Brothers of Climbing, based in Brooklyn, New York, is an organization that seeks to make the rock climbing community more diverse. Everyone benefits from inclusion, representation and a more welcoming community. We sat down with co-founder Mikhail Martin to discuss how BOC got started and where it is going. Join us for the discussion.
How did Brothers of Climbing begin?
That’s a long story. When we first started climbing at Brooklyn Boulders in New York back in 2009 there were so few black climbers. When you came across another you would make it your duty to introduce yourself. I was a pretty bad climber—no technique and no strength—but that is how I met Andrew Belletty, known as Drew. He was more experienced and just way stronger, but he would always try to help me and my friends that I started climbing with. Drew and I started climbing together more often and that is when we met David Glace, also known as Glache. Even though our climbing circle grew larger, there were still so few black climbers that somewhere along the way we would joke and call ourselves BOC (Brothers of Climbing). It began to stick.
We always had a good time climbing and the energy was contagious. People would migrate from other parts of the gym to come laugh around with us. Drew, Glache and I had the idea that we could share this energy—we wanted to see more people like us enjoying the sport and benefiting from the great community. That was when we decided to start Brothers of Climbing, Inc. Drew worked tirelessly to design the logo and we started spreading the word.
What does the energy of the group feel like?
It’s hard to describe in words what the group’s energy feels like. The group is just too fun to be around. Laughter is one core component, yet we take our climbing seriously and push each other to climb harder. Everybody wins: You get strong and have fun. There is so much support within the crew and that goes beyond climbing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still hanging out with everyone 50 years from now. They are my extended family and probably know me better than some of my own family members.
What’s your mission with BOC?
BOC’s mission is to increase diversity in rock climbing and the outdoors by creating more opportunities for inclusion and representation. In the process we want to bring the community together. We want to see people of color experience a higher level of comfort in the outdoors. We want to hear more children saying they want to be rock climbers instead of the typical basketball or football player. I look forward to the day when more city folk venture outside the city limits and try things outside of their comfort zone.
Do you feel your work is becoming increasingly important in 2017? Why?
Definitely. There are still so many misconceptions; a lot of fear, anger and hatred around the world. We should celebrate and learn about our differences and see it as an opportunity to try something new. Through our work we are bringing people of all backgrounds together, even if it’s just for a couple hours at the gym or a day at the crag. Climbing offers an opportunity to meet everyone on a level playing field. Gravity does not discriminate. It will send you to the ground regardless of what you look like or where you are from. I believe the more we are put in the same boat, the better we will understand each other. Our survival and happiness rely on our interdependence.
How does the climbing community benefit from diversity?
Diversity brings the climbing community new perspectives. This can mean everything from new beta on existing routes to the opening of new crags in places not traveled by existing climbers. With more diversity, more people would feel like they belong and become protectors of the sport and its associated outdoor spaces. Diversity will bring many new stories to the community. All of the inspiration will help so many reach their goals in climbing and life.