With a hint of winter still in the air, I opened the chilled metal doors of The Rock Club gym in New Rochelle, NY. Entering a new gym for the first time is always overwhelming. Where are the locker rooms? Where do I sign in? Where are my friends…and where are all of the black people.
I competed in my first citizen’s competition about one year ago at Central Rock Gym in Manhattan. It didn’t dawn on me when I first fell in love with climbing at a POC (people of color) climbing festival in Alabama that there really aren’t THAT many black, femme/female boulderers. When you’re in a space gathered together with people from all over the U.S., you think, we’re running this joint. Until everyone disperses and returns to their respective home gyms. Then you look around and realize, it’s just me…and a few others sprinkled in.
I began doing competitions as a way to challenge myself. As a way to improve by watching the best in action. The more I attended and competed in competitions, I was almost always one of the few black women spectating and at times the only one competing. At first it didn’t bother me because of my intense love for climbing. And for the fact that I was used to being “the only.” The only black girl on the hiking trail, the only black girl on the slopes, the only black girl at a Tool concert.
The competition at The Rock Club, a gym in Westchester county near New York City escalated that feeling of isolation. There was one other black female competitor and she was employed by the gym. There were 15+ kids competing and not one of them a little black girl. So this brings us to the question, does diversity in climbing competitions matter?
Hell yeah! Because representation matters. How can you tell a little girl to reach for her dreams if she never new those dreams existed? So many of today’s strongest competitors began climbing in their 20s or 30s, competing against kids who started climbing at age 8. Competing is not just about winning but about being seen. Being seen by sponsors, by the world (Olympics) and by the little black girl sitting on the couch looking for a love she never new existed.