I talk a lot about the necessity of equity in the outdoors, redefining adventure on one’s own terms, and inserting one’s story into the dominant narrative(s). When new voices start to enter those conversations, they can’t help but shift. It’s a powerful way to change the internalized beliefs we hold about who gets to take up space in the outdoors, in the workplace, in our minds, and more. If only that lone Black man’s story had been held in different hands – preferably his own - when it came to telling it.
I heard the prominent Black novelist Walter Mosely once say that we don’t exist if we can’t see ourselves in the literature of the day. Present and past, he added. Toni Morrison famously said that if we don’t see the stories we want to read, we must write them ourselves. History is literature, a compilation of our stories, told for posterity. And the more we know about our stories – those of our ancestors, our neighbors, ourselves – the more real we become to each other.
When I’m on trails and the cellphone signal falls away, I find myself imagining the lives of my predecessors. I think about the courageous men and women who led so many enslaved people to freedom; I think about the artists and authors and scholars who understood the importance of casting us in the fullness of our humanity so that we didn’t forget it when the world seemed to. I think about the people whose names I’ll never know, boycotting the buses to bring an era of inequity to its knees, and those who made their homes in inhospitable conditions under unimaginable circumstances so that we’d have a chance to live lives they couldn’t have fathomed for themselves. I take great inspiration from these groundbreakers as I run, knowing that I’m never truly going it alone. Without them and their collective efforts, I’d likely never know the privilege and joy in this freedom of movement.
A friend once told me we don’t have to know everyone’s name to know they came this way before us. “We can feel them every time we put our feet on the earth,” she said. I believe and acknowledge that. History doesn't exist removed from us; we're living it all the time. Case in point: did you see all that Black history – which is also American history – being made at the White House a few weeks back?
To the extent we understand and honor the complexity of our past, the more access we have to depth and richness of our lives in the moment. I’m sure I arrived at this epiphany on the run, as well. Sometimes running mountain trails is grueling. No two ways about it. But part of the agreement I make long before reaching the trailhead is that I might need to keep moving through pain and fatigue if I’m to build endurance and strength over time. I’m not the first, I’m not the only one, and I take great pride in that.
About the author:
Kriste Peoples is a Denver-based writer, producer, women’s trail running coach, Altra athlete, and outdoorist. As the founder of Black Women’s Alliance of Denver, she extends her passion for connecting underrepresented communities to new, empowering narratives of wellness. Follow Kriste on Instagram: @kristepeoples