Brooklyn Bell is Patagonia Mountain Bike Ambassador and a freelance artist from Bellingham, Washington. She skis, she climbs, she rides bikes and she loves getting creative in the outdoors. We love how she clearly defines the difference between diversity and inclusion and how she has found a way to both educate others and create boundaries that help make space for herself. She talks about joy and creativity, tokenism, the role of good friends who step up and have your back, and how art has helped her become who she needed to be.
For more information about Faith, Addie and The Trail Ahead go to https://www.thislanddoc.com/thetrailahead.
Discussed in this episode:
Brooklyn’s Art Website
Brotherhood of Skiing
Addie Thompson: Welcome to The Trail Ahead, conversations at the intersection of race and environment, history and culture. We are your hosts, Faith and Addie.
Faith E. Briggs: We bring on folks from all walks of life to have real, authentic, messy dialogue that can lead to tangible change.
Brooklyn Bell: With some of these really expensive outdoor sports that have a lot of barriers to them, whether it be transportation or fear, or just like not feeling like you belong. We really do have to lean on each other to make this space more inclusive.
Addie Thompson: This week's guest is Brooklyn Bell. She's an artist, a mountain biker and so much more. I'm not sure how we first found each other via Instagram, but I think we were both just taken with seeing each other. Seeing someone that looked like us running around outside and doing what we love. Watching Brooklyn shine over the past few years has been such a joy. I have her art hanging up in my living room and she was one of the very first people that came to mind when we started this podcast.
Faith E. Briggs: In today's episode, we talk about what it means to fit in, in the outdoors and to create your own space. Brooklyn does that through her creativity, both on the bike and in her art, she has become and is becoming the person she needed to see. And we are all benefiting from that.
Brooklyn Bell: My name is Brooklyn Bell. I am a pro mountain biker and Patagonia ambassador. I am also a digital fine artist and I also really love skiing, and then started kind of getting into the ski thing. I had put out a couple of films in like the last year. Kind of all about diversity inclusion and one was called Becoming Ruby. And the other was Pedal Through.
Faith E. Briggs: When you say playing outside, what does that make you think of and where do you go.
Brooklyn Bell: For me that looks like mountain biking or skiing. When I can bring a lot of creativity into choosing lines or pushing myself on jumps or drops or spending a day skiing and figuring out how I'm going to get down. And what's like the most creative way to do that.
Addie Thompson: Talk to me a little bit about like ways to get down. If someone doesn't really know much about backcountry skiing or what exactly you are up to.
Brooklyn Bell: I would categorize the kind of skiing that I like to do as more free ride skiing. You ski or run top to bottom, and you choose a bunch of cliffs or jumps or tricks, and you just try to ski as smoothly as possible, hit all those cliffs and drops and jumps down to the bottom, skate smooth with really good energy. And like in a competition setting, you would get a score and right now we're not competing, but I bring that kind of same energy to everyday skiing.
Faith E. Briggs: So you're also a mountain biker among other things.
Addie Thompson: A pro mountain biker.
Faith E. Briggs: Pro mountain biker. Got it.
Brooklyn Bell: So pro. I'm getting practiced saying it because, before I would run into people biking or doing stuff, and they're like, so what do you do for work? And I'm like, "This." I just like having practice being like, "Okay, this is who I am. I'm a pro mountain biker." I can't really deny that because that's like denying truth. And this is where I'm at.
Faith E. Briggs: So kind of an intro question, but how did you start mountain biking?
Brooklyn Bell: So Bellingham is basically just a mountain bike town. There's just so much riding here. Galbraith mountain, which is our main mountain biking zone just has a really big community of writers and then a ton of trails. But I got into mountain biking through trail running actually. I would just go up to Galbraith, just with what I had and would run around on the trails. And at the time I was working at this bagel shop and I had a regular there who would come in every single day and then I would also run into him on Galbraith while I was trail running.
