You are worthy, not because of achievement or by some prescribed measure, but simply because you are human. You are valuable, not because of what you offer or provide, but simply because your existence has a purpose in the world. You are a gloriously unique and imperfect individual who deserves to be seen and heard for who YOU are. We at 5.Life have a responsibility to fight for this principle and create a space where everyone can be comfortable being themselves. All people should feel welcomed and wanted at our facilities and more broadly in our community. The better we achieve this ideal the better the climbing experience—literally and figuratively—for our community and society at large.
We do recognize that we fall short and that we must do better putting this belief into action. George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing BLM protests slapped us awake as it did for most predominantly–white organizations. Once we admitted this truth, what then? What we knew was that we needed to understand racism and educate ourselves on the experience of being Black in America. This start appeared to be meaningless inactivity. However, without understanding, action can also be meaningless. In seeking to be anti-racist, we began to self-critique, discover and shed the racist ideas we have been fed and consumed, learned the racist ideas that others produced, and resolved to no longer remain passively on the sidelines. Climbing (out of our seats) is dangerous.
Speaking for myself, I held to the belief that racist thinking was a byproduct of hate, ignorance, and stupidity—what I realized was far more dangerous. Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America cosmically shifted my perspective.
“Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. […] Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto black people.” (pg. 8)
This truth highlights the need for education and understanding lest we act in such a way that perpetuates racism all the while thinking we are being anti-racist, thinking we are doing good. On the flip side “Educational Persuasion” alone has failed to stop racist ideas and policies. Racism is complex, sophisticated, and wily, hence it’s continued existence. But we also must not let fear of mistakes keep us from action. So the question remains, what can 5.Life do and what can I do? Climbing (into the unknown) is dangerous.
What attracts me to climbing is the never-ending puzzles. In fact, I would argue it is what gets most people hooked on (addicted to?) climbing. As Robin Erbesfeld-Raboutou likes to say, climbing is the perfect laboratory for life. “Problem solving” is what climbers do and seemingly impossible “projects” consume us. We unite against the “wall”, embracing each person’s uniqueness in contributing to the solution. We try. Sometimes we succeed the first time, often we fail many times. We share beta, we observe, we learn, we try again. We encourage each other in the struggle. We must remain vigilant because complacency means possible death. We know that thinking outside the box produces results. We consider ourselves lifelong learners and believe that we will progress and get better. The same characteristics that make climbing dangerous also can make it a force for good.
So here we are at the start holds. The “problem” before us is not only racism, but all sorts of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) issues. It’s gnarly and we are daunted. We know this “project” will consume us and require more from us than we think we have. This isn’t a route we can onsight or even flash. But we won’t turn away. 5.Life exists to grow and serve the climbing community. We can’t fulfill that mission without embracing JEDI. The #BlackLivesMatter movement teaches us, “to truly be antiracist, we must also oppose all the sexism, homophobia, colorism, ethnocentrism, nativism, cultural prejudice, and class bias teeming and teaming with racism to harm so many Black lives.” (Kendi, pg. 502) We humbly admit that we are imperfectly human and will make lots of mistakes and over time we will improve. Climbing (when failure is likely) is dangerous.
Our efforts needed to start at home. We laid a foundation by beginning with education and understanding and then moving to our own policies and behaviors. We are investing in learning through our Little Free Library that is BLM focused, purchasing other teaching tools, instigating discussions, soliciting and investigating suggestions/solutions, and undergoing DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) training. In light of what we are learning, we are examining our HR, hiring, and corporate policies. We are consciously bringing increased awareness into our planning meetings, strategy development, and corporate decision making. 5.Life is committed to using our sphere of influence through giving greater representation to JEDI in the vendors we work with, the imagery we use, the voices we lift up, and the accomplishments we highlight. We will extend our support of “access” from access to outdoor climbing areas to access to climbing in general for all people. I must emphasize that these goals take time to implement, especially in an industry that is largely white and male. Further, we want our efforts to be collaborative and include you, our community. Like any worthwhile climbing “project,” it isn’t possible without your beta. We want to help everyone climb—even if it is dangerous—because the outcome is a better life for all humanity.
The challenges of this past year have beaten us down and slowed our outward response, but we are moving forward. We are committed to providing the best climbing experience. An experience that hears, and sees, and reflects the broader world. An experience that benefits humanity as a whole. We are never done clipping the chains. We invite you to be a part of this project and embrace the fact that climbing is dangerous—literally and metaphorically. Climbing is dangerous to racism. Despite the danger, we must keep climbing onward and upward.