In celebration of those doing the work to chart their own paths into nature and to lead the charge to make nature and rest more inclusive and accessible. Today we’re featuring Brittany Leavitt. She’s a backpacker, climber, and educator, as well as a Year of Rest Recipient, an Outdoor Afro Leader, and the Regional Director of Brown Girls Climb. Here’s what she had to say about nature, her work, and activism.
My connection to nature started out as a kid. I used to hang out on blankets and read when my parents worked in the garden. As I grew older, I became more connected by noticing the little things; observing the way worms moved through the dirt. I also began observing and collecting Monarch Butterflies. Ever since I could remember, we would take family trips to upstate New York to my Grandmother’s Farm and to my Dad’s family’s cabin along the Atlantic Coast in Cape Anne during the summer. These were two places where I fell in love with the mountains and the oceanside. As I got older, I spent time as a Girl Scout and explored different activities from horseback riding, swimming, skating, camping, and beyond – I honestly never thought about what the impact would be, I just knew I had always wanted to teach and work in the outdoors. Many Ideas came about; I wanted to be a marine biologist, a naturalist, a paleontologist… But I ended up becoming an Outdoor Educator, Athlete, activist, and a community dreamer – which I find just as important.
To share a small piece that fueled my climbing passion: Brown Girls Climb. Though this collective started out as an Instagram account 5 years ago, our mission has been to promote and increase visibility and diversity in climbing by establishing a community of climbers of color, encouraging leadership opportunities for self-identified Women climbers of color, and by creating inclusive opportunities to climb and explore for underrepresented communities. All of which led to the creation of 23 Local and national leaders across the country who hold meetups and local events, to building programs with the American Mountain Guide Association and North Face to support Women of Color in the guiding and instructor spaces.
Breaking into the climbing community was never easy due to personal setbacks, lack of funds, access, and guidance. Over time, by working with Brown Girls Climb, and being able to learn how to navigate the climbing community, I have been able to advance some of my own personal climbing goals. One great example is that two years ago I was able to take a solo road trip along the Sierra Mountains and climb with the support of Patagonia, while also spending time getting connected with other Women of Color in the climbing community.
On Her Career
For starters I wear many hats. I have spent the last five years as an Early Educator at the Smithsonian and as an Outdoor Instructor. I have spent the last five years with Brown Girls Climb and the last seven years celebrating Black Joy and Ancestral History with Outdoor Afro. I have had the chance to spend the last few years creating community spaces such as a Climbing Festival Called Color the Crag with Brown Girls Climb and Brothers of Climbing. Now I am working on Community Space called Pigtown Climbs. My favorite part has been working on teams with folks who come in with different perspectives that magically come together, and the power of community – when you create one space it slowly inspires others to create spaces closer to their home. The hardest part is understanding that you will never get it right the first time when working on projects. You learn that you can never make everyone happy, but you can take the time to learn where some of the downfalls are. I process and adapt to feedback for the next project or space I am working in.
So many people inspire me in many different spaces. Starting with my Teaching team, I spent the last five years with an awesome team that brings so much life, and creativity, and honesty into the space and to the Brown Girls Climb Collective! As we enter our fifth year, the powerful voices we have inspire me every day! It’s been so wonderful to see what they have created in their community spaces. The dope crew from Pigtown Climbs is another solid collective that is currently building a learning and climbing space for the Community in the Southwest Baltimore area. Shout out to the many voices that belong to athletes and activists who use their voices every day to dismantle the idea of what the outdoor industry looks like. And shout out to the folks who are working day in and day out to make sure our Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are kept safe. I also want to recognize the folks who have helped me find my voice along the way such as Abby Dione, Sophia Dahlberg, Bethany Lebewitz, Brittney Cooper, Rue Mapp, Audre Lorde, and so many more. 💜
To be honest, My self-care practices have not been the greatest in the last few months. But I will say when I do create a steady flow, one of my favorite ways of enjoying the weekend is to curl up with a solid book, have some tea or coffee, and put on records. (This all depends on my mood. It can be anything from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” to Bad Sports’ “Self Title”). I also love cooking… especially anything pasta-related… It’s my comfort food of choice. I am still trying to find ways to make myself step away from work.
Something that I’ve learned is that accountability is important when creating community spaces and events. You will never get it right the first time. You also may not make everyone happy, which is completely okay. The best thing to do is ask. Learn if you are using the correct language when you are promoting inclusive spaces. Sometimes you may feel as though you are being thoughtful, but may not notice that your writing, or the environment you are creating, may be missing a few components. When folks often hear the term “marginalized communities” folks tend to focus or can handle one component… which is race. Whereas the understanding of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, language, and/or immigration status all intersect with each other. These identities should be considered when creating groups and or events. Simply don’t be afraid to ask for help/support. But also be ready to learn from feedback from these communities, who are often willing to give it out.
Keep taking up space. Know that the work we are all doing is not just a moment, it’s a movement. Understand everyone has a different role when it comes to supporting and building community. Learn what fits your voice and your mission.Brittany Leavitt
Ready to take a breather? Book your escape to nature today.