Brooklyn Bell: And we quickly just kind of were like, "Oh, you're here. Well, I'm here." And he kind of asked me, he was like, "Why are you running? Why aren't you on a bike?" And I was like, "Well, I can't really afford it." And basically he took me out for the first time. And I think after that first time it was early spring and I just made the decision that I just wanted a mountain bike all summer. And I spent all my savings, my very small savings on my first mountain bike. And I just kind of decided that I wanted to really take this on and learn how to ride.
Addie Thompson: I think a lot about the power of an invitation. And I think a lot of times people... I'm sure you get asked this a lot. I get asked this a lot. Like what can I do to help diversify the trails? Or what can I do to help this kind of thing? And sometimes it's that one-to-one person invitation, but yeah, can you just talk a little bit about what it means to be invited?
Brooklyn Bell: Yeah. I mean, I think that skiing, mountain biking, these are all mentorship sports. Having that first mentor, that is really special. Having that first mentor who says like, "You belong out here, you can do this. I see you becoming great." That means a lot. That says like, that person trusts the wishes and the heart of the person who is being mentored. Having the exposure to something is so key. Even if you know you can't really do the thing, having the exposure to it is just so helpful. And I sometimes feel like I'm so fortunate, maybe I don't always feel like I'm a great mountain biker or a great skier, but people keep on inviting me to go do crazy things.
Brooklyn Bell: So I have the exposure to that and that feels like a privilege to me.
Faith E. Briggs: One thing we wanted to sort of touch on too, I'm probably going to mispronounce Lady of Loam.
Brooklyn Bell: So Lady of Loam was super organic. It was just a group of women who ended up riding together. Some of those women came from like competitive, parked skiing backgrounds. So like Canter Burgandin was really interested in hitting jumps and drops. Amanda and Delia were really into racing. And I fell into a group of women who had a lot of strong leadership and were really supportive of each other and also incredibly competitive too. And those women just kind of taught me how to be a good writer and how to push myself, but also how to be a good woman to other women.
Addie Thompson: Wow. That's so cool. I mean, it reminds me of a lot of stories that I've heard and I think about Bowery and Chat Club and Shalane plan again, and like the idea of that investing in other women is also investing in yourself, and creating this community for you and creating other competitors and investing in the sport, like pushing everyone forward. It's interesting because I think in trying to get into the outdoor industry or like be a part of that community, there's all of this unsaid stuff that makes you feel really unwelcome culturally and socially, because it's like the image that gets held up is in some way an image that isn't really true. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about this idea of like dirt bagging being like the true way to be in the outdoors.
Brooklyn Bell: Yeah. I definitely empathize with like some of the sports, like you kind of just have to go all in. Like you have to save up a lot of money, to work really hard, to make you there. But also, if you have the time to save up that money, if you have the resources, the comfort, you have the privilege of having a community that values being a dirt bag. Also you can go there, you can do that. And I understand that people work hard to be a dirt bag. But to me, when I spend time in the mountains on bikes, on skis, like I don't have the drip, I got the ice. To me watching a sunset or being in the redwoods, around old growth trees or, hitting a cliff on my skis and feeling what it feels like to fly and land in soft powder, that's a pretty wild experience. And to me like, "Gosh, that's the spice of life." That is truly being rich.
Brooklyn Bell: And it wouldn't matter how much money I had. I would feel a lot of gratitude for the place that I was in. Those experiences, like you can't really put a value on that. And so the dirt bag thing is not my favorite term, but I think that if it goes through this thing of just like Rite of passage and just like gate keeping, and I see a lot of that, just in skiing a lot. Like you have to ski a certain way or be gritty enough. You got to show up as many times, you have to be seen enough doing something wild to get in with the crew and being in the crew is not really worth it.
Addie Thompson: I love that. And I think I was talking to Danny who is across that, who was like talking about people, telling her how to hold their skis. And she's like-
Brooklyn Bell: That was me.
Addie Thompson: You were talking about. How to hold the ski.
