Outdoor Afro

In recent years, there’s been a shift in the outdoor industry. The faces that smile back at us, in advertisements and on trails, backlit by sunshine and swept by wind, are more and more often the soft cheekbones and rosy lips of women.

It’s a big, bold move—one we discussed in last month’s article on Adventures in Wikipedia—and an important one, too, as the industry continues to expand and acknowledge the presence of different types of outdoorsmen (ahem, outdoorswomen).

Even as that scope widens, we’re distinctly aware of just how narrow it still is; those faces may be both men and women, but they’re still a homogenized vision of who our industry is and could be. Our country is a melting pot, a rich and diverse series of communities, and our industry is not an accurate representation of that diversity we so value.

There’s a misconception that African Americans aren’t spending time in nature, and unfortunately it’s perpetuated by the imagery circulated in our industry. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2016 Outdoor Participation Report, nearly 40% of African Americans aged 25 to 44 spend time outside, whether solo—running, hiking—or as a group—camping, biking, fishing. Though it’s the lowest of any group polled, it’s certainly not zero.
So how do we recognize the participation of a diverse population in our industry and, equally as important, how do we get more folks outside?
Enter: Outdoor Afro.

The nonprofit, with arms in 28 states, is committed not only to getting a more diverse population involved and invested in nature, but to debunking the stereotypes surrounding those ideas, as well.
CEO and founder Rue Mapp found a love for the outdoors at a young age, thanks to Southern parents who fostered an appreciation for nature, using their ranch in California to connect their kids with the outdoors and each other. As Mapp grew and explored more remote areas, she recognized that the faces she saw on the trail didn’t look like her own. It was that realization that inspired her to start Outdoor Afro.
The nonprofit organizes outings, headed by more than 60 leaders across the country, as well as educational forums that make the outdoors easy and erase multigenerational fears around the outdoors. These volunteer leaders facilitate activities like hiking, biking, camping, environmental education, conservation stewardship, and more.
Outdoor Afro is also a steward for policy change. In urban deserts, access to the outdoors is limited. The most effective way to affect access—as well as funding for public lands and sustainable infrastructure—is through policy decisions. Outdoor Afro represents a diverse voice as an advisor to governmental agencies and national conservation groups.
African Americans turn to Outdoor Afro for advice on where to explore, what outdoor gear to invest in, and what causes to sponsor—but they should be able to turn to any expert within the industry too.
Although organizations like Outdoor Afro are important for establishing a sense of accessibility for populations that might feel excluded from the outdoors and the sports we associate with it, it’s the responsibility of all us—especially those with a voice in the industry. We’ve said a thousand times that getting one more person outdoors—whether in hiking boots or on a bike—benefits everyone involved.
So what can you do? Encouraging and embracing diversity is so important and implementable.
1.     Support organizations like Outdoor Afro by reaching out to your local chapter or becoming a sponsor or leader.
2.     Host introductory events to help encourage new folks to join your sport or hobby.
3.    Manufacturers, it’s your responsibility to diversify the imagery around your products. Your models should be all sizes, genders and races.

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