Outdoor Afro names Dr. Mamie A. Parker ‘Lifetime Achievement’ recipient

She ascended to the stage, glimmering in the night’s joy. Her maroon and silver gown sashayed with each quaint step. Bringing the memory of her late mother, Cora Parker – an Arkansas maid and tenant farmer – front stage to celebrate in the moment. Overjoyed, Dr. Mamie A. Parker squeezed Outdoor Afro friend, Founder, and CEO Rue Mapp before the award exchange. It’s the national not-for-profit’s ninth annual fundraiser, Glamp Out, held Oct. 20, 2023. Mamie, 66, recently received Outdoor Afro’s distinguished “Lifetime Achievement” award at Bloc15 in Oakland for her decades of innovative conservation work. 

Mamie pledged her outdoor career to fish and wildlife biology, as a success coach, and to later serve as a principal consultant for countless state and federal agencies. Because Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” played as her Glamp Out walk-on song, it was only customary for the wildlife conservationist to give the crowd a quick two-step and a few shimmies as she approached the podium. “Good evening,” she said with a well-grounded tone and delicately sliding her readers onto her smiling face. “I know you can do better than that. In my culture, when we call, we ask you to respond.” The crowd gladly did.

With louder claps, whistles, and good evenings in reply to the Wilmot, Arkansas, hometowner, Mamie emphasized her roots to help explain her call-and-response request. It’s due to her purpose-driven travels from a sharecropping South to serving as a key presidential appointees’ house adviser with several administrations that she often delivers messages of resilience across America. Hopeful words she’s shared in different formats across world stages. Against-all-odds stories that crowds either hear for the first time or need to hear again. “Dr. Parker is a history maker,” said Mapp to Glamp Out guests. “She served as the first African American U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regional director of the 13 Northeastern states.” 

‘Lifetime Achievement’ recipient Dr. Mamie A. Parker and Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp embrace at Glamp Out 2023. Photo by Bethanie Hines.

FWS is the oldest federal conservation agency, tracing its lineage to 1871. It’s the only agency in the federal government whose primary responsibility is the management of fish and wildlife for the American public. Notably and repeatedly, Parker entered outdoor spaces as a “first” in similar conservation and wildlife environments. Appointed by the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Parker was also elected as the inaugural Black chair of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Commission. Mamie earned the American Fisheries Society’s highest honor – named after its first woman president – for her outstanding work promoting clean drinking water in nationwide streams. 

This presidential rank awardee also became the first Black woman to serve as Head of Fisheries in the United States. The avid angler was appointed as the special assistant to the director and later became the assistant director in the FWS headquarters located in Washington, D.C. – the first Black person to hold this title. Among other pioneering roles, Parker also held the post of the board chair of the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Commission. While there, the board passed a resolution that became a model for other states, changed the board name from “game” to wildlife, and protected migratory birds threatened by major bridge construction. “I always say that if it weren’t for my mother, I probably would have been kissing instead of fishing,” said Parker, chuckling with the evening’s Glamp Out audience. 

Cora raised Mamie and her ten other children in a four-room house. In an era where young women were expected to step into homemaking and caretaking roles. Cora, along with the hit song “Mercy, Mercy Me” by Motown sensation Marvin Gaye, inspired Mamie to look after Mother Nature instead. Mamie spent almost 30 years as a fish and wildlife biologist to tackle challenges like radiation and pollution because of Gaye’s lyrics. Just as Mamie looked up to her mother and the musical artist, Mapp admired Mamie’s pioneering outdoor trajectory for years. Mamie served as the first Black judge of the 2013 Federal Duck Stamp Contest held in Ohio.

Parker shares her story from a sharecropping South to changing nature narratives throughout U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and beyond. Photo by Bethanie Hines.

Ten years later, Mapp followed in this webbed footpath as an art judge as well. FWS produces the Federal Duck Stamp, which sells for $25 and raises approximately $40 million annually. Revenue from stamp sales is used to protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System, benefiting wildlife and contributing to people’s enjoyment. Since its establishment in 1934, sales of the Federal Duck Stamp to bird watchers, outdoor enthusiasts, collectors, and hunters have helped raise more than $1.2 billion to conserve more than 6 million acres of habitat for birds and other wildlife.

This year’s contest of more than 200 submissions took place Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 in Des Moines, Iowa. For the first time in Federal Duck Stamp Contest history, the judging panel included all females: Gail Anderson, MJ Davis, Rebecca Humphries, Dr. Karen Waldrop, alternate judge Jennifer Scully, and Mapp. “Becoming a judge for the contest was an opportunity I had no idea existed for me,” said Mapp, “even though I have been purchasing the annual stamp in recent years.” Mapp did know Mamie pioneered this fun but nail-biting platform. A role that required weighing in thoughtfully to determine only one creative’s artwork on behalf of U.S. citizens. “Dr. Parker has blazed a path for people like me and organizations like Outdoor Afro,” Mapp said to nearly 140 fundraising attendees, “to step into positions of conservation policy, governance, advocacy, and influence that continue her legacy.”

Mamie’s lifetime in outdoor play and professional circles always left lasting impacts regardless of the waters trodden. She adds her Glamp Out recognition to a hefty list of avant-garde honors: The Governor of Arkansas enshrined Mamie into the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame. During 2020, she became the recipient of the John L. Morris Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the founder of Bass Pro Shops. She earned The William P. Reilly (the first head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) Environmental Leadership Award. Followed by the Presidential Rank Award – the highest honor bestowed upon federal employees. Above all these credits: “Dr. Parker is a connector, friend, homegirl, wife, and mother,” Mapp said to conclude her appreciation and love for Mamie, “who never ceases to light up every room she’s in.”

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 @outdoorafro and outdoorafro.org.

Alongside Parker, Marc Berejka, Divisional Vice President of Community, Advocacy, and Impact at REI Co-op, accepts Outdoor Afro’s 2023 ‘Partner of the Year’ recognition on REI’s behalf. Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Cornelia Sylvester presented Berejka with the award. Photo by Bethanie Hines.