“What is my role in the Movement for Black Lives?” has become the most critical question of our time.
Written By National Program Director Zoë Polk
Each year, Outdoor Afro enlists individuals from all over the country to advance our agenda: to celebrate and inspire Black connections to nature. Founder and CEO Rue Mapp, launched the Leadership Team to activate Black leadership centered on Black Health and Black Joy in the outdoors. During leader recruitment, we encourage applicants to reflect on how their outdoor leadership fits in with the Movement for Black Lives. At our annual training, we challenge leaders to adopt our strategy for Black outdoor engagement and to return home as “nature community organizers.”
Inspired by Black history, literature, stewardship, music, and radicalism, our leaders have implemented “Black to Nature” tactics in cities including Minneapolis, Oakland, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, and Charleston, cities that by name recall despair, trauma and rage. Cities that we know by other names: Jamar Clark, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.
In 2014, Outdoor Afro issued a call to action for #HealingHikes. Outdoor Afro leaders around the country invited friends, families, church groups and organizations to turn to nature to provide a pathway to healing. In one #HealingHike in Oakland, California, folks descended into the bowl of second growth redwoods and came upon a waterway. The weight of current events held within the light of the beautiful scenery recalled the words of a Negro Spiritual:
Gonna lay down my burden,
Down by the riverside
And on that river bank, participants released their pain and then collectively resolved to take action within their families, workplace and communities.
In 2016, the need for #HealingHikes has continued and Outdoor Afro Leaders have organized forums for communities in response to murders in Orlando, Baton Rouge, and Falcon Heights. In Boston, leader Chaya Harris reflected that after learning about the execution of #AltonSterling, she started the day feeling angry, lost and feeling defeated. That evening she lead a healing hike in the Blue Hills and reflected “Thanks to these Outdoor Afro who joined me, my day’s ending with strength, positive energy and a smile. We shared how we practice self-care, and ways we can support others with mental health. At the end, we felt energized, strong and refreshed.”
In the wake of continued racial discrimination and violence, Outdoor Afro is reaching out to our networks to affirm our commitment to healthy and free Black Lives:
Our Renewed Commitments to You
1) We will continue to create relevant outdoor experiences, including #HealingHikes, that promote Black Health and Black Joy.
2) We will continue to strengthen relationships between our communities and the outdoors by telling known, little known, and unknown stories about Black connections to public parks, watersheds and wilderness. We will continue to reclaim our green spaces.
3) We will continue to urge our network and our communities to take care of themselves, in the spirit of Audre Lorde:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
4) We will continue to cultivate and empower Black Outdoor Leadership. We will steward a network of Black Outdoor Leaders who love each other and the communities they serve.
5) We will continue to lift up legacy of Outdoor Afros in history through their own words:
“Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream”
Our New Commitment
Starting today, Outdoor Afro will launch an open enrollment for our Leadership Team. Motivated individuals who share our values and want to make a difference in their communities can complete an application by visiting our website. We will work with you to ensure every community has access to healing in nature.
We remain grateful to our leaders and network who contribute to our work. While we will never be able to prepare for or inoculate ourselves from injustice, we will continue to heal and move forward in community.