When Noelia Aponte Silva and Monserrat Alvarez Matehuala started climbing, they felt very isolated and unwelcome.
“It just started to feel like in my like, am I the only light brown person that is coming into the gym to climb?” Aponte Silva said. "To me, it just felt very intimidating."
“It just wasn't a very diverse space, like it was very homogenous, and I didn't see anybody who looked like me,” Alvarez Matehuala said.
At times, they questioned if they wanted to continue the sport, but they found nature healing. They loved how figuring out a route challenged their minds, and climbing helped them to feel strong.
So they searched for others in the national climbing community who looked like them.
They found Brown Girls Climb. Alvarez Matehuala is the Outdoor Program Director, and Aponte Silva is the Colorado Local Leader.
“Brown Girls Climb is a woman of color-led LLC and small business that tries to promote rock-climbing in underrepresented communities and expand the narrative of who climbs and creates leadership opportunities for women of color and non-binary folks of color,” Alvarez Matehuala said.
Unfortunately, there are barriers for women of color to access climbing.
“It can be a very expensive sport, we're talking about shoes, crash pads, robes, and it goes on and on, right?” Aponte Silva said.
Alvarez Matehuala and Aponte Silva say it’s not an issue of getting people of color into the climbing world for the first time. It’s bringing them back to a world in which they’ve been underrepresented.
“I feel like there's this idea that the white community created climbing, and it lacks the acknowledgment that there are indigenous communities that lived in these spaces and they were also climbing these rocks,” Aponte Silva said.
“Historically, like the creation of outdoor spaces intentionally excluded us through not only resources but also literal segregation of our parks and public and so-called public spaces that we have not felt comfortable or safe or welcomed for various reasons or felt like we can access these spaces,” Alvarez Matehuala said.
Brown Girls Climb is actively changing that. The for-profit social enterprise recently started a shopping platform called Brown Girls Climb Marketplace.
“The BCG marketplace is the platform in which people can just seek, you know, different vendors, companies, products that they're looking for to better align with their values and the way they live their lifestyle and adapt to their own needs,” Alvarez Matehuala said.
The idea is that outdoor enthusiasts can support BIPOC-owned businesses – giving them power in an industry that makes a lot of money.
“I don't want us to be seen as a diversity equity inclusion initiative like I want them to really see the value of the things that we can bring to the table and really embrace that,” Aponte Silva said.
Representation matters, and both ladies say they’d like to see more women and non-binary folks of color climb to the top.