Finally, African-Americans are taking their place in the pantheon of conservation. A national group called Outdoor Afro helps lead this development through online media publishing, a popular blog, public speaking and regional adventure groups including New York, North Carolina, Portland (Oregon), Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area. Outdoor Afros collectively camp, hike, bike, bird-watch, fish, hunt, garden, ski — and more!
Outdoor Afro represents a nation of African-Americans who are comfortable in the great outdoors as well as daily nature appreciation from city to suburb and beyond. Their activities disrupt the false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature. Outdoor Afro works to shift the visual representation of who connects with the outdoors. They are developing a reputation for documenting and celebrating historical African-American nature experience by leveraging social media while providing support for recreational groups. Find this world at www.outdoorafro.com; to read their blog is to tour our country. Here are some of the leading lights you will find:
Dudley Edmondson (Midwest) is a wildlife photographer, nature enthusiast and author of Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places;
Frank and Audrey Peterman (Southeast) founded Earthwise Productions, Inc., giving them a national platform to advocate the expansion of federal and private investment in attracting African-Americans to the wild places they’ve spent almost two decades touring together. Their journey is captured in two popular guides to national parks. Legacy on the Land: a black couple discovers our national inheritance and tells why every American should care and Our True Nature: finding a zest for life in the national park system are as beautifully illustrated as they are great reads;
Rue Mapp (Northwest) is the founder of Outdoor Afro and a successful entrepreneur whose game and hobby store start-up, It’s Your Move, remains an important part of the Oakland, CA community. Rue was named a hero in Backpacker Magazine, and honored as a top black achiever and influencer for the Root 100 in 2012;
Jarid Manos (Southwest) is passionate about preserving the Gulf of Mexico’s unique eco-systems and the prairies of Texas. His habitat preservation and rehabilitation work doubles as job training and therapy for the formerly incarcerated and otherwise underprivileged. His autobiography, Ghetto Plainsman, is widely read and celebrated for its honesty;
Akiima Price (Northeast) directs the Environmental Education Capacity program based at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. This five-year $10 million initiative was funded by the federal Environmental Protection Administration(EPA) and has emerged as a national model and online research common for practicing green educators from both community and academic sites all over the country. A typical day on their Facebook page will see job postings, highbrow journalism on ecology as well as pictures from urban and rural field projects posted by educators.
Do you seek adventure, nature or travel? Outdoor Afro is for you. It’s a focused but not exclusive community enjoyed by all age groups and ethnicities from sea to shining sea. Join upcoming meet-ups listed on their Web site. Melissa Danielle of Bed-Stuy, a regional Afro leader, has planned an all-you-need-to-know-about-day-hiking gathering at REI’s Manhattan outdoors lifestyle shop for the evening of Jan. 21. Past events have included everything from apple-picking to kayaking. Feeling hesitant? This community of novices and experts will have you feeling at home outdoors like many neighbors who are veterans.
Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi (originally of Marcy Houses in Bed-Stuy), who’s been a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation(DEC) representative, found his love for nature in Prospect Park and now uses canoeing to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into family and work life. Ajamu Brown, from Bed-Stuy, of NYCHA’s Office of Public-Private Partnerships, has taken birding on in recent years and even sponsored a first-rate lecture and walking tour by celebrated black birder David Lindo. Nature experience offers its endless wonder to us in all four seasons. Consider the trees within Herbert Von King Park. Identifying tree species when they are bare of leaves is a specialty this season and it calls forth among the tutored (picture books on this diversion are widely available). What are the keys to unlocking this knowledge? Bark texture and color, patterns in branching, fruit types (dry and sparse as they may be), shapes in the dried leaves beneath the larger specimens, and height gets you going! Some species to be seen include Cedar, Hardy hibiscus, London plane, Linden, Ginkgo, Pine oak, Redbud, Crabapple, Smoke bush, White pine, Callery pear, Horse chestnut, Swamp white oak, Sweet gum, Norway maple, Crepe myrtle, Pagoda, Dogwood and Magnolia varieties. Isn’t winter alive!
Furthermore: Outdoor Afro does for social networking and black naturalist publishing what a popular poetry anthology has done to write African-Americans back into nature literature. Camille T. Dungy’s Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetry makes clear forever that black people have adored the e vironment at least as long as we have been writing in English in North America. Lyrical language from every generation since colonialism serves a bounty of delight with and concern for both wild and cultivated creation.
Famous names from the Harlem Renaissance to recent times abound alongside largely forgotten and obscure figures from the distant past. Langston Hughes (Earth Song), Nikki Giovanni (For Saundra), Ishmael Reed (Points of View) and Alice Walker (The Flowers) –among others—walk you through countryside and garden. Their twentieth century poetics contrast well with earlier voices like Phillis Wheatley (On Imagination) and many more. Each selection brings your soul a sweet feeling.
Morgan Powell is a horticulturist and landscape designer. He’s also a blogger at Outdoor Afro.