Introducing a fierce and visionary BIPOC climber & filmmaker duo, Taylor Jefferson (@ayy_tay_tay) and Trevor Lately (@trevorlately). They collaborated on a new short film titled “Grit” – documenting Taylor’s climbing journey and the BIPOC female experience in the climbing & outdoor adventure sphere. The free live premiere event is Tuesday, June 8th at 7:00 pm CDT on Youtube, followed by a live Q&A with Taylor and Trevor. Interested? Register here.
We chatted with Trevor and Taylor to discuss the upcoming film, their discoveries of the outdoors, and how they strive to reach their full potential as athletes and creators in a challenging, yet exciting, time for BIPOC.
1. Tell us about you & your journeys!
“I was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cedar Rapids is your average mid-sized midwestern city. Growing up I spent a lot of time playing in the woods and going on the occasional camping trip with my family. Throughout high school, I spent a lot of time mountain biking on the trails in town. I was always tuned into the outdoors, but being from Iowa (famous as much for its flatness as its corn and apparently potatoes..) I didn’t have a full grasp of how breathtaking the outdoors were elsewhere in the world. Even Idaho. Where potatoes are actually from.
In my sophomore year of college, I decided I wanted to get into camping and spent a few paychecks on all the requisite gear – I bought a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, backpacking stove, and some semi-sturdy boots. From there I planned weekend trips to local state parks and even made it to my first national parks in Colorado. I spent the next couple of years camping any chance I could get and planning backcountry trips.
After hiking my first fourteener (Castle Peak), I was getting tired of ‘just’ hiking and camping. One of my roommates at the time was always inviting me to the climbing gym but it wasn’t until we took a trip to Moab, Utah through a 1 credit-hour geology course that I really saw the point. In Moab, we came across giant boulders that I could tell from writing and other signs that people had in fact climbed, but no matter how hard I tried I didn’t stand a chance of climbing them. That’s where it started.. I just wanted to get on top of these boulders and watch the stars above. Once I made the connection between exploration in the outdoors and the practice of spending all those hours climbing in the gym, I was hooked. As soon as classes started our senior year I started climbing regularly.
“I am from Texas. Growing up I spent my summer breaks playing tag at the YMCA, climbing trees, and playing make-believe in the woods with friends until nightfall. All I knew of the “outdoors” was that mosquitos bite and my mom was going to make me take a shower when I got inside. I was blind to the adventures and beauty the outdoors really held.
Fast forward to the last semester of my senior year in college when I was dared to climb to the top of our school’s 55ft climbing wall. When I made it to the top, I was hooked. I went back to the climbing gym every week until graduation. The funny thing, looking back, is that I was truly terrified of heights in the beginning. Facing that fear head-on through climbing was so liberating and empowering for me. The following summer, I went on my first road trip through Colorado and Utah. I hit 4 national parks in 8 days. I could not get enough of the sites, the clean air, the open skies, and vastness of beautiful land, vacant of skyscrapers and city noise.
When I came to graduate school, I made it my mission to find a community of people stoked on the outdoors and climbing like myself. I was lucky to have foOnce time opened up in all our schedules to take a trip, we were off! The last 3 years, I have been traveling either by van, car or plane on numerous climbing trips to the outdoors. The opportunity to do such an amazing activity, supported by friends, surrounded by nature is one I will always appreciate. I have made so many memories in a short time, and I hope to continue to have to time to get outside. I have grown and learned so much about myself and my surroundings thanks to this sport. I hope everyone gets a chance to try it.
2. How do you feel about the movement to increase diverse representation in the outdoors?
“I am really stoked about the movement to increase diverse representation in the outdoors. Growing up I was completely unaware of outdoor sports, aside from hiking. I think a large part of that is because I didn’t see myself reflected in outdoor campaigns. It makes me so happy to see so many black and brown women not only sharing their adventures but also their joy in the outdoors. I am inspired by so many others that are actively changing the face of the outdoors. I hope this shift continues to encourage more to get outside and take on new adventures.”
