A Note From the Executive Director
The past few weeks have been deeply painful for the Black community. I am heartsick – as is anyone who cares about diversity, fairness and justice – by the events of the last few weeks involving racial injustice in the U.S. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, alongside the incident in Central Park, show how much work we have to do to build a stronger, safer, and more equal society.
As the leader of an organization that has sought to build relationships with communities of color for 30 years, I am committing to making Big City Mountaineers (BCM) an actively anti-racist organization, in solidarity with the Black community as well as the Indigenous community and other communities of color (BIPOC). We must and will increase our efforts to amplify messages and voices that promote justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity in our society.
Systemic racism plays a role in nearly every aspect of our lives, affecting BIPOC health, wealth, and freedom. The grief and anger we’re hearing – from the Black community in particular – are real, and need to be both expressed and heard. To heal these deep wounds, white people, who passively benefit from the systems set up in our favor, must actively confront the systemic racism in our society. It’s not enough to be “not racist”; white people have to oppose racism where we see it, and use our privilege to make space for those who have been unfairly marginalized.
When I sought the Executive Director position at BCM, I did it because I wanted to deepen the impact I could have in my community and in communities across the country. I wanted to learn from people who I wouldn’t ordinarily interact with, and create amazing outdoor experiences for youth with them. Five years later, and my work in seven different cities has taught me many things: Difference enriches us. Humility matters. Representation is key. And, importantly, acknowledging the systemic racism that exists in this country is crucial to finding ways to end it.
Recent years have seen BCM staff going through our own process of organizational reflection, change, and growth – especially with regards to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. This process isn’t over by any means, but it has already brought about an important amount of new learning and deeper understanding, meaningful shifts in our language and training, new staff members, new board members, and the elevation of important strategic goals.
Listening has been and will continue to be key to that process. Listening to our students, whether at a meeting with families, on a backcountry trip, or at an end-of-year reunion. Listening to colleagues, as they share what it’s like to be a person of color in our country today and dream of brighter tomorrows. Listening to our agency partners, who are on the ground doing their work in direct partnership with the communities we seek to collaborate with. But listening isn’t enough. We must all take action if we want the world to be a more equitable place.
Now and in BCM’s future, action looks like engaging in BIPOC-led community-based coalitions that are fighting for equality and justice, and amplifying their work. It’s working to ensure our organizational leadership and volunteer base represent the diversity we seek. And it’s taking a look at our internal policies, curriculums, and programs, to ensure that the decisions we make are an embodiment of the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
As a white man, I’m acutely aware that I don’t have the answers – and my role will be to approach and participate in this discussion with humility. I know I need to do better, and I am doing the work to self-educate with the resources countless people of color have spent time and emotional labor creating. I will use my privilege to call out systemic racism where I see it – and to ensure that BCM is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Lastly, I will be reliant on you, the BCM community, to call me out when I make mistakes – and I am committed to seeing the care in that action and to doing better because of it.
White people in this fight need to have the courage to change, even if it’s not comfortable or convenient. We will make mistakes; we will acknowledge the harm, apologize, offer restitution, learn, do better. It’s not easy, but it’s so, so important. And I can start with me, and with BCM.
Thank you for your support, your care, your feedback, and your trust as we work towards a more just tomorrow.