Outdoor Afro’s Georgia networks offer silver- and small-screen views to capture nature, Southern living

The future naturalist framed up the plant IDing scene with such fervor. Conviction. Even care. Every google-eyed expression and conductor hand gesture queued up plant life. As if it was taking center stage. His soft smile pulled community participants into the Lionel Hampton Greenway Trail. The old-growth storyline voice-overed by Southern hospitality. “So, this is actually turkey tail mushrooms,” said Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Dajawn Williams, 27, “and guess what? It’s edible.” “Edible!” One hiker blurted in the background with an unsure side eye. Williams’ grin deepened with a few promising head nods. Oohs and ahhs then bounced around the forest floor. Promptly, he waved the group of 23 local explorers into a direction of more shocking nature sights along their 2-mile urban wander. This Feb. 10 Black History Month activity taught Atlanta attendees how to recognize special species within their Outdoor Afro network and neighborhood greenspace. The experience also unearthed Black contributions connected to the nature preserve.

To that point, the greenway trail is named after former landowner and famous Black jazz musician Lionel Hampton. Hampton donated much of the right-of-way for the trail during 1993. Designed today for cycling, hiking, agritouring, and picnicking. The historic Black district and site on Atlanta’s west side features the most archaeologically significant Civil War trenches in the region. “This area’s infrastructure included a mill, cemetery for enslaved Black people, and a rock quarry,” said guest speaker, naturalist, and local historian James Tyler. “After the Civil War, Black farmers who lived south of Atlanta moved up to become railroad and mill workers.” Over time, these stories evolved into backdrops to what’s now designated as the “Hollywood of the South.” It’s been more than a decade that metro Atlanta’s mushrooming film and TV industry generated blockbuster momentum. Primarily because of the Peach State’s benevolent tax break.

Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp posing in iconic Surfer Boy Pizza vanagon from Netflix series 'Stranger Things' filmed in Jackson, Georgia. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Major studios popped up and big-budget projects like “The Hunger Games,” “The Walking Dead,” and the Marvel franchise settled into their new Southern home. During 2022, Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” became the highest-grossing movie with a female superhero lead at the U.S. box office – the latest example of the high-earning films attracted to Georgia. In recent times, production opportunities have tapered off for some creatives, too. However, Gov. Brian P. Kemp reassured Georgians that the silver- and small-screen industry is forging ahead: “Georgia remains a global leader in film, TV, and streaming productions,” said Kemp in a Sept. 13, 2023, press release by the Georgia Film Office. “Those who benefit most from the significant growth we’ve seen in this industry over the past couple of decades are hardworking Georgians who fill the many behind-the-camera jobs that come with each project. That’s why we’ve worked hard to attract these and other opportunities for those who call the Peach State home.”


Last year, the state celebrated 50 years of the Georgia Film Office, a strategic post within the Georgia Department of Economic Development that helps mature Georgia's film, TV, and commercial production industries through marketing, scouting, and coordinating project needs. The office reported productions spent $4.1 billion in Georgia during fiscal year 2023. Between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, the state hosted 390 productions, represented by 31 feature films, 55 independent films, 40 commercials, 23 music videos, and 241 TV and episodic productions. Travel an hour and some change south into Middle Georgia where Outdoor Afro participants have the chance to explore newer rural trails, farm life, and film tours later this year. Williams’ next stop: Dauset Trails Nature Center in Jackson, Georgia – a 15-minute ride away from where Netflix's hit sci-fi drama series “Stranger Things” filmed. The nature center provides mountain and e-bike courses; backpacking and camping; and farmstead sightseeing.

Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Dajawn Williams storytells Georgia's ecosystem to Atlanta network participants during a BHM24 plant IDing activity. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Williams linked up with Outdoor Afro’s Founder and CEO Rue Mapp at the nature center. The two went on a site visit to reimagine what foraging, farming, and family-centric activities could look like for his network and others in the organization’s “Year of Innovation.” “I’m continually in awe of the natural resources found in our volunteer networks,” said Mapp. “To visit places like Dauset helps people discover opportunities to reconnect to nature close to home, and be inspired by the natural and human history you can always find in these places.” For 15 years now, Outdoor Afro has celebrated and inspired Black connections and leadership in nature across the United States. The national not-for-profit organization reconnects Black communities to outdoor conservation, recreation, and education through networks located in 60 cities and 32 states, including Washington, D.C. By way of more than 1,200 planned and hosted network activities, volunteer leaders like Williams reintroduce more than 60,000 people to the outdoors annually. “We’re on a journey to reach more rural and urban communities,” Mapp said. “Nature, travel, tourism, and the shows and movies we all grew up on are ways to imagine new connections.”

After Dauset Trails, a truck ride to downtown Jackson (the state’s outdoor capital) zapped Mapp into the make-believe town of Hawkins, Indiana, from the TV show “Stranger Things.” She toured real-life locations, replaying memorable scenes from the series’ Hawkins Library, back alley, and Radio Shack. The coolest Outdoor Afro clip of the day: Mapp propped with a pizza box and visor inside the iconic Surfer Boy Pizza vanagon, a.k.a. Pizzamobile. Headed back south on U.S. Hwy 23, a pitstop to Juliette, Georgia, revisited Cicely Tyson’s role in the 1991 comedy-drama “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Where the movie’s Whistle Stop Cafe is still open for business and serves Southern cuisine – most notably, of course, the menu’s crispy fried green tomatoes. Described in one word: De-lish! The final destination for Mapp’s agritourism and film-guided driving tour traveled 42 miles east along backcountry roads to Milledgeville, Georgia. The fourth capital of the state and where actress Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian, in “Pretty Woman” said she came from. 

