Outdoor Afro commemorates Juneteenth through 2023 ‘Freedom to Access Water’ theme

Black community connections to local waterways aren’t always the easiest conversations or experiences to navigate across nationwide neighborhoods. “When we look specifically at access to public swimming pools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research persistently shows that the drowning rate of Black children is more than 7.6 times that of white children,” said Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of national not-for-profit organization Outdoor Afro. The statistic ties to the historic prohibition of Black entry onto beaches and into public pools.


To change the course of this particular water woe, Outdoor Afro centers its third annual Juneteenth (June 19) theme on “Freedom to Access Water” – coupling the federal holiday with the organization’s fifth annual Making Waves program. Launching right after Juneteenth, Making Waves’ goal is to teach up to 1,000 Black children and their caregivers how to swim within Outdoor Afro’s sphere of influence. On June 19, Outdoor Afro will extend its nature invitation to U.S. communities, which is simply to join the organization outside to commemorate Juneteenth. Preferably near water sources people enjoy visiting individually or with family and friends. To rest. Reflect. Heal in the outdoors for 2.5 hours.

“We want to stay fixed on the true essence of Juneteenth at Outdoor Afro,” said Mapp. “The false narrative is that this holiday symbolizes a celebration to ending slavery; however, this label  just isn’t accurate.” Instead, June 19, 1865, documents the date 250,000 enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. Good news, indeed. The only problem: Enslaved people received the announcement 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation (signed Jan. 1, 1863) went into effect. 

Outdoor Afro uses its community and nature work to educate the general public about the correct meaning behind Juneteenth and how significant freedom and time – in its many interpretations – is to everyone. Outdoor Afro’s National Program Director Chaya Harris leads the organization’s Making Waves program. She matches families and individuals with select sites that offer swim lessons through the program. “We’re asking the public, supporters, partners, and our local networks to spend just 2.5 hours in nature on Juneteenth,” said Harris. “It’s a great way to focus on Making Waves and reach our 1,000 Swimmership goal with a new generation of confident swimmers and swim instructors.” 

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 movement with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities with network participation reaching more than 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. Illustrations by Dajah Callen.