BLACK LIVES MATTER. We, as an organization, wholeheartedly support the country-wide protests and intention behind them. Our emotions, intellect, and energy pours into the black community, as we listen, observe, and work to move from ally to co-conspirator.
Climbing is predominately white. Pittsburgh is incredibly segregated. Our city is more gold AND THEN black than we like to admit. ASCEND is undoubtedly a part of that fabric, and we are complicit. It’s easy to rebel against overt racism, because it’s obviously vile, but it’s much more difficult to reorganize hundreds of years of subtle, interwoven social and legal biases. It’s widely believed to be taboo for businesses to take political stances or assert their opinions too much. We offer you a service, you pay us for it, and we dare not disrupt that relationship. Going forward, ASCEND will work to undo our silence and inaction on dismantling systemic racism and racial injustice that impact our community by becoming better allies and makers of change.
For many, the systemic disadvantages for black Americans become clearer the more you allow yourself to think about how you got to where you are. The founders of ASCEND, Paul (me), Alex, and Aaron, often boast about how we cobbled together the pieces to build ASCEND with little money and resources to our name. That’s true, if you ignore the fact that we had direct access to powerful people with deep pockets. We believed that we could build something, and therefore that we should be able to accomplish that goal. As white Americans, it was our right to have believed that sentiment. We weren’t being naive, and we weren’t knowingly exploiting our black counterparts to get a leg up, but we took advantage of a set of resources that were largely only available to us because of the color of our skin, which played a direct role in the access to wealth that our families and communities have.
Our mostly-white leadership team is composed of well-intentioned people who care deeply, but it is now painfully clear that's not enough. We like to view ourselves as a young, progressive organization. We’ve created clubs for BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities, but we haven’t promoted them as much as we could have. We’ve talked about diversifying our team, hosting bias training for our staff, and increasing the number of BIPOC climbers in our community, but we haven’t actually done anything tangible. We hired an HR Director last year with one of the main goals of deploying diversification recruitment tactics, but we've focused too much on growing our workforce rather than shaping it. We’ve also tokenised MC1R and other non-white community members by asking for their opinion on these matters and asking them to speak for ASCEND in difficult moments, instead of seeking opportunities to collaborate and learn.
All this and much more is 100% on us, and it can’t be blamed on a lack of time or ignorance. We deeply regret not being more proactive. People and organizations in our position with our convictions are best-suited to move the needle forward, not sit back and say, “We’re already doing some good things, so we’re exempt.” We’ve learned from this current movement that no one is exempt, and despite our best intentions, they haven’t been our strongest efforts.
ASCEND cannot make meaningful change overnight. The work ahead of us will be deliberate and sustained. We are eager to challenge ourselves and commit to this endeavor, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. We hesitated to make this post sooner to avoid repeating what’s been said better elsewhere, appearing insincere, or making shallow generalizations in lieu of real reflection on the roles ASCEND has played in systemic injustice. Taking a definitive stance on this matter is a no-brainer, but being able to truly reflect on the roles ASCEND has played in systemic injustice is how we're going to make real change.
We’ve talked a lot about ourselves, which we are aware of, but, to borrow a quote from a friend, “Why ASCEND? Because it's our community. And that's where you start.”
What are ASCEND’s goals?
- To build on what MC1R has already begun, by providing additional resources dedicated to:
- increasing participation in climbing from BIPOC communities.
- bolstering ongoing outreach initiatives that close the gap between communities that do not have access to, knowledge of, or acceptance for climbing.
- providing educational opportunities and resources to the ASCEND community.
- To establish a Community Advisory Board, predominantly of minority members, including those who are black and of color, to provide feedback on ASCEND’s operations, help determine the direction of social initiatives, and generate ideas for future projects and activities.
- To increase the number of BIPOC throughout our entire organization through deliberate recruiting efforts.
- To seek meaningful, long-lasting partnerships with stakeholders who can assist in these efforts.
- To assist with the broader efforts, outside of the climbing community, of levelling the playing field for all Americans by seeking true equality through social empowerment and legislative forces.
- To find our own confident voice on matters of injustice and use it as an effective ally should.
- To regularly communicate with our community on our progress.
What action can we all take together?
- Join us in donating to 1Hood Media, a Pittsburgh collective of socially conscious artists and activists who utilize art to raise awareness, and Bukit Bail Fund of Pittsburgh, a coalition of individuals supporting those incarcerated in Allegheny County Jail.
- Vote. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s the system we are born into, and voting is but one lever that we can pull. Ignoring that option is not taking advantage of the resources made available. Seek change within while protesting at the front lines. We can do both.
- Reiterate to everyone you know that ASCEND is a safe, inclusive, and accessible space for everyone. We have a zero-tolerance policy on intolerance.
- Join the movement in any way that you are capable and comfortable. Contribute something positive and don’t stop listening, adjusting, and trying.
- Why does ASCEND feel this way now?
- We’ve always felt this way, but never bothered to speak as loudly and take deliberate action.
- Stay in your lane! Why does ASCEND have to get political?
- Not only does our team believe that it is our moral obligation to use our platform for positive change, we also believe that a vibrant and happy, equitably supported, and fully-functioning society is good for business.
- What is your stance on the protests?
- As history has proven, we believe that protesting and all that may come with it is a crucial device in ushering in societal change, especially when other available channels have been exhausted.
- But don’t All Lives Matter?
- Of course they do, but no one is arguing against that. We like this analogy: “Saying All Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter, is like saying the fire department should spray down all the houses in a neighborhood even though only one house is one fire.”
- MC1R: An ASCEND club that serves as an inclusive space for people of color and ethnic minorities to climb together and explore the outdoors while supporting each other mentally and physically.
- Brothers of Climbing: An organization that seeks to make the rock climbing community more diverse.
- Melanin Base Camp: Diversity in outdoor adventure sports.
- 1Hood Media: Pittsburgh collective of socially conscious artists and activists who utilize art to raise awareness. ASCEND is encouraging donations to bolster its impact.
- Bukit Bail Fund of Pittsburgh: A coalition of individuals supporting those incarcerated in Allegheny County Jail.
- Steel Smiling: Steel Smiling bridges the gap between community members and mental health support through education, advocacy, and awareness.
- YWCA Greater Pittsburgh: On a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families, and strengthen communities.
- ACLU: A nonprofit, nonpartisan, legal and advocacy 501(c)(4) org. Donations via Instagram stickers benefit the ACLU Foundation, an affiliated 501(c)(3) org.
- Black Lives Matter: Join the Movement to fight for Freedom, Liberation and Justice by signing up for updates, supporting our work, checking out our resources, following us on social media, or wearing our dope, official gear.
- Campaign Zero: We can live in a world where the police don't kill people by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability.
- NAAPC: Founded 1909, the NAACP is the nation's first and largest grassroots–based civil rights organization. Over 2,000 volunteer-run branches nationwide.
Food For Thought
- Token Minority, a 2018 essay written by Pittsburgh climber, Donald (DJ) Grant. “Don't feel compelled to participate in certain sports or social activities simply because other people who look like you are being glorified for doing so. You are not obligated to be on anyone's court or field. Your only obligation is to find what makes YOU happy. It comes down to making a simple choice: do you want to climb?”
- Open Your Eyes To The Reality of Black Lives, but Kai Lightner (June 9, 2020)
- 5 Ways White People Can Take Action in Response to White and State-Sanctioned Violence
- Resources and Tools Regarding Racism and Anti/Blackness and How to Become a Better Ally
- Scaffolded Anti-Racist Resources
This is a live page that will continue to grow.