The Ralliers is a collection of interviews with female creators we admire. We look for women who make hard choices in exchange for self-defined lives. You'll leave these stories with wisdom, comfort and beauty too.
My name is Rue Mapp, and I am the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, the not-for-profit organization, and it’s for-profit partner Outdoor Afro, Inc. I’m also a wife and mother of three adult children in a family that loves the outdoors.
How have you broken with traditions or norms created by other people in exchange for a self-defined life?
I think there have been perceptions in recent decades that Black people do not have a connection to the outdoors, but my family history and Black history overall in the United States disprove this. So it’s been very important for me to elevate an asset based relationship with nature in our communities, as well as knowledge about what it means to have expertise to be a leader in outdoor experiences.
Tell us about following your intuition.
In my case it’s been a combination of both intuition and responsive listening. When I started the blog in 2009, the aim was focused on shifting the visual representation of who we imagine gets outside and leads in nature experiences. But over time the community of support wanted more, including help to connect with others; knowledge about where to go and what to do, as well as learn about the best gear and equipment to make their outdoor experiences easier. From this, I decided to create a volunteer network of everyday folks who could lead others in their community in outdoor experiences and partner with several environmental education organizations along with outdoor retail brands over the years to learn and make those learnings relevant to our community. The results supported more conservation ethic and knowledge into our network, and the design of products to accommodate a wider range of bodies, skin shades. and activities.
Tell us about your work.
Of course, there is the oversight of the organizations and the incredible staff I get to work with, but I would say that the overarching thread in everything that I do is centered in connection. I especially appreciate how my work has allowed me to build relationships and connections with people from all over the country, who hail from many backgrounds, I have found that a common connection to nature promotes healing and acceptance, especially across perceived differences.
In spite of the narrative that Black people do not have a relationship with nature, it’s really important for me to elevate those lesser publicized family and community histories of joyous and generative connections to nature.
What do you most want us to know about Black people connecting to nature?
In spite of the narrative that Black people do not have a relationship with nature, it’s really important for me to elevate those lesser publicized family and community histories of joyous and generative connections to nature. I absolutely believe that my work, which is greatly inspired by my father AC Levias, is rooted in the Black family’s, outdoor traditions — there are so many examples of how outdoor recreation and lifestyle were a part of normal life even in the middle of segregation and codified exclusion of Black people from public lands and pools.
Tell us about your style of living.
I would say two key themes that run through everything that I do are belonging and beauty. I absolutely love creating or being a part of communities that provide joy, healing, and comfort. I also turn to nature as an example of beauty that is simply perfect in its order and balance, when we step back and just allow it to be. I’m also a huge fan of great design for the built environment as well as for fashion that meets people where they are to enjoy the outdoors in elevated and fashionable.
What do you most want other women to know?
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, and coming of age in the 90s the message that you can do it all and have it all at the same time I have found to be impractical! While I’m very proud of all of the accomplishments that I’ve been able to attain through my work, it’s not been easy to balance everything well simultaneously, so I would encourage all women to choose a cadence that allows you to take the time to focus on nurturing a family while building a meaningful career in a way that does not burn your candle from both ends!
Friendship is also super important, and it’s been the gift that has kept giving to indulge in my lifelong friends so that I may have time to just be me in a circle of trust, joy, and support
Even if you don’t have a solid friend and family network, it’s never too late to build or join one! I continue to find so much joy, support, and fulfillment in my church, neighborhood group, sorority, and most recently my ladies golf club!
Based on what your life has taught you, what do you know that all women would benefit from?
We are living in unprecedented times of opportunity as women. In my mother and grandmother’s generation, one could hope to be a secretary, a nurse, or a school teacher - but for many Black women in as recent as the 1950s and 60s being a domestic was most attainable for many.
When I think about what our lives can be today, and the path that I’ve chosen as a wife, mother, and professional, it tickles me that I get to be my female ancestor’s wildest dream! So I hope women can tap into their own family's wildest dreams and celebrate this even when life feels overwhelming and complicated in the present.
What do you know now that you didn't know last year?
That it is absolutely OK to say no and that empty spaces on the calendar do not mean I am available or they need to be filled. I have gotten better at signaling to others when I need more moments to plan, transition, or just dream.
What are you searching for?
I’m always searching for connection, always and it pains me personally to experience the impact of the things that can divide us in these times in our society — and even in our families.
I’m also curious about whether or not we can define what is good “enough” - or what does winning look like from any given perspective? How will we know when that has been attained?
What brings you ease?
Before starting my day, and allowing emails and social media to bombard me with this or that thing, I take time to meditate on a Bible verse of the day and settle into silence and contemplation for what I’m grateful for or what unanswered questions or concerns I may have in that moment. I also reflect on past concerns to recognize progress or prayers answered. This grounding practice is like an anchor and if I skip this routine I can definitely feel the difference!
I also workout with a personal weight trainer twice a week, and mix in other activities such as hiking, lap swimming, or golfing. As I age, maintaining regular physical activity has become even more important and has made a positive difference for my overall health.
Something you've just discovered.
I just had a wonderful experience of discovery and connection with my dear sister Delane for our first time in Norway on a Hurtigruten cruise at the start of the summer! I’m a big foodie, so the culinary adventure offered during our trip was over the top! I even tried to seal meat! We absolutely experienced incredible nature adventures together as well — and I also loved the easy and elegant simplicity of Scandinavian fashion and design almost everywhere we went that gave me a lot of inspiration. I look forward to weaving into my own home environment and wardrobe.
Share a good read, watch, or listen.
I’m enjoying a lot of podcasts these days and love to mix up my listening ecosystem so I can hear diverse stories and better understand more points of views - Bari Weiss’ Honestly is my latest follow - she’s such a thoughtful and fair interviewer. I also enjoy East Bay Yesterday with Liam O’Donahue as I am a total Oakland (my hometown) history geek, but I also love a good reality recap with Carlos King too!
Something you've recently created.
The two biggest things in this last year are my book, Nature Swagger, and my Outdoor Afro, Inc. X REI product collaboration. Those two things have given back to me so much more than I gave through learning and positive community impact!
A gift you gave someone.
I’m a huge flower giver. I don't know if there is a woman on the planet who would refuse them, and it especially brings me great joy to give just because flowers to my mother in law whenever I can!
1. Lean into your faith (or higher power) with a spirit of gratitude
2. Spend time in nature daily (neighborhood walks, and bird watching from your kitchen window count!)
3. Cultivate a trusted relationship with a mentor who can be your cheerleader, advisor, and coach!
4. If you travel a lot for work, be sure to take real vacations were you absolutely unplug, rest, and recharge with you and your loved ones
5. Invest in professional development and networks beyond your own line of work to develop new connections, ideas, and inspiration!
P.S. The pieces in our stories are always authentically picked. When purchased, we sometimes receive compensation in return. Thank you for supporting!
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