Brooklyn Bell: Yeah. Or maybe she had that happen too, because I had that happen to me too. Basically I was with my buddies, we were about to go do some lift assets backcountry. I was walking up to the chair lift and I was just holding my skis in front of me. And some lady decided that she wanted to comment on the way that I was wearing my... Or the way that I was holding my skis. And she thought my pants were really goofy. She called me out on it and it was so like, it just like took me. It was just ugh. It was so ugh. It was so dumb and so silly and like the start of ski season, it happens to me every single time where I'm like, "Oh, I love this sport so much. I love being at home. I love being in the mountains. I love..." everything that this makes me feel and it's so refreshing and so fun. But the culture is just like ugh. It just grinds me.
Addie Thompson: I think it goes back to this idea of respectability politics. I'm supposed to look a certain way when I go out to the mountain in order to belong. But I have that much more riding on me as a black woman everywhere else that I go in terms of how to come off in order for people to like respect me and think I'm legit.
Brooklyn Bell: That is so true. That's just like... I guess I hadn't really thought about that. I mean, I guess I have seen this. This is like, I remember there was that one couple who was vandalizing it, who like had the cops called on them. And that was like a prime example of like, "Well, they're bagging is great, if you're white, but if you're black, then it's not going to work out." But yeah, it's just like, you have to fit in to be a dirt bag and look a certain way. And be poor, quote unquote. But maybe that's not the look or the culture that's actually need to survive and pass and I guess navigate these other spaces.
Addie Thompson: You wrote about loving both Fleetwood Mac and Kendrick Lamar, and all of the parts of who you are coming together to be a part of your art, be a part of everything. And I kind of wonder if you could just talk a little bit about, have you always been comfortable sharing all these things and like owning all these things? Are you getting to a place where that's something you're more able to do? Yeah. I wonder about that.
Brooklyn Bell: I think as I grow up and kind of navigate this space and come into community more, especially like community online, I'm realizing that so many of us are in the in-between. Like most of us are in the in-between for various different reasons. We're not really quite this and we're not really quite that. And I think that I've just kind of dealt with that by just being open about it, by saying like, "Hey, this is who I am." And who I am is not in a box, is not just one thing or that. Also, I want to say something about Fleetwood Mac and Kendrick Lamar. I found an artist that is like the mix of both.
Brooklyn Bell: Her name is Mumba. And she is a black woman who writes these incredibly descriptive and beautiful bars, like Kendrick Lamar, and also has a little bit of that twang from Fleetwood Mac. And it's just like, this exists and it will continue to exist. And I think that's one of the things where I'm really excited. I think this younger generation realizes that they don't have to be in a box, and they're starting to dress like they're not in a box. They're starting to create things like they're not in a box. They're demanding that representation doesn't look like it's cookie cutter. Which is so cool.
Addie Thompson: We're so excited to talk about this super cool partnership.
Faith E. Briggs: Meryl has teamed up with Big Brothers, Big Sisters to address two topics we care a ton about. Being outside and increasing access to outdoor spaces. Specifically for youth
Addie Thompson: Big Brothers, Big Sisters creates life-changing connections for young people in the United States and Canada. And for mentors too.
Faith E. Briggs: The goal of the partnership is to break down the barriers you face and offer additional outdoor activities for Bigs and Littles to enjoy together.
Addie Thompson: Merrill will provide shoes and gear, and the partnership will bring more awareness and increase equity for all youth who may not have adequate access to nature, natural parks or public trails.
Faith E. Briggs: To learn more and find additional resources, visit meryl.com/BBBS.
Faith E. Briggs: On the topic of our partners for this podcast being Rad, we want to talk about all the cool stuff Patagonia does through Patagonia action works.
Addie Thompson: Patagonia recently launched Skills for Action, a campaign designed to help you use your unique skills to match the needs of local nonprofits.
Faith E. Briggs: If you haven't heard of it, check it out from logo design to website work, to volunteer farm shifts and so much more. They make it easy to find a place to show up to do good.
Addie Thompson: You can find information about organizations in your area that are working at the intersection of environment, justice and climate.
Faith E. Briggs: And get matched with a grassroots environmental group, looking for your particular brand of genius.
Addie Thompson: Learn more and get involved at patagonia.com/volunteer.
Faith E. Briggs: Brooklyn, I want to ask you about your art. We haven't talked about your art. We have so much [inaudible 00:16:44] talk about more but. I just would love to hear more about how your art has played into your identity and has shaped you as a person.
