Our JEDI Journey

Credit Photo Courtesy of:
Kennan Harvey

Access Fund is committed to incorporating the principles of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) into its work to protect America’s climbing.

Why JEDI?

We do this first and foremost because our ethics demand that we actively work to dismantle structures that facilitate systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry and discrimination, and replace them with ones that create healing and justice. Not only are these forces antithetical to our basic values, they also create access issues. Too many people feel unsafe or unwelcome, or are otherwise unable to enjoy our outdoor spaces because of who they are. This is as much of a barrier to access as a closed gate. Identity should never be an obstacle to the incredible opportunities and experiences that climbing offers.

Secondly, we are committed to JEDI because it is a key component of protecting our climbing areas long into the future. As the country changes, both demographically and culturally, climbing is changing as well. Maintaining relevance and building a strong, multigenerational constituency dedicated to protecting America’s climbing requires that we embrace JEDI values as a fundamental part of our work.

Vision

We believe that all people should feel welcomed, respected, and able to fully engage in climbing and outdoor recreation. We envision a community in which all people feel they have an important part to play in conservation and stewardship of our natural spaces, whether that’s an urban crag or a backcountry wilderness landscape.

Fulfilling this external vision requires that we apply the same standards to ourselves as an organization. To that end, we envision a workplace where a diverse team of staff from a multitude of backgrounds feels respected, valued, heard, and able to fully reach their personal and professional potential.

The JEDI journey is long, challenging, and full of pitfalls that we fully expect to confront. But the result is both beautiful and powerful, and something we believe in striving toward. Access Fund embraces the road ahead, as we live out our vision for a climbing community committed to justice.

Our Internal Work

Access Fund is actively working to make the organization itself a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable place, and a better place for people from all backgrounds to work and thrive.

Staff and Board Diversity

  • In early 2018, shortly before our JEDI fellow position was created, Access Fund had never had more than one person of color on staff at a time. As of 2020, 20% of our staff are Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC), including several members of our leadership. Access Fund’s staff include those who identify as Black, Brown, Asian, White, mixed-race, Muslim, Jewish, and gender nonconforming.
  • Our board has also grown considerably more diverse—from having one person of color on the board in 2016, to having people of color make up 23% of our board in 2020. In addition, many of our board members are leaders within our community when it comes to equity and inclusion. Access Fund’s board includes those who identify as trans, Latinx, Asian, and mixed-race.
  • Similarly, our board has progressed in terms of gender parity. As of 2020, women compose 31% of the board, up from 15% in 2010.
  • Our staff breakdown is currently 40% women, 50% men, and 10% who identify as neither. Increasing representation of women on our leadership team is a current priority.
  • The JEDI Fellow position was created in late 2018 and has since grown to lead or assist with much of the work described here.

Workplace Needs and Culture

  • In late 2019, we completed an internal JEDI assessment. This assessment measured numerous factors related to JEDI, using both qualitative and quantitative metrics: staff understanding of JEDI concepts, training needs specific to JEDI, staff attitudes toward JEDI, workplace satisfaction and experience as related to identity, and more. The results indicated several areas of strength, as well as critical areas for growth. Specifically:
    • Staff of color on average felt highly included, valued, respected, and heard, even to a higher degree than their White colleagues.
    • There was an extremely high level of buy-in for JEDI work among all staff and a solid understanding of basic concepts.
    • In terms of areas for growth, staff felt they needed more resources and training on how to integrate JEDI in their day-to-day work. Ensuring that staff have the tools to fulfill JEDI in their programmatic work is a current/ongoing project, as of 2020.
    • In addition, there was a discrepancy between the quality of the experiences of men and women at Access Fund, with women on staff generally feeling somewhat less valued, respected, and heard than their male colleagues. This result has informed a gender-equity plan, currently in draft stage, and is a major priority for 2020.
  • We have added to our staff handbook a JEDI policy that clearly states Access Fund’s commitment to JEDI in the workplace and our intention to support the identities of each of our staff members. The policy also lays out expectations in terms of staff conduct specific to JEDI.
  • Job descriptions for open positions now go through a JEDI editing lens to ensure we use inclusive language. In addition, we are getting openings out to a wider and more diverse network of candidates, by being intentional in how and where we distribute our postings. We are committed to ongoing learning and to following best practices in unbiased hiring.

