Black people do get outside and their presence is being felt on the trail more than ever thanks to Outdoor Afro.
Outdoor Afro is a not-for-profit national organization that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. In addition, they help people take better care of themselves, their communities, and the planet.
Based out of Oakland, California, and Washington D.C., Outdoor Afro was founded in 2009 by Rue Mapp, a native of Oakland, as a way to reconnect black people to nature and to create community. What started as a simple blog post, quickly grew to include more than 60 volunteer leaders in 28 states serving thousands of people.
In April 2016, Outdoor Afro came to Wisconsin, and since then, there have been 16 outings. Past outings include Jazz in the Park in Milwaukee, a Nature Walk at the Wehr Nature Center, a Thanksgiving Hike at Cherokee Marsh and an Underground Railroad hike in Milton. Outings are announced on Meetup.com and on the Outdoor Afro Facebook page.
Most activities were organized by Cheryl Mitchell, Wisconsin’s Outdoor Afro leader in Milwaukee. By day, she is a business consultant with the Small Business Development Center at UW-Milwaukee. On the weekends, she is an outdoor lover.
She started participating in Outdoor Afro activities when she lived in Silicon Valley in 2010, about a year after Outdoor Afro got started in Oakland. When she moved back to Wisconsin in 2015, she saw the need for a group and decided to become a leader.
Mitchell explained the process, “I applied online and after my application was accepted, I joined the other leaders at our mandatory spring training. We have to take annual training in person plus participate in regular training and support calls throughout the year. In 2016, my first year as a leader, we held our training in Yosemite National Park. This year we were near Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia.”
On Saturday, July 15, she organized an outing in Madison. Seven Outdoor Afros participated in a canoe trip from the Memorial Union to Picnic Point.
“It’s great to know that this exists,” said Kaleem Caire, CEO of One City Early Learning Centers, who discovered the group on Facebook. It was his first event with Outdoor Afro.
Muneebah Abdullah and her son Yahya Ibn Abdul-Jaleel drove from Milwaukee for the event. They found the group online at Meetup.com.
“It’s wonderful and good to share with my son. It’s our first shared experience on the water. Plus, it’s nice to be around other people of color,” Abdullah said.
Her high school son Yahya agreed.
“It’s fun to work things out over the water and nice to be doing activities with other African-American people. I don’t get that opportunity much,” he said.
Mitchell encourages members to try it and to take a risk.
“Just come out and join us, you don’t need to know how to do something. You’ll learn,” she said. “Just bring your enthusiasm and we’ll teach you and support you every step of the way,” she added.
James Mills, founder of the Joy Trip Project and avid outdoors person, concurs, “A lot can be said for creating a place where people can feel comfortable where they are learning something new.”
Even though Mitchell is based in Milwaukee, she hopes to see more activities in Madison and encourages Madisonians to sign up.
“There is a need for a leader in Madison,” she said. “Leadership applications are available at outdoorafro.com.”
Total membership in the Milwaukee and Madison groups sits at 153 on Meetup — with a few more on Facebook — but she wants to see that grow. Membership in Outdoor Afro is free and is available by clicking on Meetup.com and searching for Outdoor Afro Milwaukee-Madison. Members sign up for the trips they are interested in. In addition to Wisconsin, the Midwest boasts Outdoor Afro groups in Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri.
Mitchell’s next outing Outdoor Afro outing is a beginner canoe trip on August 27 in Milwaukee.
In the near future, Mitchell is organizing a camping trip to Lake Ivanhoe in Kenosha County. Lake Ivanhoe was home to an elite black resort that was founded in the 1920s by wealthy Chicagoans, similar to the Oak Bluffs community on Martha’s Vineyard.
“We like to combine outdoor activities with discussion of black history, native American history, and European history. It’s important that people know those who came before us, so that we’re not just claiming what was theirs, but embracing what is ours. Enjoying nature is everyone’s birthright,” she said.
For more information on Outdoor Afro in Wisconsin contact Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.