Sending in Color: How One Group is Bringing Diversity to the Chicago Climbing Community
By Pat Nabong
Lisa See Kim, a climber of six years, was getting ready for another problem at Chicago's First Ascent Uptown bouldering gym. Surrounded by a diverse group, Kim told the organizer of the event that she'd been waiting for a climbing meetup for people of color for the longest time.
“I think that in general, most climbing spaces that I’ve encountered have been predominantly white," said Kim. "I guess it’s a trend in my whole life. I feel like I’ve been seeking out spaces with more people that look like me or share a similar experience."
Justin Forrest Parks also took note of the sport's lack of diversity.
“When I would talk about climbing or going on these trips to people [from the South Side of Chicago], they would be like, ‘Yeah, that’s a Justin thing,’ or ‘Black people don’t do that,’” he said.
Parks felt welcomed by the climbing community when he started climbing six years ago, but he also couldn’t shake the nagging question in the back of his mind: “If I’m the only person of color here, is that because others are choosing not be here, or is it because they’re not getting access and we’re not making it accessible?”
Access was the issue for Pilar Amado, who stopped climbing for a year when she moved from Colombia to Chicago. She found it difficult to get back into the sport because she didn’t know anyone in the then tightly-knit climbing community. The language barrier and the cost to enter a climbing gym added additional challenges.
Parks suggests that the price of gym memberships, concentration of gyms in the North and West Sides of a segregated Chicago, and the lack of efforts to introduce climbing to people of color hinder the diversification of the city's climbing community.
Inspired by their experiences, Parks and Amado decided to create Sending in Color, a group that aims to make climbing more accessible, create a community, and introduce the sport to climbers of diverse backgrounds. Sending in Color organizes monthly hangouts where they partner with climbing gyms in different Chicago neighborhoods to offer reduced day rates.
Sending in Color bills itself as a place for climbers of color to meet others, support one another, encourage new climbers, and find a community. The group has had three hangouts since its inception in November 2017. Their attendance ranges from 15 to 80 climbers of all levels, with a number of regulars.
“I don’t think anyone’s saying, ‘Let’s keep these people out,’ but by not really working on trying to bring them in and being inclusive, it can be just as damaging,” said Parks. “There are people of color out there, and they’re crushing, and they’re doing great.”
Follow Sending in Color on Facebook to learn more about the group and find out about upcoming events.