Training

  • We have held JEDI trainings at annual staff retreats since 2019. In the first training, True Change Associates introduced fundamental JEDI concepts. In the second, we analyzed our internal culture and brainstormed how to implement JEDI into individual staff member’s day-to-day work. We’ve also offered online training about unconscious bias to all staff.
  • After COVID-19 forced a switch to virtual meetings, we prepared meeting guidance from a JEDI lens to train staff on common pitfalls when gathering virtually. Inequitable gender dynamics within organizations take many forms but are particularly pervasive in meetings. Research has shown that virtual meetings exacerbate this trend. We intend to integrate this guidance into the gender-equity plan discussed above.

Strategic Planning

  • Access Fund is in the process of updating its strategic plan to guide the organization for the next three to five years. Integrating JEDI principles throughout the plan is an ongoing project.

Our External Work

Access Fund seeks to make the climbing community itself more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. To that end, this section details the outward-facing JEDI work Access Fund has done. Fundamentally, we believe that BIPOC-led, grassroots organizations—like Brown Girls Climb, Brothers of Climbing, Climbers of Color, Flash Foxy, and many others—are the best leaders to drive true, community-oriented change, because they are the folks who are at the center of, and most impacted by, this struggle. We commit to supporting these organizations in whatever way we can, and also to ensuring that we integrate JEDI into our specific areas of expertise, like public lands policy and climbing area stewardship, in as many ways as possible.

Partnerships

  • We have consulted extensively with local climbing organizations (LCOs), individuals, and nonclimbing organizations across the country on JEDI topics. This includes everything from brainstorming JEDI projects for LCOs to initiate in their region, to helping to craft JEDI statements, to general education on JEDI principles. We have worked with LCOs and other organizations from Alaska, California, D.C./Maryland/Virginia, Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia, North and South Carolina, Colorado, and Kentucky, with the list growing.
  • Access Fund financially supports the Color the Crag climbing festival and has also supported the PGM ONE summit, both of which are gatherings devoted to bringing together and elevating people of color in outdoor spaces. We have also made a substantial (for a small nonprofit) donation to PGM ONE's Black Joy fund. Various staff members have also attended these events, as both participants and presenters.
  • Our JEDI fellow currently serves as a subcommittee chair on USA Climbing’s DEI Task Force (DEITF), which strives to make USA Climbing, and gym and competition climbing in America in general, inclusive and equitable. Although Access Fund focuses on protecting outdoor climbing areas, plugging into the indoor climbing scene is essential for cultivating climbing advocates over the long term.

Public Lands Policy

Access Fund is committed to understanding and addressing the ways in which systemic racism and other forms of discrimination overlap with access to and enjoyment of our public lands. We have broadened our advocacy approach to better address these issues and represent the full diversity of the climbing community.

