Photos: The power of climbing harnessed

Brown Girls Climbing addresses trauma and is increasing diversity at the crag.

  • Taylor assists 5-year-old Aki Williams-Rawlings. “Brown Girls Climbing was basically an answer to creating a safe space for girls and their emotions and their movement,” Taylor said. “But also celebrating ourselves as brown and black women.”

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Taylor holds the hand of one of her pupils, explaining why her hands hurt and what she can do to prevent it.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Taylor gets the girls juiced with her own exuberance about what it means to be Black and Brown and proud.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Kaily Heitz, left, and Emily Taylor scope out a route. Taylor started the Black Climbers Collective to create a safe space for climbers separate from the POC climbing community. “When we group (POC) all together, there is still a lack of healing space for me,” Taylor said.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Taylor brings down Heitz after she topped out on a route.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • During warmup exercises, Taylor demonstrates to Aki Williams-Rawlings how to lunge.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Milo, Taylor’s daughter, warms up without a rope.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Taylor speaks to the girls.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Like she encourages her daughter to do, Taylor starts her climbing session by doing a few routes without a rope.

    Michael A. Estrada
  • Emily Taylor and her 9-year-old daughter, Milo. “I’m giving her an understanding and a freedom of her own movement,” Taylor said, by teaching Milo, a member of Brown Girls Climbing, about the sport.

    Michael A. Estrada

 

Emily Taylor remembers the first time she met another black climber outside of work. It was three years ago — after she’d been climbing for more than two decades. For years, Taylor, who lives in Oakland, California, has been advocating for better representation in the outdoor community, but the response from industry leaders has been vague and negligent. “They have been so careless and haphazard and not understanding of their own cultural bias,” she said. Some companies have taken shallow measures to appear more diverse, but meaningful efforts, such as seriously looking into why there are so few black climbers, have not followed. Before it can move forward, the industry must grapple with the harrowing violence black people have endured in the United States, Taylor explained: “We have generational and ancestral trauma about having rope around our bodies.”

So Taylor, a professional climber and climbing coach, created her own initiatives to diversify the sport, including a group called Brown Girls Climbing. Having a black coach can help young climbers, including non-binary kids, navigate the predominantly white spaces of climbing gyms, and feel safe there. One way Taylor does this is by incorporating stories of black heroes into skill-building exercises. For example, during a lesson on “quiet feet” — carefully avoiding shoe squeaks while climbing, to ensure efficiency and proper technique — she described how Harriet Tubman helped slaves escape to freedom without “making a sound.” All of them know that story, she said. Creating an intentional space for fledgling climbers has been personally liberating for Taylor: “These girls can walk in (the climbing gym) and can see somebody that looks like them.”Jessica Kutz, editorial fellow

Michael A. Estrada is a Salvadoran-American photojournalist and artist. His work falls at the intersection of media, environmental justice, art, and folks of color in nature. Email NewTowncarShare News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.