Outdoor Afro fosters community through outdoor recreation

A woman wearing a life vest holds an oar.
Bionca Davis adjusts her paddle before getting out on the water at Fish Lake Regional Park on Saturday.
Simone Cazares | MPR News

On a sunny day at the Fish Lake Regional Park in Maple Grove, members of the all African-American outdoor meetup group gathered to paddleboard on the lake.

As they grabbed life jackets, some were new to paddleboarding and feeling a little nervous. But other members of Outdoor Afro came together to support and encourage them as they all got out on the water.

Tiffany Thomas of Minneapolis was one of the participants. Although she doesn’t get to spend a lot of time outside, she said she makes it a priority to join the group when she can. For her, it’s a way to try new things and venture out of her comfort zone with people who look like her.

“Coming to Minnesota, there aren’t many brown people here. It’s predominantly white, or light,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just nice to come out and enjoy my people.”

A man with a beard wears a hat and smiles.
Stephen Scott
Simone Cazares | MPR News

Stephen Scott leads the state’s Outdoor Afro group. When he first got involved with the organization, he said it was that sense of community that inspired him to become a leader. He wants to make the outdoors more accessible to more African-Americans and keep the Outdoor Afro community growing for years to come.

“One of the things I’d like to do is to eliminate that barrier of entry,” he said. “A lot of outdoor activities cost money so, for me, it’s how do I find local ways for people to enjoy some of these without having to spend hundreds of dollars on gear or equipment.”

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That inclusiveness is something Thomas said encouraged her to come out with the group more, too.

“At first I was a little nervous to be in a group of people I don’t know, but everyone is very nice and accommodating,” she said. “They take care of you. If you don’t have whatever you need, your equipment or whatever. It’s a nice home-y group.”

People sit on paddleboards in the lake.
Members of Outdoor Afro paddleboard at Fish Lake Regional Park on Aug. 17, 2019.
Simone Cazares | MPR News

But although Outdoor Afro works to draw more African-Americans to the outdoors, it has plenty of members who already love spending time outside. Bionca Davis is one of them.

On any given week you can find her out camping or enjoying the outdoors. She participates in different outdoor organizations in the Twin Cities, but says having a space like Outdoor Afro can’t be beat.

“Outdoor Afro is a really great way for brown and black people to get together and do outdoor things that not many people think we do,” she said. “I come out here, have a good time and feel very protected when I’m with Outdoor Afro.”

And for Scott, that community of African-Americans coming together to enjoy the outdoors is what makes it all worth it.

“You don’t feel alone, and that’s the biggest part.”

Get involved:

Outdoor Afro meets monthly throughout the year in Minnesota. While some of the activities have a cost, most are free. Recruitment is mainly through word of mouth, but participants can stay up to date on upcoming activities on the group’s Facebook page and Meetup website.

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