Why a training is Outdoor Afro’s ‘most wonderful time of year’

Hold it in the same regard as a family reunion. By design, booked in nature. Outdoor Afro Leadership Training’s itinerary weaves in traditional reunion experiences: the initial meet-and-greet, park picnics, historical nature tours, and that closing banquet (Soul Train line included) to celebrate one another before departing. Nicknamed OALT, the now 11-year learning event hosted by national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro takes place Friday, April 28, to Sunday, April 30 in Bainbridge, Washington.

“This year our training welcomes 21 new volunteer leaders and 82 returning ones,” said Outdoor Afro’s National Program Director Chaya Harris. Leaders will assemble at IslandWood, a 250-acre campus on Bainbridge Island, with staff, board members, and select partners. The annual training hosts both veteran and Class of 2023 leaders for customized, educational moments to understand Outdoor Afro’s brand story and teach these nature navigators how to guide their neighborhoods sustainably and safely in modern times.

When Outdoor Afro Leadership Team applications opened November 2022, the organization received 98 submissions to become a 2023 volunteer leader. The word of mouth about the transformative opportunity traveled fast across the United States. At OALT, the organization shares its values, framework, and best practices to host and lead outdoor activities with volunteers. These 21st-century leaders also gain industry scholarship in areas such as health impacts on nature, basics to trip planning, conservation ethics, effective social media storytelling strategies, and risk management.

“It’s really a hands-on, interactive training,” said Harris. “Designed to enhance our volunteers skills as facilitators, we provide a range of workshops – from risk mitigation to easy steps for brewing your favorite coffee or tea while in the outdoors – all with a Black joy focus.” April 2022, the training massed in Granby, Colorado, at Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountains. TikTok-qualifying trails, snow-blanketed mountaintops, and lush wildlife girdled the professional development days that followed. In unison with Earth Day’s “Invest in Our Planet” charge, OALT 2023 explores and localizes outdoor conservation, recreation, and education conversations.

Outdoor Afro invites expert guest speakers and designated partners to the training to share field insights and encouragement to volunteer leaders. After training, leaders originate and host monthly network activities that foster local program collaborations and help strengthen neighborhood relationships with land, wildlife, and water. Yearlong, leaders plan and shepherd nature-rich experiences like fishing, backpacking, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, gardening, skiing, horseback riding, nature journaling, geocaching, biking, bird watching, and more. Network events nationwide center joy and healing while also disrupting a false perception that Black people do not have a relationship to nature.

Outdoor Afro formed 14 years ago. OALT established in 2012 with just a dozen volunteer outdoor enthusiasts. Each took the call to learn directly from Founder and CEO Rue Mapp about how to inspire and guide unforgettable experiences in nature. “We now have 35 networks nationwide with three new ones in Kansas City, Missouri; Norfolk, Virginia; and Burlington, Vermont,” Harris said. “A truly intergenerational group, our volunteers range in age from their 20s to their 60s. All eager to guide their neighborhoods in nature this year.”

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 organization with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities. “Where Black people and nature meet,” Outdoor Afro impacts more than 60,000 people annually in nature through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Visit outdoorafro.org and @outdoorafro to learn more.

*illustrations by Dajah Callen