J.E.D.I. Training Film: The Story Behind The First Black Female Route Developer in Texas
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Texas. For many, the state conjures up a particular flavor of stereotypes: cattle ranches, oil money, southern culture, to name a few. But, despite the stigmas, Texas is fairly diverse. And in terms of the demographic, Texas boasts far more diversity than most. In fact, since 2005, the state has been a majority-minority state, meaning the majority of the residents are not white.
While those joining the Texas climbing scene are slowly starting to reflect that diversity, the pool of route developers and first ascensionists has remained small, composed primarily of white men, which may be attributed not only to unequal opportunity and exclusivity, but also the fact that 95 percent of the land in Texas is privately owned (again, cattle ranches), limiting access to new rock.
But, in 2017, Access Fund Regional Director Brian Tickle was presented with a rare opportunity: permission to develop Ink’s Ranch, a swath of granite-laiden real estate located in central Texas. Tickle saw it as a chance to both open a new crag and do some outreach. He would arrange a mentorship event that paired seasoned route developers with stoked individuals from underrepresented communities.
Among those to attend was Bree Jameson, who would become the first Black woman to develop in Texas.
Jameson has a history of being a trailblazer for Black women in the outdoors. Although her main gig is as a realtor, Jameson also works with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, where she formed a program called M.O.R.E. Outside, with M.O.R.E. standing for Minorities and Outdoor Recreation and Education.
“I would go outside, and I wouldn’t see myself in any of the people that I encountered,” said Jameson. She wanted to be the example and to help create the space needed to make outdoor recreation more accessible.
Jameson’s passion for the outdoors stems back to her childhood: her favorite memories include horseback riding and biking along Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, Louisiana. But when Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005, Jameson’s family relocated more than 500 miles west, to San Antonio, Texas.
“There’s not a large African American population on the Northwest side of San Antonio,” she said. “I remember going to school and not feeling like I fit in, and then being assaulted at that school, and nothing being done about it.” Jameson transferred to a different school, one with a higher percentage of Black students, but found she “wasn’t Black enough.”
Jameson tempered the negative effects of school by returning to nature. She enjoyed hiking and—if you’ve explored San Antonio, guess—caving. But then Jameson got older, married, and had two twin sons, Zander and Zaeden, and life took her for another loop.
“I was so focused on fulfilling these roles of mom and wife that I got away from the things that made me who I am,” she said. “I divorced back in 2017… And I was battling treatment-resistant depression. I knew that it was depression, they hadn’t quite diagnosed it as treatment-resistant yet, and my doctors were trying to figure out the right concoction to give me to make me feel better. And it just wasn’t working. So I remembered that I wanted to get back outside. And I just really started making it happen.”
Indeed, Jameson made it happen. The divorce served as the impetus she needed to go deeper (literally) into caving. She discovered vertical and dome caving, which involved climbing and bolting cave walls. Naturally, those activities, along with a backpacking trip to the Guadalupe Mountains, spurred Jameson to take up sport climbing. Seeking instruction in the vertical world, she reached out to Emilie Hernandez, the founder of Texas Lady Crushers.
“I was looking for someone to teach me how to climb the right way, the safe way,” said Jameson. “And we just became instant sisters.”
Not longer thereafter, Tickle also reached out to Hernandez in hopes of finding female outdoor enthusiasts that might want to pick up a drill.
Hernandez asked Jameson if she was game to participate. And, wanting to further propagate the message of encouraging folks from all walks of life to go outside, she asked Jameson if she’d be willing to be filmed.
“Fortunately for us, and eventually our audience, Bree was immediately on board,” said Hernandez. Although the original film storyline revolved around the history of Texas climbing, it morphed into focusing on Jameson and Tickle’s J.E.D.I. initiative (Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion). The final result would be the J.E.D.I. Training film.
“It has been very interesting,” said Jameson, of the filming process. “And it has opened up so many doors for me to have the conversations that I think are really, really important. I think that oftentimes, when folks who participate in a culture where they are the majority, they tend to see things in one way. And it’s very difficult to look at life from other perspectives, because it often seems so far-fetched. I can have these conversations throughout [route] development. I can talk to these folks who are well-meaning and really good people, and just speak to them from a place of curiosity and compassion, and ask them questions that allow us to have a dialogue and sit in the discomfort of things that are taboo.”
It helps that Jameson has a real passion for route developing. “I’ve very quickly gotten addicted,” she said. Although you’ll have to watch the film to find out, Jameson added that all of her route names are, as she puts it, provocative. “I want folks to have conversations. I want those conversations to revolve around diversity, equity and inclusion, because it’s not a destination. I think that it’s a journey that can always be improved upon. We are always discovering different facets of humanity, and within our society, and I think that there’s always going to be room for growth when it comes to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion work.”
The film is scheduled to be released next year, but more funding is needed to get it to completion. “The support from our local community and around the country has been very exciting,” said Drew Hayes, director and editor of the project. “To date, we’ve raised a little over $16,000!! Those donations have been from hundreds individuals giving $5, $10 or $100 dollars, as well as corporate sponsors. We are beyond grateful for these donations as they’ve allowed us to capture key moments in this story and keep production moving forward.” Fundraising initiatives continue, however. From now until April 15th, donations of up to $10,000 will be matched by local Austin climbing gym, Crux Climbing Center.
For all film crew members, the project goes far beyond sinking bolts.
“There’s nothing about the film that isn’t important,” said Hernandez. “… Our film goes over everything from Bree’s personal life as a Black woman in America, to her roles as a mother, daughter, advocate for minorities, avid outdoors-woman, proud member of the Texas Lady Crusher, and dedicated rock climber and caver. … As we all know, humans in BIPOC communities exist across the world. But the face time we get is minuscule compared to that of white individuals. Especially white men in America. But fortunately, we’ve come a long way. Voices like Bree’s will teach others how to use their own, and that will be passed on from generation to generation. We feel that in and of itself, is how change and growth is fostered.”
Jameson added: “I know that our community is welcoming. But there are some small changes that need to be made … We need to be able to make folks feel welcome in a way that speaks to them. Not a way that makes us feel like we’re being wrong. Because I think that we often confuse the fact that interpretation will always trump intention. And I think that the film will show a lot of these things. … My goal for the film is to create a sustainable platform that affords us the opportunity to keep having those conversations.
“It’s not just my story that I’m telling. This is the story of everyone who has something that they want to do, but didn’t really see themselves represented in that area and thought, I’m going to go for it anyway. … And I mean, who doesn’t want to route develop?”