A Charlotte group focused on getting black people into the outdoors is coming to Hanging Rock State Park on Saturday.
Outdoor Afro has a mission to create and inspire black people to connect with nature.
The organization was founded in Oakland in 2009 by Rue Mapp who found that she was often the only black person in her outdoor activities and wanted to connect with others who might feel the same way she did, said Yanira Castro, Outdoor Afro’s national communication director.
Castro, who is also co-leader of the Outdoor Afro’s Charlotte community said there are now meet-ups in 36 communities in 30 states across the continental United States. The groups are referred to as communities or meet-ups after the social media site, meetup.com, where members register for events, she said. North Carolina has two active meet-ups — one in Charlotte and the other in the Triangle.
The Charlotte group was founded in April 2016 and currently has more than 1,200 members. Past events have included hiking, family camping, paddleboarding, kayaking and skiing. There are no fees or dues to become a member of the community, and many of the events are free, although some events, such as zip-lining, skiing or kayaking may have fees if they are charged by an outfitter, Castro said. Participants’ outdoor experience ranges from “never done a hike before” to experienced backpackers and mountaineers.
“We infuse black history into everything we do,” Castro said. “We talk about the history of the land and the enslaved people who lived on it. If there is not a direct connection to place, we find something that happened that time of year to recognize. We also pay tribute to people like Thurgood Marshall or the ultimate black naturalist, Harriet Tubman, who followed the stars on the trail to freedom.”
Castro said some events have focused on what is going on in the country at that time, such as police violence against black people.
“Rue wondered what we could do about this as a group and said ‘We do nature,’” Castro said. Out of that came a series of “healing hikes” across the country where participants could get away from “urban aggression” and heal in whatever way was best for them — journaling, singing, meditation.
Castro said the group’s goal is to, “Take what we learn in nature and cultivate leadership in our communities in whatever way is meaningful to that individual, whether that’s with their church, job, youth or sorority.”
Each Outdoor Afro event begins and ends with a circle.
“The opening circle is a time to get grounded, say hello, get to know one another and talk about what we are going to do that day,” Castro said.
The activities are done as a group.
“It’s all about creating a community,” Castro said. “It’s about solidarity and not about getting there first.”
“People don’t realize how much they need to be in nature and to be connected with other black folks,” Castro said. “You need to be in a space where you can be exactly who you are and be validated for who you are when you show up.”
During the closing circle, participants are asked to give one word to describe the experience of the day.
“Inspired, energized, exhilarated, fulfilled, grateful, humbling and happy” are just some of the words Castro said have come from the closing circles.
“That is my favorite part,” Castro said. “Everyone is feeling so positive. It’s probably why we keep doing what we do as leaders.”