The plastic climbing walls found at the festival grounds in Tallahassee, Florida, were WeClimb founder Kendall Martin's introduction to rock climbing. To many, it would hardly count as true rock climbing, but to him, it was climbing nonetheless. And that, combined with a handful of trips to the local climbing gym, was all it took. Martin was hooked.
But Tallahassee isn't exactly full of climbing crags, and no one in his friend group was remotely interested in anything outdoorsy. So climbing took a backseat, and Martin stuck to what he knew: competing in sports, volunteering at events his mom organized, and involving himself in music and the arts.
"I would like to believe that if I knew then what I know now, I would have asked my parents to sign me up on a climbing team, and the rest would be history," he says.
As fate would have it, Martin moved to Chattanooga when he was 17. Here, he found the community he longed for that shared his passion for scaling rocks.
Martin joined a local climbing gym and climbed at local crags with his newfound friends. Yet, he kept finding himself thinking about Tallahassee and how he had almost missed out on climbing completely.
It opened his eyes to the gaps that make the outdoor community feel inaccessible to some.
"If you grow up not seeing your race represented in a sport or industry, you're probably thinking, 'I guess that's not for me,'" he says.
Fast-forward to today — closing those gaps is the now-22-year-old's newfound mission. Martin recently founded WeClimb, an organization that uses rock climbing as a tool to help underprivileged youth become better versions of themselves and experience the outdoors.
"As a person of color in an activity that has had a strong influence on uplifting and bettering me as a person, it saddens me to see a lack of diversity in rock climbing," he says. "From the relationships I have built to experiencing the wonder of the outdoors, this sport is more than a hobby for me, it is a therapy session — which many people can probably attest to — and I want to create opportunities for many people to experience climbing and the many doors it can open."
WeClimb's mission has already gone beyond climbing. They aim to introduce kids to all the outdoor industry has to offer, and to give them the tools and confidence to be successful in whatever they choose to do.
"WeClimb will introduce kids from all backgrounds to rock climbing and the world that revolves around it," Martin explains, "whether it be the physical aspect of doing the sport or the business side and the opportunities that can arise from that exposure. After obtaining our 501(c)3 status, we plan to launch our website which will detail everything we plan to do in the Hamilton County area, which includes establishing programs at local schools, hosting workshops, taking kids to climbing competitions, and mentoring them all along the way."
To learn more about WeClimb or to contribute to its pending 501(c)3, connect with @we_climb_chatt on Instagram or support the GoFundMe financial campaign at gofundme.com/f/get-weclimb-started.