“Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations. It is beating within us.” Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist
Noelia Aponte-Silva was born and raised in Puerto Rico and has lived in Colorado for five years. She started climbing three years ago and was immediately hooked.
“After that initial high I started to look around and I was like, ‘Huh, I don’t see that many people that look like me,” she told me. “Should I even be here?’”
She did a Google search and discovered Brown Girls Climb.
“I was like, Whoa, this is amazing!”
Brown Girls Climb (BGC) is an LLC, owned and operated by women of color who work to build communities of, and leadership opportunities for, self-identified women climbers of color nationwide.
BGC began as an Instagram account started by Texas-based Bethany Lebewitz in 2016. She and Brittany Leavitt, in Maryland, messaged about climbing together, and soon a few more women joined the conversation. Before long, these women held their first climbing “meet-up” in Washington D.C.
Meet-ups take place both outdoors and in climbing gyms, and are places for women of color to share knowledge, ask questions and learn from one another through climbing.
“I benefited so much from them, not just with my climbing skills but with having a community in a place where I barely knew anybody,” said Aponte-Silva.
As of this year, meet-ups take place in 10 states across the country, facilitated by local BGC leaders. In early 2019, Aponte-Silva became the Denver area local leader.
Monserrat Alvarez Matehuala has lived in Boulder for two years and is the membership and inclusion coordinator at the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). She’s also a part-time instructor at Women’s Wilderness, a local leader for Latino Outdoors, certified Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) and she’s one of six national leaders for Brown Girls Climb.
“I got into doing immigrant justice work when I was 12, because of my mom,” she said. “I was hyper-aware of the world around me at a young age. So when I got into the outdoors the first thing I noticed at my leader training was like, ‘Hmmm, I’m the only woman of color here. There’s only one other woman, she’s a white woman.’”
Matehuala often felt ignored or discredited by her peers, the majority of whom were white men. Especially when it came to racially sensitive concerns such as valuing marginalized perspectives, climber slang, and offensive names of rock climbs.
Aponte-Silva echoes these feelings, saying, “I think there’s an unwillingness to acknowledge that racism exists in the climbing community. The people that experience it haven’t had the opportunity, the platform, to make their opinions known.”
But there’s hope in the current racial justice movement.
“We’re at a really pivotal time in our history, in our society, where more people are starting to pay attention and listen,” said Matehuala. “Part of me feels really upset that it took this long for us to start addressing these things in our own communities and our own industry. And the other part of me is, you know, how do we use this momentum?”
BGC is using it to grow and become more of a service, said Leavitt, BGC’s Regional Development Coordinator. She wants to create programs like SPI courses.
“As a woman, and also as a Black woman, those environments can be very hostile,” she said. “What we want to do is create that space where knowledge can be taken in versus having to spend half the time defending yourself to be in a course.”
White people like me can use this momentum for listening, learning, and for transforming our thoughts and behaviors from racist to antiracist.
“It’s on all of us, and it’s especially on white people, to no longer see systemic racism as an issue that only impacts people of color, but as an issue that upholds their own power,” said Matehuala.
“If you really want to create change, especially in the climbing community, realize it’s going to be a forever project,” Leavitt said. “It’s not just a few months — it’s going to be a movement.”
Contact Chris Weidner at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8
For more information
Learn more about Brown Girls Climb and how you can be involved and/or support their mission:
On the web: browngirlsclimb.com