“I’m stoked to see so many great outdoors people leading the charge. Whether their focus is through vanlife like Lovell and Paris (@lovellandparis), biking like Jalen Bazile (@jalen.bazile), or climbing like Tiffany Blunt (@tiffbfirst). There are more people sharing their outdoor experiences online than there were when I started getting into it eight years ago. The other feeling I’ve had lately is that it’s wild that we’re still in the pioneer phase.. You know, that phase where almost every story you see about a Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American (or a person from any other underrepresented ethnicity) climber or outdoors person, is focused more on their racial identity than the activity or sport they identify with. I especially see this in climbing media. This stage of the process is incredibly important.
I look up to the pioneers I know of in climbing a lot. People like Emily Taylor, Kareemah Batts, Brittany Leavitt, Bethany Lebowitz, Mikhail Martin, Monserrat Alvarez Matehuala, Malik Martin, and so many more have shown me how to carve out space and make a way for others to find climbing. The work they are a part of and continue to undertake isn’t anywhere near complete, but I feel like they’ve made it possible for climbers like me to tell stories through the sport that don’t start and end with my experience as a Black climber in the sport.
The recent hyper analysis of Blackness and other racialized identities in the media has left me wanting for more stories about Black outdoors people that aren’t entirely about their Blackness. Being Black is a constant in my life. It doesn’t start and stop when I think about Blackness or watch a film about being a Black climber or read an article about racism in our gyms and in the outdoors. I’m also Black when I’m struggling with a hard route, when I’m training in the gym, and getting lost exploring outdoors with my friends.
I want to see more stories about Latino, Asian, Native American, Black, and other climbers that look like me doing all those things too. I feel that’s the next step in the movement.. And I’m already knowing that there are so many stories out there about people like my friend Taylor, like myself, and all the people reading this that are just waiting to be told. I’ll be the first in line to watch, butt glued to the couch, popcorn in hand.”
3. What does community mean to you?
“Community is my remedy. It’s what makes climbing a “lifestyle” for some of us. It’s those friends that remember you before your latest hair-do. It’s the people you’ve only interacted with through Instagram but wind up climbing with when they visit your city or you theirs.. Community for me has meant first and foremost the incredible people and climbers that make up Sending in Color (@sendingincolor). But it’s also been all of the climbers I’ve met, gone on trips with, the climbers I’ve done private training sessions with, that I’ve seen progress from their early stage of climbing to climbing routes I can’t pull off the ground on.
Community is the shared affinity to one another we share through offering acceptance to one another and receiving it back in kind. I’m very grateful and proud to be a part of a climbing community that spans the United States and beyond. You all know who you are. Thank you.”
“Community to me means the unity of people through the acceptance of their differences in the pursuit of a common goal. Whether that goal is adventure, enlightenment or simply the pursuit of a good time. I am so grateful to have found a community in many places amongst the outdoors and within the expansive climbing community. With social media, I have been so fortunate to connect with people over this sport and outdoor adventures. Through climbing, I have found a community of individuals that is generally so accepting, supportive, uplifting and reflects my excitement for adventure. I hope everyone, regardless of what your activity of choice is, gets out there is does it – it can be scary at first, but you will find very quickly, you are not alone.
4. What are some challenges you face as BIPOC athletes and creators?
“I’m one of the lucky ones.. I’ve always worked part-time at the gyms I’ve climbed at, which has given me easier access to feeling accepted and feeling like I belong there by way of the authority granted to instructors and staff at gyms. The greatest challenge I’ve experienced lately is a growing sense of uneasiness around White climbers in the gym and outdoors. Intrusive thoughts and questions enter my mind when I’m around them like, “What if they have racist beliefs?”, “What if the bigoted actions of the last administration made them feel justified in their prejudices?”. I know that 99% of the time our conversation won’t go beyond talking beta, discussing crimps and slopers and how to get past a certain move, but it’s an awful uncertainty to have nonetheless. Some days that paranoia makes me put my headphones in, pull my hood up, and intentionally avoid talking to other climbers during my sessions. It’s an awful feeling that climbing alone can never completely remedy.
5. Anything else you want to share with the community, about yourself, or the upcoming film?
“I am so excited for people to see this film! Trevor and I had a ton of fun making it. I hope people enjoy it and walk away stoked to get on a climbing wall and try it for themselves!”