Outdoor Afro welcomes two new board members

Two outdoor leaders, Nik Dehejia and Maria Louise Hekker, joined Outdoor Afro’s Board of Directors to help support the not-for-profit organization’s nature and community work across America. “I have known and respected the pioneering and innovative work of both Nik and Maria for more than two decades combined,” said Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp. “They each bring deep and accomplished expertise in both nonprofit and business leadership.”

Dehejia and Hekker started their two-year terms with Outdoor Afro during the board’s annual retreat and training that took place November 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Board members can serve up to four consecutive two-year terms. As Dehejia and Hekker entered the board, founding Board Chair Beth Pratt concluded eight years with Outdoor Afro as a board member.

In addition to her roles as board chair and California regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, Pratt advocated for the protection of P-22 and the building of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing bridging U.S. Route 101. “Beth has been there for me and Outdoor Afro from before the founding of the organization as we know it today,” said Mapp. “She and I are so fortunate to share a personal and professional sisterhood that has pushed us to achieve innovation, social entrepreneurship, and overall disruption and elevation of expected conservation nonprofit outcomes.”

Mapp added about Pratt as a colleague and friend: “She alone has changed how our organization – and the world – thinks about the role and care of wildlife in our society. Her imprint on me as a friend, and especially on the work of Outdoor Afro, will be felt and honored for generations to come.” Board Secretary Dawn O’Neal will replace Pratt as Outdoor Afro’s 2023 board chair. O’Neal also serves as a vice president of the National Audubon Society, working with peers across the country to shape and deliver national objectives, initiatives, and processes.

Board of Directors advise and support the organization’s annual activities. Photo by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Dehejia is a 16-year veteran of Oakland Zoo. He serves as the zoo’s chief executive officer, helping to advance the zoo’s future in both wildlife conservation and as a visitor destination. He’s also a board member of the Regional Parks Foundation, Visit Oakland, and the Wildlife Restoration Foundation. Before Oakland Zoo, Dehejia worked in international public policy at the World Resources Institute and World Bank, in corporate responsibility at Business for Social Responsibility, and in a more traditionally commercial role at Levi Strauss & Co. 

Hekker holds more than 35 years of business, management, operations, and legal service with public, private, and nonprofit entities. She has spent a lifetime outdoors and appreciates Outdoor Afro’s focus on joy and healing in local communities. Hekker’s experience also includes more than three decades on several nonprofit boards; countless volunteer hours; two years as a chief operating officer for a consulting startup; a decade as general counsel for a public company; and five years in the San Francisco and Milan offices of an international law firm.  Currently, she serves on the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Inc., Hunter College High School Alumnae/i Association, Inc., and Executive Group for the Friends of the Glen Park Greenway boards.

Outdoor Afro started as a social enterprise for Mapp in 2009. She incorporated Outdoor Afro in 2015 as a 501(c)(3) and has led the organization since as its founder and CEO. The organization has grown from a one-woman blog and three founding board members to 12 full-time staff and a 13-member Board of Directors. Its operating budget has grown from a modest $110,000 in revenue in 2015 to now more than $2.5 million – largely from foundations, individuals, and corporate partners supported by its board’s subject matter experts and guidance. “At this moment of rapid growth for Outdoor Afro,” Mapp said, “it is so clear to me that Maria, Nik, and Dawn each have the ability to contribute greatly to our mission and support our critical work.”

ABOUT OUTDOOR AFRO: Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. What started as a kitchen table blog by Founder and CEO Rue Mapp in 2009 has since grown into a cutting-edge nationwide network with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities with network participation reaching 60,000 people. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Follow Outdoor Afro at outdoorafro.org and @outdoorafro today.

Outdoor Afro hosts more than 1,200 in-person and virtual events within its four regions: Midwest, Northeast, South, and West. Photo by Joe Klementovich