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"I opened my mouth and my life fell out."

That's how Rue Mapp felt in 2009 when she first shared the idea for Outdoor Afro, a blog to reconnect African-American people with the outdoors.

"And that was a surprising moment, one of those moments where all those things that you just take for granted about who you are come into really sharp focus."


Mapp whitewater rafting. Photo via Rue Mapp, used with permission.

Before she founded Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp came of age in the great outdoors.

She grew up in Oakland, but her family had a ranch 100 miles north of the city. Mapp grew up hunting, stargazing, fishing, and participating in Girl Scouts. Her parents raised animals, preserved food, and made wine. Her family often hosted large gatherings of friends and people from church.

"So having this thread of nature and hospitality instilled in me at a very young age has become the centerpiece of Outdoor Afro today."

Mapp rock climbing. Photo via Rue Mapp, used with permission.

In 2009, she started Outdoor Afro, a blog that soon became much more.

At first, she shared her own stories of growing up in the fresh air and how her experiences as a child and young woman shaped her in the best ways. Before long, other African-American outdoor enthusiasts started following her and chatting online. Mapp was pleasantly surprised to learn she wasn't alone.

Since then, the program has moved beyond the web to local meetups.

There are now Outdoor Afro chapters in 30 states. Each group holds open events and programs, including hikes and walks, camping trips, rock climbing, local farm tours, river rafting, and more. If it's outside, someone in the group is probably willing to give it a try.

An Outdoor Afro meetup on the water. Photo via Rue Mapp, used with permission.

The programs and trips are led by volunteer Outdoor Afro leaders.

They're not professional mountain climbers or adventure athletes; they're often professionals with a fondness for the outdoors: more community organizer than wilderness expert.

"Outdoor Afro leaders don't need to be the one that has all the gear and expertise," Mapp says. "We want people who can connect-in with other people."

Outdoor Afro leaders at a training session. Photo via Rue Mapp, used with permission.

Brittany Leavitt, an early education teacher, discovered Outdoor Afro on a blog and decided to give the group a shot and is now their D.C. leader. Stefan Moss, an environmental science professor and leader of Outdoor Afro-Atlanta joined the group to find more outdoor activities for his young family. Plus, getting outside helps him feel more connected with the world.

"Through outdoor activities I find a deeper understanding of meaning and purpose as I observe the natural order and the way in which things interact with each other," he writes in an email.

Outdoor Afro Leader Stefan Moss takes it all in. Photo via Stefan Moss, used with permission.

That's what's so powerful about Outdoor Afro. It's not just about getting outside, it's about getting outside with black people.

While everyone is welcome at Outdoor Afro events, the meetups and programs are designed by African-American people to encourage African-American people to explore together.

"In the outdoors we can celebrate our humanity and our melanin, without intimidation or judgment," Moss says.

Members meet up for a hike. Photo via Rue Mapp, used with permission.

Members can also celebrate the unique and often forgotten relationships black people have to outdoors. From the Buffalo Soldiers of the Old West to the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama, there's world of history to take in. Leavitt planned a four-day backpacking trip through the Appalachian Trail, mirroring part of Harriet Tubman's route to freedom.

"It was really fun," Leavitt says. "We had seven outdoor leaders total, and two people who were brand new to backpacking."

Hiking the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail. Photo via Brittany Leavitt, used with permission.

Communing with each other became especially important in the wake of violent and hurtful attacks against African-American people.

After Ferguson, Mapp braced for a long night of protests and demonstrations in her hometown of Oakland. Like many people, she felt heartbroken and wondered what she could do to "show up" for the movement. She reached out to partner organizations and launched the first of many  Healing Hikes, a chance for Outdoor Afro participants to collect their thoughts, share, and reflect together in natural spaces.

Photo via Rue Mapp, used with permission.

"The following weekend we had ... about 30 people show up in the Oakland Hills, and we started off with some yoga and some intention-setting, and we worked our way down into the Redwood Forest."

Soon the group found themselves hiking along a beautiful stream and the weight of history and purpose immediately struck Mapp.

"It was this clear epiphany that we were doing what African-Americans have always known we could do, and that's to lay down our burdens down by the riverside," Mapp says. "We were doing something that was in our DNA to do."

Finally tried out this whole selfie stick thing. #HealingHikes with #GoodPeople 💙

A photo posted by Jesstastic 😎😘✌🏾️🌟 (@missjessica2u2) on

It's easy to feel intimidated by the great outdoors, but it's important to get out anyway.

You don't have to have all the gear or all of the answers, just a willingness to follow through on your curiosity. You may already be more outdoorsy than you realize. If you grill out, garden, or walk your neighborhood, you're farther along than you think.

"If you like to walk, consider a hike at a national park. If you like to swim find the most scenic lake or beach in your area and swim there," Moss says. "Have fun, take lots of pictures and celebrate your own connection to the outdoors!"

In other words: Get outside and let your life fall out.

Go ahead, take it all in. Photo via Stefan Moss, used with permission.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Family

Two sisters ask their stepmom to adopt them with sweet memory book

"We were already calling her mom because it felt so natural."

Gabriella Ruvolo/TikTok

Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo asked their stepmom to adopt them in a touching video.

Sisters Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo know that they're extremely lucky. Their stepmom Becky Ruvolo has been there for them for most of their lives and it's clear that they're grateful to her for it. On May 9, Gabriella posted a video to TikTok to share the very special way the young women honored their stepmom for Mother's Day.

In the short clip, you can see Becky flanked by the two girls, flipping through a book. On the video are the words "After 12 years… we finally asked our step-mom to adopt us." As Becky goes through the pages, you can see her becoming increasingly more emotional before she gets to the last page. By then, all three of the women are crying.

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