Earlier this month, the Heinz Foundation honored 5 remarkable people who reflect the accomplishments and spirit the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. These awards recognize the extraordinary contributions of individuals in the areas of greatest importance to the late senator.

The Environmental Award went to Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Outdoor Afro, who was recognized for inspiring African Americans to reconnect with nature and for championing diversity in conservation leadership.

Started as a blog in 2009, Outdoor Afro has grown into a national network with more than 35,000 participants and nearly 80 volunteer leaders in 30 states around the country. Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. As stated on their website, “We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet!” Outdoor Afro connects thousands of people to outdoor experiences and is changing the face of conservation.

Developing African American leaders in the fields of conservation and outdoor activity and management is a key component of Outdoor Afro’s programming. Leadership training summits are held annually, with attendees learning about conservation efforts and how to advocate for natural resources; the health benefits of nature; trip planning; leave-no-trace principles; proper clothing and gear; and community organizing approaches. Once trained, leaders volunteer to organize local “meet ups” in their home regions for local outdoor excursions, as well as larger destination trips to national parks and historical sites.

Mapp acknowledges that historical racism has undermined the connection black people have with nature through race-related crimes frequently executed in local woodlands and Jim Crow laws that barred African Americans from using public outdoor facilities such as beaches and pools.

Outdoor Afro’s mission is to overcome these narratives and use nature as a vehicle to help black communities address the violence in their past and present. As an example, the group has organized “healing hikes” that provide opportunities for people to find solace in nature.

As part of her work challenging traditional conservation organizations to be more inclusive, Rue Mapp consults with the outdoor industry, environmental nonprofits, and the national park system, as well as national and state administrations, and has been instrumental in helping shape national leaders’ understanding of how federal public land policies affect people of color.

Outdoor Afro has inspired Black people from all walks of life to step up and become leaders in the outdoors and in the community. Their volunteer leaders plan, scout and lead nearly a thousand events annually, connecting Black people all across the U.S. with positive and meaningful experiences in the outdoors. As described on their website, these activities not only help participants learn new skills and discover hidden gems in their cities, but they also carve out a unique space in which participants are able to embrace the joy of the outdoors.

For more about the Heinz awards see http://www.heinzawards.net/2019-recipients/