Spending time outdoors regularly is proven to drastically improve mental health, lower stress, reduce anxiety, promote healing and boost mood. No one knows this more than tennis champion and entrepreneur Venus Williams, who is currently competing alongside sister Serena in the 2022 US Open tournament. She shares, “tennis has always been my outlet for getting outside, enjoying some fresh air, and remaining active.” 

In an effort to create opportunities for underserved communities to experience these same  benefits, Williams has joined Clif Bar & Company on a new initiative, called CLIF CORPS, to help achieve equity and greater access to the outdoors and sports for underserved communities, especially the Black community. Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit organization founded by Rue Mapp that connects Black explorers to nature through education, recreation, and conservation, is also joining the program. 

Image: courtesy of Clif Bar.

The idea for the partnership stemmed from a "recent study led by Penn State which found that 1 in 5 Americans have taken on a new outdoor hobby since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many Americans are unable to experience these benefits due to inequities in access to the outdoors and sports,” says CLIF Vice President of Brands Jodi Olson. “That’s why we are collaborating with Venus Williams and Outdoor Afro, two of our long-time partners, to enact change and break down systemic barriers, creating more diverse and inclusive activities for our communities.”

Speaking on the initiative, Williams shares, “I am honored to be part of this new chapter…to show greater representation in the outdoor community. Together our goal is to make a meaningful impact to reconnect Black communities with the outdoors and sports through education, recreation, and conservation.”

To kick off the partnership, Outdoor Afro is offering a range of CLIF-sponsored outdoor experiences across the country including activities like hiking, paddle boarding, and kayaking with nutritional CLIF bars and gear provided by the brand. "Our partnership with CLIF Bar gives Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders and community participants different types of nutritional options while exploring nature," says Outdoor Afro National Program Director Chaya Harris. "The bars are so easy to pack and travel with while guiding local activities."

In conversation with EBONY, Williams shares more about the partnership and her passion for driving awareness for access to the outdoors and sports.

Venus Williams. Image: courtesy of Clif Bar & co.

EBONY: Why are you partnering with CLIF CORPS? 

Venus Williams: I’ve been a CLIF Athlete for many years and my work with CLIF has been more than just a sponsorship, but also an opportunity to advocate for the issues and organizations most important to me—from supporting the Harlem Junior Tennis Education Program to promoting pay equity for women and greater access to the outdoors and sports for underrepresented communities. That’s why I’m proud to join forces with CLIF CORPS and Outdoor Afro to support this initiative. 

Why Outdoor Afro? 

CLIF was built with athletes in mind, making it an obvious partner for myself and fantastic organizations like Outdoor Afro. Outdoor Afro is actively helping break down economic, social, or emotional barriers that have prevented equal access to outdoor activities and sports - barriers I have experienced throughout my life. Increasing access to sports and opportunities for communities who may not have always seen themselves represented on the court, the field or the trails is very important to me. That is why I’m proud to advocate for an organization like Outdoor Afro in partnership with CLIF CORPS.

Image: courtesy of Clif Bar

Why does the lack of diversity and inclusion in the outdoor recreation space resonate so strongly with you? 

I believe it’s critical to bring more opportunities for outdoor recreation to communities that may lack green space, infrastructure, and access to nature. I know firsthand because I grew up in Compton, California which was a neighborhood like that. Spending time engaging in sports and the outdoors has so many benefits and should be accessible to everyone. We need to overcome barriers around discrimination, access and social and economic disparity that keep people from feeling safe, accepted, and able to enjoy activities like tennis, swimming or hiking which offer so much, both physically and mentally. 

What do you do to reconnect with nature and get active outdoors? 

Tennis has always been my outlet for getting outside, enjoying some fresh air, and remaining active. Tennis can be played in so many different environments and is becoming increasingly accessible to more communities. Through this collaboration with CLIF CORPS and Outdoor Afro I hope to inspire others to feel confident to step outside and find their outdoor passion.