We first learned about Kriste Peoples after seeing her in the Elevation Outdoors article “Colorado’s Top Resident Badasses.” We immediately spent some time in the rabbit hole known as Google, and when we emerged, we knew we had to include her in this issue of Sisu Magazine. Not only did we want to learn more about Kriste’s drive and philosophy about creating an intentional community of support through Black Women’s Alliance, we also wanted to dig a little bit deeper about some of the issues that go part in parcel with bucking the status quo, like taking up space and the importance telling your own story. When we sat down to interview her, we knew that it was going to be good, but hot damn… Get ready for some eloquent truth telling and some inspiration to burn our old ways of being down to the ground.
Talk to me about how women reclaiming their own stories and telling them themselves is a powerful tool not only for healing, but for change as well.
Well, first let’s talk about how that story gets out of our own hands. When the media projects you in a light that is false or unflattering, outdated, or in any way that’s not a true representation of who you are, then someone else is in charge of that story, and you are not.
Society as a whole doesn’t expect me to be here--especially as a leader in the outdoor space. Society doesn’t expect much of me at all, really. So anything I do is political--and that includes simply showing up--because it’s the kind of action that breaks the mold, eliminates stereotypes, changes perceptions. The ability to bear witness to each other in this way is what heals us, connects, and replenishes us.
When the narrator changes, that means the story changes too. This is the process of owning oneself and one’s narrative. It plays a huge part in reconnecting us to our power and ability to impact change, to lead from our own vantage points and to redefine what power is as it relates to us. To women in general, to Black women specifically, to individuals, to anyone who wants to declare themselves in the world.
Owning our own narrative can be uncomfortable for other people. Often times you get into trouble when you tell your own story, particularly when it goes against the grain of the stereotypical story about you and your community. What’s your experience with this?
When we decide to tell our own stories or reclaim them, everything can potentially be at stake. There are countless ways you can “get in trouble” when you’re telling your story. You risk failure, rejection, and alienation because you’re upsetting the status quo, which lots of people are comfortable with. You might have to grieve the loss of the “safe bet” because you’ve chosen to own your narrative. People close to you might not like the change in you. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s growth. It’s all trouble, actually. It’s trouble and danger, and I highly suggest it.
If we want to go along to get along, then we follow the rules, and we get stuck in the rut. [Telling our own stories] upsets that matrix. It’s inconvenient to people who have an investment in keeping you controlled or keeping you in line. It’s disruptive and it threatens a certain kind of power. If you’re not controlled by the dominant narrative then you’re a wild card. And that’s unsafe. How can I control you and manipulate you if you’re challenging the storyline I’ve laid out for you?
The thing we often forget is that all of the stories are made up. Everything we hold dear in our culture is a story. The upside of that realization is that we get to create new stories too--for ourselves, as individuals, as people who seek full expression. We get to do that. And if we want change on any level, we have to do that.
Let’s talk about the outdoors…
As it relates to the outdoors, a lot of people of color and other underrepresented groups are starting to make space for themselves. They aren’t waiting for the media or big business to extend an invitation. And there isn’t any law that says we can’t go into the mountains, visit our national parks, or frequent public swimming pools.
I think we are way too committed to being comfortable, even as we proclaim we want things to be different. If we want change, then we have to be the change. This isn’t just memes and quotations and shit. If I want change, if I want it to look more colorful on the trails, for example, what steps can I take to make that happen? Maybe I want to join a group of people who don’t look like me and go out with them. I don’t need to read all the research and go to every panel and booth at the outdoor enthusiast convention. I can up and join somebody. Every expression of change creates change.
Another aspect of this conversation is that these underrepresented groups aren’t asking big organizations and brands to extend a hand to us because they have their own histories of elitism that have created barriers for people to entry and participation in outdoor recreation. So, if you’re set up to appeal to the upper crust or white, wealthy customer base, then maybe it’s not even in your interest to appeal to me--at least not right now. The big companies, it seems in my view, could stand to talk amongst themselves about how they’re going make their marketing and missions inclusive of all people. It’s not a problem that underrepresented groups created, and it’s also not one that’s going to be resolved overnight. Regardless, more people are making change happen--and enjoying the outdoors--on their own terms.
What’s been the response to you creating a special, sacred space for Black women?
It depends on who the responder is. Black women get it. They often tell me, ‘I’ve never seen so many of us in one place like this.’ ‘I’ve been looking for this and didn’t even know it.’ ‘This is really nourishing to me.’ ‘We need this.’ There are also lots of non-Black women and men understand the need for this kind of group, too. However, not everyone is going to embrace what we’re about, which is fine because BWA was never intended to appeal to everyone.
Maybe the question here is to ask those people who are feeling so threatened by Black women coming together to support each other, heal, and have fun, ‘Why is this so threatening to you?’
What’s your advice on how people can take up more space and tell their own story?
Part of it is to be willing to not know. We have to give ourselves grace enough to say, “I don’t know” or “I am afraid” or “I am figuring it out” or “I need a minute.” That right there is a tremendous act of self-care and taking up space because you’re clearing for the next step, coming out of the margins of your own life. From a very early age, many of us are trained away from our instincts and passions and desires with messaging that says it’s shameful and immodest to speak out of turn. Which often means you are making yourself smaller because of that training. So taking that back or giving yourself permission, saying no, allowing yourself to be enough, and going places literally and figuratively that you haven’t gone before, that means you’re taking up space. You are saying to yourself, “I can, I deserve, I belong because I fucking say so.”
Make some relative peace with discomfort because being uncomfortable is simply part of the deal. Not everyone will receive you well, support you, or understand. It’s important to not take that personally because when you think about it, if you don’t know where you’re going next, it’s understandable that other people won’t know either. And that’s okay. We have to wander, we have to leave what is familiar, and go through some dark nights before we can come home with the gold. Whatever that gold means to you.
Don’t just talk about it and read about it, be about it. You want that change, go get you some.
Want to read the interview in full? Pick up a copy of Issue 2: Grounded here.