Brooklyn Bell: Oh God. I find that art is such a great expression for me. Instead of like buying new clothes or consuming something, I find that sometimes just creating art kind of fills that need to be outwardly expressive in that way. Art for me, like when I first got into outdoor sports and backpacking and biking and all of that, I didn't really feel like I fit in. I didn't really have a voice. Art kind of treated that voice for me. It created that platform. It gave me a chance to kind of be seen in my town, Bullingham. I felt like for me, I just write everything down and I scribble everything out and I'm such a dreamy head in the clouds person.
Brooklyn Bell: I just had dreams of going to these different places and being on top of these different mountains. So I draw all the mountains that I actually wanted to go to, that I'd never been to. And so at first creating the landscape designs, that was almost a to-do list for me.
Faith E. Briggs: So going back a little bit to the film that you mentioned earlier in your introduction, Becoming Ruby, this was a Patagonia film that came out, was it in 2020 or 2019?
Brooklyn Bell: It came out in 2020.
Faith E. Briggs: So the film Becoming Ruby, I was wondering if you could tell us a bit more about Ruby, about who she is and how she came to be.
Brooklyn Bell: So Ruby J is basically this kind of alter ego, this hero that I created. She's really near and dear to my heart. I treated her when I first got into skiing and mountain biking. I remember like sitting next to my sister Jaden at the time, creating it around her. And she helped me actually come up with the name and kind of created her as a combination of my sister, of like Lauren Hill and a bunch of other black women that I looked up to. But ultimately, Ruby was supposed to be my ski hero. She was supposed to be this woman who was doing the thing that I wanted to do. And that looked like a big mountain skier.
Brooklyn Bell: And I just, I haven't seen really any Rubys out there. So she's just kind of been my North star. And I think about her all the time when I drop into something. I think like, "Oh, what would Ruby do? like, "Would Ruby hit this? Would Ruby take this chance? Would Ruby speak up about this?" Like, those are some of the things that I have in my mind when I think about Ruby. Ruby also to me, I think represents the dreams that I never felt like I could pursue.
Brooklyn Bell: I think that part of becoming like a pro mountain biker and like getting into skiing was just, not feeling like I deserved it or like yeah. Just feeling like far away from maybe what I grew up with. And to me, creating Ruby meant that I could be a little kid and pursue those things and kind of be in this fantasy land, and not feeling guilty about trying to chase my dreams.
Addie Thompson: If you hadn't allowed yourself to dream big, what do you think you'd be doing?
Brooklyn Bell: I think I wanted to be who I am now, when I was little. The little kid me, I think probably wanted to be outside, wanted to be curious. But I think the little kid me didn't understand that I could be a pro mountain biker, be a pro skier.
Addie Thompson: We've already started to talk a little bit about the barriers to entry as to some these sports. And one part of that is that, these sports are historically white spaces. And I'm just wondering, how have you learned or experienced navigating these historically white spaces? And how's the experience been for you and maybe how have you grown?
Brooklyn Bell: I think that these white spaces are still anxiety inducing for me. I think that some of these white spaces, it just depends. Like now with an Instagram following, it's like maybe the normal Instagram, outdoor person knows who I am and knows what I stand for and agrees with my stances. But some of the places that we go mountain biking, if I don't have my, I guess white people, my white chaperones with me, sometimes I feel like if something were to go wrong, it might go really wrong for me.
Brooklyn Bell: And I definitely been in scenarios where that has been the case. I do think that it has been getting better. I think people are starting to have a better awareness of maybe what it's like to be me living in a black body, even though these other white people don't understand that fully. And I think that as I get older, I get better at like protecting my space and protecting my energy and realizing what is for me and what really isn't.
Faith E. Briggs: You talk about the difference between diversity and inclusion. Those two words and the differences there. Can you talk more about that?