  • We have integrated JEDI principles into Climb the Hill, our annual Washington, D.C., lobby day, during which we convene climbers from across the country to meet with legislators and advocate for critical public lands issues. We have done this on multiple levels:
    • The Climb the Hill JEDI Task Force helps ensure that all aspects of the event are considered through a JEDI lens.
    • We hold a pre-event JEDI training for all participants, in addition to our usual policy and lobbying training.
    • We write our yearly policy handbook to specifically discuss the JEDI implications of policy issues like energy development and protections for the Antiquities Act. For example, irresponsible energy development obviously impacts the environment and threatens climbing opportunities, but in addition, the detrimental health effects of fossil fuel extraction tends to disproportionately impact communities of color. While lobbying, we highlight the JEDI ramifications of public lands policy, in addition to our usual talking points around climbing access.
    • We highlight the intersection of public lands and JEDI issues at the public events that are part of Climb the Hill. For example, in 2019 we hosted a Senate panel on connecting environmental policy with social justice, given to a full house of congressional staff and legislators.
    • Our attendees reflect the full diversity of the nation. Our 2019 advocates included 60 climbers, coming from every region of the country and representing numerous different communities of color, urban and rural communities, the differently abled community, the queer community, several tribal communities, pro climbers, grassroots organizers, policy professionals, businesspeople, and climbers of every discipline.
  • When we submit public comments and policy recommendations to land managers and policy makers (through the NEPA process, for example), we emphasize the need for management strategies that make communities of color feel welcome and safe on our public lands, in addition to our usual comments on climbing access and environmental protection.
  • Similarly, we have begun to frontload JEDI thinking into all of our work with public land managers—for example, we intentionally reach out to partners from marginalized communities adjacent to forest, park, or BLM lands before planning processes begin, to better coordinate and understand their needs.
  • In 2016, Access Fund created our Native Lands Coordinator position—which Navajo/Diné mountain guide and public lands advocate Aaron Mike currently holds—to foster effective and respectful collaboration between Access Fund and tribes on critical public lands issues.
  • In southeastern Utah in particular, we have worked very closely with, and taken our lead from, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, as we work hand in hand with local tribes to protect the unique landscape, deep cultural significance, and climbing resources of the Bears Ears and Indian Creek region (more information here, here, here, and here). Specifically, we support the Inter-Tribal Coalition in our lawsuit against the drastic reduction of the original Bears Ears National Monument.
  • Similarly, in Arizona we have partnered with the San Carlos Apache tribe and the Yavapai tribe for more than a decade in the ongoing fight to save Oak Flat from destruction.

Programmatic Work

We are committed to integrating JEDI into all Access Fund staff’s day-to-day work. The JEDI Fellow works with staff across the organization to brainstorm strategies and individual projects. Although many of these are still in early stages, many staff have also begun implementing their own ideas. These include:

  • Revising our grant guidelines to include JEDI principles and ask for a higher standard of JEDI engagement from those we fund;
  • Convening a community roundtable on JEDI at the Outdoor Retailer show, to bring together key stakeholders in the JEDI and outdoor communities, share ideas and best practices, and inform Access Fund’s JEDI priorities;
  • Partnering with The Howard School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to bring local youth into the process of opening a brand-new climbing area in the city limits, within walking distance of a large and diverse population. More broadly, we are looking for opportunities to protect and open new climbing areas in highly accessible urban areas;
  • Launching a community-based effort to get more women involved in new route development in Texas;
  • Applying a JEDI lens to our Climbing Advocate Awards and the work we highlight in general. Instead of focusing solely on land acquisitions, stewardship, rebolting, etc., our climbing advocate awards now also recognize people who are leading our community through their JEDI work. Check out our awardees from 2019, as well as this article, for examples.

Communications

We intentionally and regularly feature the voices of climbers from the BIPOC, queer, and differently abled communities. The Access Fund communications team has led our efforts on this, working to accurately and respectfully represent the full breadth of the climbing community in our print publications, online content, and social media channels. Check out our Instagram feed for examples.

  • We created internal guidance to prevent tokenization or exploitation of organizations and individuals we work with. Our guiding principle is to build partnerships that serve the partner in the ways they would like us to. If that includes featuring them in our communications materials, we do so. If it includes integration into other areas of our work or organization, we do that instead.
  • We have made similar efforts at our live events. This includes intentionally choosing speakers who can weave JEDI themes into their presentations at our annual event and highlighting JEDI topics at our regional conferences, among other in-person efforts to amplify the importance of JEDI to our community.
  • Access Fund social media accounts follow underrepresented communities in the climbing world to ensure we connect to our broad range of constituents.
  • We’re committed to producing content on JEDI issues and how they relate to climbing and stewardship. This includes articles and videos on climbing and Indigenous lands. Here are a few examples:
  • In late 2018 we created a formal tribal land acknowledgment policy, which is now implemented in all of our communications materials.

Questions and Feedback

We hope that by clearly communicating our JEDI work in its entirety, this page serves as a resource for individuals and organizations looking for information on JEDI, and also a means of keeping ourselves accountable to JEDI principles. Please feel free to reach out to [email protected] at any time with questions or feedback on our JEDI work.

Page last updated: 7.8.2020