Williams and Mapp scouting Dauset Trails Nature Center to identify new network adventures for rural communities to experience innovations in agriculture. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Mapp drove through camera-ready site Central State Hospital. Established in 1842, the campus became known as the “world’s largest mental institution” by the 1960s. It included more than 12,000 patients, 6,000 employees, and more than 8,000 acres of land. By 2010, the dilapidated complex closed. Four years later, “The Originals” (spin-off to The CW Network’s “The Vampire Diaries”) filmed episodes at the hospital. Interestingly, the eerie site still produces a pecan grove that attracts the community, schools, and families to year-round nature activities. “That’s the thing about nature,” said Reginal Black, 59, who joined the Feb. 10 Outdoor Afro plant IDing activity. Black relocated to Atlanta from California to live closer to family. “Nature ties us all back to our local histories and community stories,” he said. “Why I’ve been attending network events like this one with the organization and Rue since 2009.”


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. Outdoor Afro’s U.S. networks include nearly 100-plus volunteer leaders who guide nature activities in up to 60 cities with network participation reaching 60,000 people annually. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people to the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Connect with @outdoorafro on social and visit outdoorafro.org to follow our year-round nature narratives.

Outdoor Afro’s Rue Mapp nominated as Bessie Awards finalist

Global lifestyle brand Wanderful has announced 2023 finalists of its fifth annual Bessie Awards, and this year’s nominees include Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp. Mapp has been selected as a finalist under the JourneyWoman Award category, a lifetime achievement award for a person who has demonstrated long-term commitment to making the travel industry better. This award is presented in memory of JourneyWoman’s Evelyn Hannon. “It’s truly an incredible honor to be recognized by the community,” said Mapp, whose social enterprise in 2009 called Outdoor Afro is today a national not-for-profit organization. “I’m personally touched by the person this award recognizes – a Black American woman, Bessie Coleman, who not only sought to travel in an era of exquisite and codified boundaries that limited that possibility for women who looked like her, but also had the audacity and tenacity to become a pilot herself. So much of my work stands on the shoulders of Bessie Coleman whose heights I can only try to attain.” 


The Bessie Awards is dedicated to recognizing the achievements and efforts of those who have contributed to and impacted the travel industry. Winners are selected through a popular vote from past WITS attendees and former Bessie Award winners. Voting is now open. WITS will announce this year’s winners at the Bessie Awards ceremony taking place Saturday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. AST at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mapp is an awarded and inspirational leader, speaker, public lands champion, outdoor gear designer, and published author. The Oakland, California, native established for-profit venture Outdoor Afro, Inc. in 2021 and subsequently launched a 22-piece hike collection with outdoor retailer REI Co-op. Her first national book titled “Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors” released with American publisher Chronicle Books during November 2022. That same year in February, she participated in an 18-day Hurtigruten Expeditions voyage to Antarctica. Mapp became a founding member of the group's first-ever Black Traveler Advisory Board. The board is designed to drive change within the entire cruise industry.

Over the years, Mapp has been recognized with many awards and distinctions. She became a 2021 AFAR Travel Vanguard Award recipient, National Geographic 2019 Fellow, Heinz Awards Honoree, and National Wildlife Federation Communication Award recipient (received alongside President Bill Clinton). The White House also invited Mapp to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors Conference, which led to her participation in the launch of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. Mapp’s career and community impact through Outdoor Afro aims to lift up the natural world and those who connect with it. Her advocacy for conservation continues to earn international media attention, including The New York Times, Good Morning America, NPR, NBC’s TODAY, Forbes, Oprah Winfrey, and “MeatEater” with Steven Rinella.

“I’ve accomplished a lot of life goals,” Mapp said. “For me, it’s always been about a race to the ordinary. I want to get out on my travels and adventures, and see more people who look like me and are represented as strong, beautiful, and free from all over the world. And it's no longer a big deal. The Bessie Awards, created by Wanderful and hosted at the annual Women in Travel Summit (WITS) Travel Creator Summit, honor women and gender diverse people of impact in the travel space – particularly influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, brands, and industry members who have added a compelling voice to the travel industry. “We are absolutely thrilled to recognize such an extraordinary group of creators and brands this year for our fifth annual Bessies,” said Beth Santos, Founder and CEO of Wanderful. “We hope that by showcasing their work we can inspire more builders in the space to contribute their voices to make our travel industry even more thoughtful, inclusive, and meaningful.” 

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.

ABOUT WANDERFUL: Wanderful is a global lifestyle brand that specializes in helping all women travel the world. Reaching more than 100 million women worldwide each year, Wanderful connects travelers through a thriving membership community, meetups in 50 global cities, group trips, global events like WITS Travel Creator Summit, and the first major outdoor travel festival for women, Wanderfest. Learn more here.

ABOUT WITS TRAVEL CREATOR SUMMIT: WITS is the premier event for travel’s top marketing talent. Creative entrepreneurs, influencers, DMOs, and industry come together to discuss future innovations, build dynamic collaborations, and change travel worldwide, all while supporting and empowering a dynamic community of women and gender diverse people. Learn more here