Creating a Climbing Community in Harlem with Kade Diakite
Kade Diakite embodies the Wayward spirit: a seeker, a doer and immersed in a dogged pursuit of creating deeper connections within her community through outdoor adventure. A Facebook group introduced me to Kade after she had asked for suggestions about leadership development programs. After she shared that she had just started a new job as Assistant Director of the New York City climbing gym, The Cliffs in Harlem, my interest was piqued and I asked her to chat.
While I was working a 9-5 job in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, another location of The Cliffs sat right around the corner, just down the street from my office. On sunny days, I would sometimes go climb by myself, listening to the roar of the trains as they raced over the Manhattan Bridge. After I’d thoroughly exhausted myself (and had some pretty gnarly blisters to prove it) I’d return to my desk feeling happy, settled and calmer than before.
Carving out that time to connect with yourself and the outdoors in a place like New York and Brooklyn can be pivotal for some — I know for me it provided a bit of solace in a place where that solace felt hard to find. It was exciting to hear Kade share how her vision and role as a leader in her community aims to do just that and so much more.
Ready for some serious inspiration? Here’s Kade…
1) Hey Kade! Can you give us a little background on you, your connection to the outdoors, and how you got started climbing?
I am a West African American Muslim woman born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. As the oldest of 6, I have spent my entire life surrounded by a community of strong individuals who fought hard to make it in this country yet remained happy through it all. My mother always told my siblings and I to get outside and play. When we traveled to Guinea, it was the same experience, but 10x better; we were exposed and it was freeing. I knew then, as a kid, how much I loved being outside.
I was offered the opportunity to join this Summer Enrichment program at Dartmouth College and through that program, I experienced my first true outdoor experience – hiking and camping. It brought me so much joy to be exposed to something so foreign yet incredible. Funny enough in that same program I was introduced to climbing but I wasn’t interested in it at all.
It wasn’t until I was offered a job as an HR assistant in a climbing gym that I was reintroduced to the sport and even then it took me a year before I truly fell in love with it and the community at large. My initial hesitation came from not feeling strong, seeing a lot of strong men surrounding me, and not seeing people who looked like me. Through all that hesitation, I realized how unique the community was and I haven’t looked back since.
2) What about being a part of the outdoor community drew you to make a full-time career out of it?
I knew I wanted to take my lifelong dream to be an educator and combine it with my passion for the outdoors and create programs that provided hope, challenges, growth opportunities, and social and emotional support for people who were underrepresented.
When I realized that I could be an educator in such a unique setting I knew I no longer had to search for a job because the work I was doing and hoped to do in the future overlapped my greatest passions with the world’s greatest needs. I wanted to make sure the work that I did included the people from the communities it was taking place in and that they were also part of the conversation.
The impact the outdoors had on my personal life changed my perspective on how I navigated the world. As an African American Muslim woman, I am hyperconscious of how I take up space and being in the outdoors humbles me in a way and reminds me that life isn’t supposed to be this stressful journey, moving at the speed of light, working long hours, and all of the madness that comes with living in New York City and other places like it. The outdoors transforms the way you think and operate because of how therapeutic it is and that is why I made a career out of it. I want to create spaces where everyone can feel safe and comfortable being themselves while also being challenged. Because I believe through support and adversity is where we develop strong leaders who are able to effectively transform the world and inspire change.
3) You are the Assistant Director of the newest Cliffs location in Harlem! That’s so exciting. What is it like to have a leadership role such as that?
It is empowering and incredible to know that there are people out there who believe in you and your ability to lead from only meeting you for a short amount of time. It is that same kind of trust that you instill in your climbing partner before climbing on the wall. You exchange a few words, discuss the plan and trust that both parties stick to the plan and whoever’s turn it is to climb sends the crap out of whatever climb they’re on.
Most of the people in my life who know me say I bring and grow communities wherever I go so I’m humbled to be valued enough to lead and mobilize the Harlem community. I believe once we tap into it they will be able to achieve so much more through a medium many aren’t aware exists for them and I am grateful for the opportunity to open our doors and show them the endless opportunities the outdoors has to offer them.
4) A big part of your mission is empowering young kids and serving the community through the climbing gym. Can you share your experience and/or motivation behind this?
When I first started working in the outdoor industry I was working for a black man who had been guiding for years and was from New York City. He had so much culture, energy, and experience. I was surprised and eager to learn from him and be around his energy. Unfortunately, early into my career he left the climbing gym and in a split second I was working for white men who didn’t think that I was worth the investment and I knew then and there that no one was going to fight for my rights, no matter how hard I worked, what experience I was working towards or what potential value I had to bring. I had to work hard and place strict standards for myself in order to make sure that no one was going to tell me my worth or what value I placed in their business.
I work in an urban climbing gym in order to challenge my consciousness and force me to live outside of my comfort zone not because of any fear I have, but because it’s where I truly come from. Living in NYC doesn’t take away from the fact that my parents and their parents and their parents grew up and lived in villages in large communities that work as early as the sun rises, woken up by the prayer call, to the later afternoon so they can spend time with their family all while smiling, laughing and moving because even though the world may be cruel and unjust they know they have each other, Allah and the will to keep moving and I take that with me everywhere and throughout everything I do. This is why you will always see me smiling, this is why you will always see me go out of my way to support and take care of people who need support not because they can’t do it without me, but because I know there is strength in numbers and I know that I need them just as much if not more because I know that I want to grow and the only way I can is if I continue to challenge myself, open my eyes, as my father always tells me, and see and listen to what’s around me.
It is that mindset that motivates me to continue to transform communities because our authenticity is our competitive advantage and I don’t want anyone to sacrifice anything to remain relevant.
5) Doing what you do, you’re already such an incredible role model for kids of all ages — young girls, especially. What are your big dreams, vision, or goals and how would you encourage someone else to pursue this lifestyle?
My dream is to make all communities understand and believe that they are welcome in any part of the world that they want to be in. My goal is to continue to inspire and create spaces for everyone to make differences in their communities and pursue their dreams and goals making positive, lasting impacts. And for this lifestyle in particular, I challenge individuals, and businesses to seek out leaders in communities that need support and create opportunities.