How Outdoor Afro Uses Forest Park as an Opportunity for African Americans to Connect with Nature

Members of Outdoor Afro enjoy a walk through Kennedy Woods this past winter.   Credit: Outdoor Afro St. Louis Chapter

Members of Outdoor Afro enjoy a walk through Kennedy Woods this past winter. Credit: Outdoor Afro St. Louis Chapter

Forest Park inspires its visitors to embrace the outdoors and explore the urban beauty that is one of the nation’s greatest parks. For one organization in particular, Forest Park represents an opportunity for African Americans to connect with nature in a way not often seen or discussed in the mainstream. 

Outdoor Afro is a nonprofit organization and the nation’s leading, cutting-edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. With nearly 80 leaders in 30 states, the organization connects more than 30,000 outdoor enthusiasts through experiences each year. The goal of Outdoor Afro is to let African Americans know that they belong in nature and that nature belongs to them, allowing new generations to become fully engaged in the beauty of the outdoors.

I recently spoke with two local Outdoor Afro leaders about the organization and what they most enjoy here in Forest Park. 

While his full-time gig in IT keeps him busy professionally, there’s nothing local Outdoor Afro leader Duane Williams loves more than connecting with the outdoors.

“I grew up in St. Louis, the middle sibling of three children,” says Williams. “My father was an avid outdoorsman and would frequently take me hunting and fishing.”

His fellow St. Louis leader, Anthony Beasley, grew up in Decatur, IL, moving to St. Louis about 25 years ago. Now an HR consultant with his own firm, Beasley has always had a special affinity with the outdoors. “Growing up, I spent time on my grandfather's farm in Arkansas, where my cousins and I would explore the countryside,” says Beasley.

Williams and Beasley are proponents of all outdoor activities, especially camping, hiking and cycling. But when it comes to Forest Park, there is no adventure too small for the duo.

“I frequent Forest Park several times a week, riding the bike trails and visiting the museums” says Williams. “The Kennedy Forest section of the Park is also a favorite spot of mine,” he adds.

Beasley echoes his colleague’s sentiments of cycling and walking throughout the Park but adds that there is a new activity he enjoys.

“Recently, I discovered that I enjoy reading in more secluded areas in the Park,” says Beasley. “And when I want to get away from my home office, I'll pack up my laptop and work from the History Museum or the Visitor Center.”

When it comes to hosting events for Outdoor Afro, the duo have organized several activities for African American members to get involved in right here in the Park.

“We’ve hosted bike rides, birding, walking and ice skating events in Forest Park,” says Williams. “This past November, we hosted a Black Friday walk in Kennedy Forest.”

Outdoor Afro is currently planning a walking or birding event in Forest Park in March of 2019. Williams and Beasley would also like to venture into fishing activities in the Park.

From kite flying on Art Hill to ice skating at Steinberg Skating Rink, the two Outdoor Afro leaders are well-versed on things to do in Forest Park. Their dedication to the organization speaks to their desire to build relationships between people and nature. When it comes to encouraging African Americans to get more involved, the pair share some inspiring words.

“Do not let demographics, fear or stereotypes keep you from the transformative power of nature,” says Williams. “Search for groups like Outdoor Afro that are dedicated to creating black leadership and connection in outdoor spaces.”

Beasley agrees and notes how he continues to be inspired by the outdoors.

“I find nature healing,” he says. “Whether I'm deep in the woods on a hike, or camping or spending time in a city park, I find that getting into nature allows me to let go of the day-to-day. Plus, most of the activities in Forest Park are either free or come with a nominal cost, so it’s the perfect place to start.”

To learn more about Outdoor Afro-St. Louis, join their Facebook group or visit their website at outdoorafro.com.

Rodney Pruitt