Brooklyn Bell: Diversity is just plugging people into the equation. Inclusion really looks at the way that maybe people do things. What is that process, how do I want to do something versus how does this company want to approach things? How do I want my image to be portrayed versus how they want my image to be portrayed? How can I be brought to the table with more creativity, more control over language or over images, who is in charge? As far as like outdoor industry goes, who are these producers? Who are these filmmakers? There's like tons of black and brown filmmakers and producers and creatives. And we're pretty good at being creative and taking charge, and making amazing things. It's like, why can't we just be brought into the outdoors? Who is in charge?
Faith E. Briggs: Like yeah. That's such a good question.
Brooklyn Bell: To be honest, I think it just has to do with what we value. Do we value these voices? Do we value bringing them table? I mean, you have to do the work to look for them, but you're essentially bringing someone to the table who's going to meet you halfway or more.
Faith E. Briggs: It's so interesting how the film world outdoor space, is about who you know. It's sort of this sense of like, Oh, my buddies are going to come on this ski trip or like, oh, and then I'm also going to contact be my DP. And it's just all a group of friends. And there's let me say this, there is a huge importance in having good folks and good people around you. Good energy on shoots. Like I agree with that and totally support that. And I think it's extremely important to start bringing more folks to the table that are not maybe in those tight, hard to break friend groups and are not invited to the conversation all the time.
Brooklyn Bell: Yeah. To me, Becoming Ruby, we had Dorin Schuessler, he's an epic mountain bike filmmaker.
Brooklyn Bell: And then we also had Dave Meyers who came in, who is like a documentary filmmaker. And he understood what it was like to be in a black body. What it was all these little details that went into the movie. That was just part of me, part of what I grew up with. And it just came together to be something really cool.
Addie Thompson: What's the difference between increasing representation and tokenizing?
Brooklyn Bell: It can be kind of tricky. I think representation is important and it's important to see black and brown people in these advertisements. And there's something that kind of feels like, I guess, little forced or maybe inorganic. But it's also really important to see these people represented. It can be tricky. It's just like, "Well, is that actual inclusion or is that just diversity?" I think the spaces where I've just felt like a token is when people really don't do the work too.
Brooklyn Bell: Like if I'm showing up for a shoot or doing a solo project or like an interview, something like when people don't really do the work to ask me much more nuance questions or no like a little bit more backstory about me. They're just trying to like leverage these small little bits of me. I think if I'm asking myself, why am I here then? It's probably tokenism. You're like, why am I here? Why am I doing this thing? This seems not me then it's probably not. And it's them just kind of trying to put me into their equation.
Addie Thompson: Yeah. And it, and, and other spaces too. I mean, you live in Bellingham I'm Portland, Oregon. When I first moved out here four years ago, I felt like I walked into a coffee shop and like Portland nature being Portland, everyone was just like turning like smiling extra hard at me to be like, "Yeah, we're all liberal and you're here." And that [inaudible 00:26:51].
Brooklyn Bell: That is equally as weird.
Addie Thompson: Do you get tired? Do you get tired of like experiencing it, talking about it and how do you recharge? Like how do you keep going?
Brooklyn Bell: I definitely do get tired because I'm black. I look through things through a black lens because of the way that I grew up. Like, I can't help, but look through things through a black lens and it, to me tiring. And I remember saying to Zach, my boyfriend, I was like, sometimes I was just tired of being black. And not like genuinely, because black is beautiful and I am so lucky to be who I am. I love all parts of me. But sometimes having conversations about race or teaching people, or trying to describe all these different feelings or nuances and not always having always the language or the expertise. And I definitely have to take moments where I just have to step back from it and protect my energy for sure.
Brooklyn Bell: And I think some of my friends now know that, it's not just my responsibility to hold that burden. Like it's their responsibility to learn and educate themselves and educate each other and make sure that they keep having conversations with each other and not just me. And that's been really helpful. That has been the one thing that I've really liked is, with people having a more awareness, it just felt like for the last many years of writing, like I just felt like I was shouting into the abyss and nobody was listening. All these white people are like, "Great, ha ha ha, this is awesome. Let's make a story about it. Well, run the story." And everybody would be like, "Great." We're Brooklyn, you're the change you want to see? And I'm like, no, we're all the change collectively that we want to see in the world.
