A conversation with Rue Mapp about her website, OutdoorAfro.com, is an exercise in inspiration.
The site includes blog entries like "5 Concerns That Keep Black Folks Out of the Woods" and "Etiquette Tips for Camping With Friends and Family." It also includes a social network where travelers of all ages and races post both advice and adventures in camping. Yet the most amazing adventure is Rue's trip from her local Oakland roots to our nation's capitol.
Less than 10 years ago, while camping with her family, Rue noticed how much fun everyone was having with a role playing game called "Dungeons & Dragons." Not only did her husband gather her and her kids around the campsite to play, but nearby strangers and campers kids joined in. When they came back to Oakland, Rue and her husband, William Kreber, talked about opening a shop where kids could buy games, but also play in a safe space. Soon after taking a small business class, the two of them opened "It's Your Move" in the Temescal district.
A few years later, after the couple divorced and sold the shop, Rue took some of the money from the sale and invested it in finishing her Bachelor's degree, taking classes at Vista College (now Berkeley Community College) and eventually transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. She describes that time as both difficult and rewarding. Although raising three young children was challenging, going back to school allowed her to reconnect with herself and her interests.
As the economy worsened, Rue started to think about what kind of work she'd look for after graduation. She knew that she didn't want to pick up the debt that graduate school would require. One day, she turned to a mentor for advice. Instead of answering her questions, the mentor simply asked if she had the time and resources, what would she want to do?
"If I had time, I would reconnect African-Americans to the outdoors," Rue remembers saying.
Over the years, Rue had been consistently involved with camping, hiking, biking and other outdoor activities. She first fell in love with the great outdoors as a child when her parents took her camping. As an early adopter of the Internet, she'd even connected with communities like the Women's Mountain Biking & Tea Society on AltNews Groups and bulletin board sites. So setting up OutdoorAfro.com was a natural next step.
"It felt like a blessing," she said. "I get to be black, a woman, a mother, a tech and to bring people together."
But she could not have predicted the success.
"This Outdoor Afro world has taken me to places I never thought I would go," Rue said. "Because I'm excited, others get excited."
The site has become well known all over the world and Rue has been invited to speak at several conferences and events. Earlier this year, she was asked to participate in a conversation about how to get all Americans into the great outdoors - at the White House. It's clear, she's still a little blown away by the experience: "I mean, my kids got to see me on CSPAN!"
She has a couple of pieces of advice for other Oakland locals who are thinking about starting their own businesses.
"I think the biggest hurdle is courage. We are conditioned to believe that startups are high risk. But layoffs are more risk." She also suggests that entrepreneurs build relationships in the digital world. "You have to work to bring people to your site, to build community."
Rue studies her analytics on a daily basis and doesn't ask for someone to promote her work without (strategically) offering to promote theirs as well. And she is in constant communication with others through Facebook and Twitter.
As she talks, it becomes clear that the family camping trip that inspired "It's Your Move" was a pivotal moment. She saw how a shared activity like a role playing game could connect people ... but also, that to get them to even meet in the first place, bringing them together at the same campsite was essential.
OutdoorAfro.com has become Rue's campsite - and many other's as well. It's almost like she's telling people to keep hiking up a mountain.
"Don't listen to other people. Don't be afraid. I do believe when you stand in your truth, the floodgates open."