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The Power of Jumping into the Unknown

Posted by Justin Forrest Parks on January 31, 2019

Last year I received an email from my close friend, Grace Anderson. She knew I was an avid rock climber and mountaineer and invited me to take part in a fellowship program hosted by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). The program was created to provide People of Color (POC) with additional training opportunities to become leaders within outdoor education. Grace had completed the fellowship a few years prior and highly recommended it. The program sounded pretty dope and possibly too good to be true, so what was the catch? Turns out I would have to move to the small town of Lander, Wyoming.

At the time, I was living in Chicago and working for a non-profit which set up volunteer events. I was an active community member around the city, a feverish theater attendee and all-around urban explorer. I knew making the transition from the big windy city to a small Wyoming town would come with sacrifices.

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Around the same time my friend Pilar Amado (co-founder of Sending in Color and my partner-in-climb) had recently asked if we could create a space for the POC in our rock-climbing community. We both worked at the same rock-climbing gym [First Ascent Climbing & Fitness] and decided to just go for it. We crafted a Facebook event and came up with a name for the group—Sending in Color—then sent an invite to all our friends and hyped it up to everyone we spoke with. The first event was highly successful and was the start of a thriving community. I once again knew that leaving Chicago at this moment would mean leaving my community and the folks that I absolutely love and care for.

I postponed the decision to apply as long as I could, until there was only one day left to submit my resume, cover letter and application. Realizing that I’ll never know if it’s worth it unless I try, I stayed up all night working on my application and at the stroke of midnight hit SEND.

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So, what happened you may ask?

I made the jump into the unknown. I now live in Lander, Wyoming, next to the gorgeous Wind River Mountain Range, have the opportunity to climb outside every day and work full time as the diversity, equity and inclusion manager for NOLS.

This summer has been filled with extraordinary opportunities—I’ve led a month long mountaineering course in the Eastern Alaskan Mountain Range, co-facilitated a workshop at the Access Fund Summit in New York City, traveled to Oakland, California, to attend the PGM (People of the Global Majority) ONE Summit and climbed with the family at the Color the Crag Festival in Alabama.

Although I deeply miss my family and community in Chicago, access to world-class live entertainment and Lake Michigan, I’ve found that sometimes you have to jump into the unknown to find out what is on the other side. And that home is where you make it and take it.

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