Brooklyn Bell: We have to work together to do it. It's not just on my back. It is not just me. And I think I'm starting to realize that like becoming Ruby is enough. Like me becoming this person that I want to be, and carving this past, on skis and bikes, is enough. And of course, I always look through things through a black lens. Always be educating people, but there are moments where I have to take time for myself and just enjoy existing.
Faith E. Briggs: Have you been listening to How to Save a Planet?
Addie Thompson: Yes. We love.
Faith E. Briggs: We're big fans.
Brooklyn Bell: I listened to that episode on that woman who was... She's a black farmer. Yeah. The history of black farmers just made me so mad. Gosh, I was just so reminded about, people say things like, "Oh black people are just not interested in the outdoors or black people are just not interested in skiing or mountain biking or all these sports." But like, gosh, historically all this is taken from us in so many different ways. So many different ways, our connection to the land was stolen from us and so much so that we internalized it and that just breaks my heart. That makes me so, so mad. Like it's so wrong.
Addie Thompson: Yeah. No, and it's not true. I think that's the thing. We have always had a relationship with the land and yet we're told that we don't. And we're told we're disconnected and we're told, black people don't do that and don't do that.
Brooklyn Bell: We just don't have like history or we don't have legacy written down. There are pro black scares and stubbornness out there. We just don't have that history or that legacy. We just don't have those stories. And it's like, I saw that article, that outside magazine did on the brotherhood of skiing, which you worked on. I almost, I just pointed at the computer screen. And I just, I think about that, I'm like, gosh, we need legacy. We need to know that somebody came here and before us. That this can be, and is part of who we are.
Addie Thompson: Sometimes when you're one of few, it's easier to want to blend in and to not have to be seen as the black mountain biker or the black girl with the dreads from Bellingham and that kind of thing. And I think we talked about it. It gets tiring and I just really fair when people in the space sometimes don't want to be known as the black cyclist or the black trail runner or the black climber. But I think that you took on the responsibility and you're talking about diversity you're talking about inclusion, you're educating yourself and you're educating others. And I just wonder how and why?
Brooklyn Bell: Well, I think we go back to legacy, like I've seen, gosh, it's kind of cool because like a lot of the black athletes that I looked up to, finally came out and just like, started talking about race and what their experiences looked like, but I I think that some of the other black athletes that I looked up to, they never really talked about it. They never brought it up. It seemed like it was hard for those folks to establish themselves in this space. And I think that sometimes when you make it in, it's easier just to blend in and, enjoy the hard work that you've done to be there. I think that Ruby, she pushed me into, be open about that. But I mean, I don't think there's any right or wrong way for these people before me to speak up or do anything. I just kind of decided maybe I can be good at what I do. And also speak on that.
Faith E. Briggs: Thank you so much, Brooklyn, your perspective is honest and refreshing. It gives us a ton to think about, and we're so thankful you were down to share it with us.
Addie Thompson: To learn more about Brooklyn, see her art and follow her journey. Check her out on Instagram at badgal_brooky. That's at B-A-D-G-A-L underscore B-R-O-O-K-Y. You can also shop her art via the link in her bio. See films like Becoming Ruby by the links in the show notes.
Faith E. Briggs: The Trail Ahead is created and hosted by us. Faith E. Briggs and Addie Thompson it's produced by LWC. Jen Chien is our editor. Elizabeth Nakano is our producer, sound design and theme music by Cedric Wilson.
Addie Thompson: Our podcast art is by Shar Tuiasoa. Check it out on Instagram at Punky Aloha. Special thanks to our amazing teams from Merrill, Adam Koepfer, Lauren King Will Pray and from Patagonia, Bianca Botta, Sasha Tenady, Clare Gallagher, and Whitney Clapper.
Faith E. Briggs: Big thanks also to Trail Butter and outdoorsy, and thanks to our team on the visual side. Tyler Wilkinson Ray, Fred Gorus and Monica Medellin. Thank you for listening and for spreading the word, follow The Trail Ahead on apple podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Faith E. Briggs: See you next episode.