awards Honoree, and National Wildlife Federation Communication Award recipient (received alongside President Bill Clinton), among many other recognitions. The White House also invited Mapp to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors Conference, which led to her participation in the launch of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.
Named in honour of JourneyWoman founder Evelyn Hannon, who passed away in 2019, the 2024 Award will be presented by JourneyWoman CEO Carolyn Ray at the 2024 Bessie Awards at the Women in Travel Summit, which runs from April 12-14, 2024 in Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah.
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