Meet Rue Mapp: Leader, Designer, and Public Lands Champion - BRANWYN | Performance Innerwear

Meet Rue Mapp: Leader, Designer, and Public Lands Champion

How Mapp turned her "kitchen table blog" into a nationwide movement.
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Some of Rue Mapp’s sweetest and earliest memories are from days spent roaming on her family’s farm. From their main home in Oakland, Calif., Mapp’s family would retreat to a ranch 100 miles north. Mapp says, “I would often walk barefoot and be in tune with the changes of the seasons.”

As she got older, Mapp noticed that her lived experience was nearly invisible in the mainstream media. “The story that I grew up on of Black people outside in nature — strong, beautiful, free, and full of agency — was absent from the glossy pages of outdoor publications.” Mapp felt a pull to represent and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature.

The seed of Outdoor Afro was planted. Soon the idea became a blog, and the blog became a movement. Today, Outdoor Afro’s network includes 100-plus volunteer leaders across 60 cities, reaching 60,000 people annually. The nonprofit has flourished to include programs like Making Waves, a program to promote water safety and swimming for Black children, and Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (OALT), an annual in-person event to train the new Outdoor Afro leaders.

BRANWYN is beyond thrilled to welcome Outdoor Afro as our newest Empowerment Partner. For April, we are donating 1% of every BRANWYN purchase to this impactful organization—and will continue to donate alongside our other partners for the rest of the year and many more to come.

To celebrate the launch, we sat down with the fabulous Mapp to learn more about her story and what makes her incredible organization so special.           

Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro for BRANWYN In the Wild Blog

How did you discover your love of the outdoors?

Loving the outdoors came naturally to me, as I was raised in a family from the agricultural South. They kept up a hobby farm and ranch, and it was just magical! We had acres for me to roam with extended family and friends, bright stars at night to see – along with cows, pigs, and a bountiful garden, to attend, and be nourished by.                                                                      

What are some of your first memories of experiencing nature?

Some of my first experiences were indeed those times at the ranch. I especially loved waking up and helping my dad make a fire in the morning; going for long bike rides or walks along stretches of country road; or climbing down the embankment of the nearby creek to look for polliwogs or other types of critters and rocks that I would even sometimes put in jars and take home.                                                       

Do you remember when the idea for Outdoor Afro was born?

Nature had a lasting and positive impression on my life, but when I would venture out into more backcountry experiences, I saw fewer people who looked like me, enjoying and benefiting from the outdoors. I wondered if they knew about these places and felt welcomed to be in them?

In 2009, it was a fateful conversation with a mentor who asked me what I really wanted to do with my life where it all clicked. I simply replied I would start a website to reconnect Black people to the outdoors and begin changing the visual representation and narrative of who gets outside.

Woman at Outdoor Afro Experience for BRANWYN in the Wild Blog

The organization has grown to have an incredible impact — how did you nurture that growth?

In the early days, I leaned heavily on social media feedback to get immediate input about what people valued and wanted to experience. As a result, I delivered some limited programming I offered myself. Eventually, I realized I could teach other people everything that I was learning to help more people get reconnected to the outdoors.

In the background, I also personally invested in building the business. Each year I was able to add one to two people to the team to eventually have the amazing and talented full-time staff we enjoy today. Additionally, our staff now recruits, supports, and trains the volunteer network that has now grown to annual classes that top more than 100 individuals from all over the United States.

Woman at Outdoor Afro Event for BRANWYN In the Wild Blog

Do you have any favorite moments in your work with Outdoor Afro?

There are so many! But I think the moments that have moved me the most is when I am able to convene communities in places they may not have ever visited before. I’ve taken about 60 people for an overnight camping and whitewater rafting experience along the American River which is also a site of some incredible Black history of California’s gold rush era. Being able to witness people trying a new exhilarating activity that allows them to overcome fear while feeling supported in a beautiful landscape and community never gets old!                                                   

Can you tell me about the evolution of Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (OALT)?

The very first training in 2012 was handled through a series of conference calls. I had spent the previous two years leading events on my own. wanted to share of that knowledge with others, so I turned to our Facebook page and asked who wants to be an Outdoor Afro leader? A curious and brave 12 people said “yes” and that was the start of a new learning journey and subsequently an annual in-person training that has evolved to become a model for others to help everyday people connect with nature right in their own community.

Woman at Outdoor Afro Leadership Training for Branwyn in the Wild Blog

What are your top leadership philosophies?

For me, leadership starts with understanding oneself. What are you good at? Passionate about? Once you understand your values, assets, and limitations, you can be much clearer about the kind of team you need to build around you in order to achieve success.                                                                  

The second thing is to invest in yourself continually. Leadership can be, so I make sure that I am always doing to refill my cup. For example, I start each day with prayer and meditation before looking at emails and social media. I also work out twice a week with a trainer — or try to get in a daily brisk neighborhood walk to clear my mind and give attention to my physical health.                                             

Finally, I am a huge champion of continued learning and intellectual curiosity. As we get older and better at more things in our professional lives, we can forget what it’s like to be a beginner. In my case, I started horseback riding and singing lessons several months ago. I’ve also been taking golf lessons for a few years now. Each of those areas keeps me grounded in humility for what it means to try new things and overcome challenges as a beginner. This is especially helpful as I am asking participants to do the very same thing.   


Do you have any current goals — organizational or personal?

I’ve got my eyes set on acquiring land in the next few years. I want Outdoor Afro to have a Home Place where we could have a permanent site for training and welcoming exploration.                                                                     

But more recently I’ve been thinking about my own next chapter. As I have now been leading Outdoor Afro for the past 15 years: Where do I want to be? I am clear that it is someplace with my husband on a beautiful stretch of working and recreational land I can share with others – just like how I grew up.                                                          

Why are you excited to partner with BRANWYN?  

For me, it all starts with values. I just love how aligned my organization is with BRANWYN. Each is so much about welcoming. Often that welcoming is cemented through thoughtful, responsive design – no matter if you’re talking about products or experiences.                                                                   

I’m also deeply connected with the president, Deanne Buck, who has been an incredible friend, supporter, and mentor of mine since the start of Outdoor Afro. Deanne has personally shown up for us at events, and even at our volunteer leadership training through the years. It just means so much for my organization to have partners that are more than that in name alone, but also represent common values, a shared vision for the future, and true friendship. And that’s what BRANWYN represents to me.                                                                       

Is there anything I didn't ask you that you wish I had?

I always like to remind people that you don’t have to have an afro to feel connected to Outdoor Afro! We feel so fortunate to have our special patch of focus, as part of a tapestry of welcoming that includes more people all around to confidently take part in transformative and active outdoor experiences! 


Learn more about Mapp's incredible work — and see how you can get involved at Shop our naturally sustainable Merino Performance Innerwear to help support the organization!                                                                      

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