Meet Rue Mapp, Our Wildlife Champion of the Month
How Rue Mapp's love of nature led to a community for African-Americans to connect with each other on their passion for nature.
This month's wildlife champion is the founder of Outdoor Afro, a social-media community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, fishing, gardening, and skiing; and uses social media to create interest in and partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the great outdoors.
What first inspired your interest in wildlife conservation?
My parents were my first conservation teachers. As a child, I spent a lot of time playing and exploring in the natural areas that surrounded my families' working ranch in California's Northern woodlands. My first lessons about wildlife conservation in particular were gleaned from my father, whose time spent as a fisher and hunter, inspired his values around conserving healthy populations of wildlife.
What sparked your entry into becoming a public champion for conservation?
I never really had any intention of becoming a leader or public figure on this. My intention was just to speak my truth. The hope was (and still is) that by communicating openly about my love for nature, others would also be inspired to connect with the outdoors, and ultimately act to protect our natural world.
As I began engaging people through social media, and speaking publically about my care for nature, I found that the message resonated with a lot of other people from all over the country—particularly with African-Americans—many of whom felt they were the only ones who held this passion, and felt isolated in their engagement with nature. I am grateful that these connections and relationships have now informed my life's work that I love!
What do you see as one of the biggest challenges facing the future of conservation?
I want people to see that conserving nature is an ordinary thing—not a moment in time. I also want to see the gap closed between a popular belief that people must choose between protecting wildlife habitat and protecting human habitat. I am confident that we can't do one without the other, so the more we can do through our work to bridge that divide in our understanding, the better off we as people and wildlife will be.
I also think our country's increasing disconnection with nature--many people not knowing what is right in their backyard--is a significant challenge for the future of conservation. I remember once taking a local group out for a bike ride along a greenway—a walking and biking path that most people living around that community didn't even know existed. Through the experience, the group not only came to realize the greenway's existence, but also gained a sense of how human impact greatly affects local wildlife and habitat. And one participant shared that they previously had never noticed the birds in their local area, but after the ride, "now can't not see birds" --a powerful example of how just a small shift in perception can seed a lasting relationship with wildlife.