Meet the Kilimanjaro Team – #OAClimbsKili

By Chaya Harris
What do you picture when you think of Mount Kilimanjaro? Majestic views and dynamic landscapes? Master mountaineers? Add accountants, teachers, and office managers who love Gummi Bears and PB&J to your thoughts!
In June, 11 Outdoor Afro Leaders from across the country will hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain at 19,341 feet. To be part of this expedition team, we had to apply; we wrote essays demonstrating why we would be a strong fit for the team (we’re serious, y’all). Rue Mapp, Outdoor Afro’s founder and CEO, and her executive team chose us to further our mission internationally because of our unique skills, ability to collaborate as a team and share our experience with as many people as we can.

Before, during and after our expedition – it’s a journey, more than a hike – you’ll often hear from me, Chaya, and our other co-leader, Katina. I’m a 33-year-old educator in the Boston Public Schools and it’s my second year as an Outdoor Afro Leader. Katina is also a second-year leader, living in New York City, with a fantastic three-year old daughter. She’s a “recovering” lawyer, who now works in the education nonprofit sector. Together, we’re helping build team skills and facilitating leadership lessons.

Chaya Harris, co-leader
Chaya Harris, co-leader

Katina Grays, co-leader
Katina Grays, co-leader

We will keep you updated on all things Kili via and #OAClimbsKili on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our team will share how we’re training, what inspires us, and hopefully, empower you through leadership in the outdoors. As we get to know more about our teammates, you will too!  

Alora: Thoughtful, 27-year-old Marketing and Communications Manager and single dog mom in Minnesota. Why is she climbing Kili? Because she’s our ancestors’ wildest dreams, and she wants to aim high and make them proud.
Brittany: 28-year-old Teacher, Outdoor Instructor and renaissance woman who loves climbing and Gummi Bears. If you have a question about the Appalachian Trail, she probably has the answer. She’s hiked about 200 miles on the AT!
Leandra: First-year leader blazing trails in Albuquerque, New Mexico while snacking on carrots and cucumbers. She’s 25, works as a Coalition Coordinator, enjoys yoga and has two dogs.
Olatunde (Ola): One of our leaders in Austin who works as a Manager of Internal Controls and Compliance. He’s married, has two daughters, and swimming is his favorite way to train for Kilimanjaro. He likes homemade turkey jerky and Cashew trail mix while exploring the outdoors.
Ray: Cool, 59-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, Federal Analyst and father in D.C. who loves to snack on peanut butter and jelly while enjoying hiking, snowboarding, camping and lots of mountain biking to train for Kilimanjaro.
Stephen: 33-year-old Senior Product Development Food Scientist, husband and father of three in Minnesota. He’s researched a lot about training for Kili, yet basic squats are still his favorite exercise.  
Tarik: 34-year-old Accountant and father of three celebrating his 10-year wedding anniversary in June. In addition to outdoor activities, he enjoys watching the Eagles at home in Philadelphia. Let’s hope Tarik and Ola bring some homemade jerky to Kili!
Valerie: Hiking Kili is a 60th birthday present for Valerie! She’s been married for more than 30 years, has two sons and a daughter, and enjoys skating, bicycling, skiing, paddling, almost any -ing, outdoors.
Wandi: Celebrates her 55th birthday on our expedition in June! She is a program director in Atlanta, world traveler and swimming enthusiast who is single and ready to mingle.

Katina and I have also the fun stuff like selfies covered, while expert guides Phil Henderson and Rosemary Saal will be our technical leaders on the 8-day Machame Route. Phil is a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) veteran, works as a craftsman at Osprey, and has decades of trekking experience, including Denali and Everest. He’s like a present-day Matthew Henson!
Alora, Phil, Ray

You may have seen Rosemary in American Ascent, a film about the first African-American expedition to tackle Denali, which is North America’s tallest peak at more than 20,000 feet!  She grew up enjoying outdoor recreation and has led groups through varying terrain in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and Patagonia among other regions.

On our team, we have an REI outdoor school instructor, and others who have never backpacked! We have world travelers, and people whose trip to Tanzania will be their first international expedition. With twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings, we exemplify not only Black leadership in the outdoors, but also inclusion. We’re aiming to reach the summit, but our adventure is about so much more than the physical 40ish miles. Our expert guides, diverse all Black team, and focus on culture make this a unique adventure; we’ll learn more about Tanzanian traditions and history, like how it was the first country in Africa to establish independence from European rule. 

We’ll work together to practice Swahili, enjoy traditional foods, and stay safe on the expedition as we travel through five challenging biomes. Keeping with Outdoor Afro’s values, we’ll examine the wildlife, vegetation and climate, and learn about conservation with a global perspective – we’re taking better care of the planet!  
Our amazing national partners help make this trip possible. The North Face staff is outfitting us in all-weather apparel, including a Thermoball fleece jacket that has a down section, and a lightweight Gore-Tex rain jacket. KEEN is hooking us up with boots perfect for this climb. We’re choosing some trusted favorites from Columbia, and Clif Bar is providing financial support and nutritional products! We’ll need to eat around 3,000 calories per day for stamina and to help offset altitude sickness. We are grateful for these partners who help us be effective Outdoor Afro leaders.

We would love for you to support our expedition with words of encouragement or donations, both financially and in-kind. Be sure to follow #OAClimbsKili to watch the expedition team’s journey!