Outdoor Afro and Urban Science Adventures have been social media friends from the beginning, and their respective creators have enjoyed an online and real life relationship of mutual support. Here is an interview between Danielle Lee, who is a scientist and founder of Urban Science Adventures, and Rue Mapp creator of Outdoor Afro:
Danielle: You’re not a scientist or science educator, but your blog Outdoor Afro is amazingly popular among science bloggers, especially those of us who blog about/study outdoor themes like geography, geology, ecology, and conservation. Are you surprised by this popularity among science bloggers?
Rue: Yes! The interest from the science community initially came as a pleasant surprise. But I think there is a synergy of thought that understands how a relationship with nature is a gateway to intellectual inquiry, among many other benefits. To that end, it is particularly important that all communities, regardless of their resources and barriers, have support to meaningfully engage with the outdoors that can increase their interest and participation in science, conservation, and other environmental related fields.
Has this attention by science bloggers tempted you to blog more about science-related experiences at Outdoor Afro?
Science is everything. While most Outdoor Afro posts do not spell out a specific academic theme, there is a dotted, and sometimes more direct line between its blogs and the sciences. Outdoor Afro tries to position itself as a “soft-sell”, so it’s not likely to underscore scientific themes always, but it’s terrific when community members discover the linkages on their own. Finally, I think it’s important that Outdoor Afro mirror the outdoors in that it remains interdisciplinary and accessible for community members to discover their own passion or interest through shared experiences.
What do you see as the connection between outdoor recreation and outdoor science disciplines?
I consider recreation in natural settings as a form of “dating” the outdoors. I believe that repeated recreational experiences leads to a deeper relationship, passion, and eventual love for natural settings that are necessary to fuel curiosity for the outdoor science disciplines. For instance in my case, had I not spent hundreds of days recreating in natural spaces while growing up, I would have never had the drive and passion in my career to help reconnect communities to the great outdoors.
What do you see as the connection between Outdoor Afro and diversity initiatives in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)? I know I would love the opportunity to do a large-scale project together, one that springboards off of our common interests in fun and exploration outdoors with under-served audiences. Have you entertained thoughts in your head or invitations by others to do some sort of Outdoor Afro + Outdoor Science experience?
Outdoor Afro embeds fun and cultural relevancy into its message, and the science community might consider ways to do the same. It’s important to remember that communities must access and relate to science on a practical level, and on their own terms for its value to be recognized. There are some organizations and program leaders who are doing a terrific job at this kind of framing. Akiima Price of the New York Restoration Project in New York City comes to mind, as a shining example of how to relate nature and science to neighborhood. I certainly welcome opportunities to engage the Outdoor Afro and science communities in deeper discussions and partnerships, and I am always poised for the right opportunity to partner in the most meaningful way. In fact recently, I have had some great conversations with a couple of Natural History museums that are striving to bring the museum experience and messaging to communities who typically do not visit them -- I expect some exciting developments to come!
Do you encourage your children or the children you interact with in real life to consider further science study as a result of outdoor recreational experiences?
Absolutely! I am a mother of three children, ages 14, 9, and 7, and we have always engaged with natural spaces for fun, but also to restore them. When my children and I go to the local beach to do a clean-up, or volunteer to help bring back the riparian habitat behind our home, we make note of the human impact on natural spaces, while still having fun identifying birds and other wildlife. The point is that science, while not explicitly labeled as such in conversation, is interwoven naturally into our quality time together in a way that I hope will inspire their future interest in science, and in the same spirit I hope can also inspire Outdoor Afros!
Rue Mapp is the founder of Outdoor Afro, a community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, fishing, gardening, skiing — and more! Outdoor Afro uses social media to create interest communities, events, and to partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.