Rue Mapp — an international conservationist, activist, and writer who has spoken of a “nature deficit disorder” in America – will be the honored Commencement speaker at Unity College in May.

Mapp, who will address the Unity College Class of 2016, is founder of the nonprofit organization Outdoor Afro, overseeing a national volunteer leadership team of 30 men and women in 16 cities around the U.S.

Based in Oakland, Calif., Outdoor Afro uses a multimedia approach grounded in personal connections and community organizing to build broader community and leadership in nature. From its grassroots beginnings, Outdoor Afro has been recognized for emphasizing the importance of racial and economic diversity in the outdoors.

“The world’s global environmental problems are inclusive. We need inclusive solutions, like those provided by Rue Mapp,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “Her innovative approach to organizing and educating has successfully connected thousands, especially from the African-American community, to direct experience of nature, to the benefits of spending more time outdoors, and to consideration of the environmental professions.”

“It is imperative that we at environmental education institutions and in the sustainability professions do a better job of communicating the value and efficacy of a career in an environmental field — especially to those who are most impacted by environmental problems,” said Khoury.

In 2010, Mapp was invited to the White House to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors Conference, and subsequently to take part in an effort to help launch the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

Mapp’s work has been featured in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Backpacker Magazine, Ebony Magazine, Sunset Magazine, NPR, and many others; and she has been recognized with numerous awards and distinctions:

Named to the Root 100 as one of the most influential African-Americans in the US;
Awarded the Outdoor Industry Inspiration Award by the Outdoor Retailer conference;
National Wildlife Federation Communication award, received alongside President Bill Clinton in 2014; and
Named one of “America’s 20 Most Influential Moms” by Family Circle magazine, May 2015.
Mapp also serves on the Board of Rails to Trails Conservancy, American Camp Association, and the Outdoor Industry Association. Most recently, she was appointed to the California State Parks Commission by Gov. Jerry Brown.

A graduate of University of California-Berkeley with a degree in Art History, Mapp started Outdoor Afro as a modest blog in 2009. It has since become a leading national network that celebrates and inspires African-American connections and leadership in nature.

“We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet,” Mapp said of her organization. “Today with now 30 leaders from around the United States, we connect thousands of people to outdoor experiences, who are changing the face of conservation.”

“Like Unity College, Mrs. Mapp understands the importance of infusing sustainability science into everything we do as a society, educating people from all walks of life to solve global problems and engage a wide range of people in creating global solutions,” Khoury said. “She is engaging the people who are perhaps most at risk of upheaval from changes taking place in this, the environmental century.”

Khoury said Mapp’s presence as an honored guest of Unity College signals the school’s enduring commitment to upend traditional modes of higher education to bring environmental education to everyone at a time of dire global need.

Commencement exercises are 11 a.m., Saturday, May 14.

VIDEO: Rue Mapp created a nonprofit that cures what she would call a “nature deficit disorder” among African-Americans.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016