Rue Mapp developed a love for the outdoors as a child. Her parents were southerners raising her in California and they celebrate connection and community in nature.
In 2009, Mapp created Outdoor Afro, an organization designed to encourage more Black people to connect and commune in nature. Her new book, Nature Swagger, is her newest effort to reinforce Black freedom and liberty outside. The culmination of years of outdoor adventure, Nature Swagger spotlights over three dozen stories from Black people who have experienced the joys of nature.
“Outdoor Afro has been so deliberate, since its beginning as a blog from my kitchen table in 2009, as a way to tell a new narrative about Black people and the outdoors as well as help shift the visual representation of who we imagine gets outside,” Mapp said.
Nature Swagger is bursting with delightful and heartwarming stories, action-filled pictures, and raw emotion. Beyond shining a light on being Black outdoors, Mapp’s book shifts the narrative about how Black people engage with nature.
Reclaiming The Outdoors
Mapp initially created Outdoor Afro to make an impact. She was tired of hearing about all the things Black people didn’t do outside. Whether it was hiking, fishing, swimming, or hunting, she kept hearing tall tales about how people of color simply weren’t involved in outdoor activities.
What began as a blog has turned into a community of over 60,000 members. Outdoor Afro now has outdoor leaders facilitating group meet-ups and events in 30 states and 60 cities across the US.
“This is beyond influencer,” she said. “This is about creating an organizational legacy for our community.”
Mapp recognizes some people may not understand how to get outside safely and comfortably. So her outdoor leaders help members navigate outdoor experiences. She also understands the outdoors has had a negative stigma in the Black community.
“We can turn to the lyrics of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit to know that Black bodies hung from trees,” she said. “So we also grew up with those warnings in our family that going out into those remote woods were not going to be safe places for us.”
Realizing these histories aren’t that far behind, Mapp is aiming to change that stigma through Outdoor Afro and her new book. Nature doesn’t care about skin tone and Mapp plans to show more people of color how to embrace the great outdoors free of fear.
“The point of this book, by intention, is for connection and relatability,” she said.
Swagged Out In Nature
Believing her new literary work is a conduit to freedom outdoors, Mapp hopes to spark a reconnection between nature and the Black community. Nature Swagger is an anthology of joyous, inspiring stories about beautiful moments spent outside
“It’s a story I feel hasn’t been told or shared in this way and we need that,” she said. “We need to have it, not just positive for the sake of being positive, but to really shape and take back the narrative of who gets outside.”
The book’s contributors come from different ages and backgrounds across the US. The oldest writer is 99 and the youngest is 9-year-old providing a wide range of outdoor experiences to learn from.
“This book is about shining a bright light on how we enter the outdoor space and define it for ourselves but it’s also a story of what it means to be Black and American in this country and our rightful ownership and engagement with our public land that belongs to everyone,” she said.
Nature Swagger’s collection of stories is shifting the narrative of what it means to be Black outside. For decades, Black people have been excluded from the mainstream narrative of outdoor adventure. Mapp’s new book aims to change that storyline into a more inclusive space where nature can define anyone anywhere.
“I always knew I wanted to memorialize and immortalize the experiences I’d continued to learn about and from my childhood, but I also wanted to tell the stories of people from all over,” she said.
Controlling Our Stories
Nature Swagger puts the narrative of the outdoors back into the hands of the culture. With its powerful words and dynamic images, Mapp’s book paints a different picture from the norm. She portrays Black people in beautiful natural landscapes enjoying life happily in bliss.
“Visual representation matters and it cuts across language and literacy,” she said. “To be able to show a picture to anyone of any background is a window into a story.”
Transforming the image of the Black experience outside, Nature Swagger is a true delight. It was created to sharpen the depiction of the Black outdoorsman and reinforce the community’s real connection to the earth.
“There’s a way that the joy and love that we find through outdoor experiences has this possibility to transform, not only our lives, but the world that we live in,” she said.
Unfortunately, Mapp has noticed a decrease in the number of Black people spending time outdoors. Screens have replaced vital time with nature. She hopes Outdoor Afro and Nature Swagger will help people of color return to the outdoors.
“We have reached a crisis where kids and adults are spending way too much time in front of screens and it’s costing us,” she said.
Mapp realizes getting outside can be harder than it seems for some people. Limited access to transportation, lack of time, and being unsure of what to do can discourage someone from engaging in outdoor activities.
“For some people, it’s super intimidating to go out and do a new thing in a place you’ve never been and you don’t know what’s going to be there,” she said. “So we recognize all the ‘yes’s’ it takes to get people into the outdoors for the first time.”
She hopes her new book inspired people and moves them to take action. Mapp wants Nature Swagger to cultivate an inclusive space for Black people to thrive outdoors. It’s her desire to make being Black outdoors ordinary again.
“Nature Swagger is a state of being for us to find our confidence, our knowingness and the ways that nature can really work with our lives and, not be something over there, but be a recognition that nature is who we are,” she said.
For those who want to get outside but are unsure where to start, Mapp suggests connecting with the closest Outdoor Afro leader in your area. This network of Black outdoorsmen is designed to help others find and embrace their own nature swagger.
“It’s important to remember that a connection with nature starts with yourself and the nature in you,” she said.
Mapp’s book Nature Swagger is available now for pre-order.