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Andrew King uses passion for climbing, outdoors to call attention to climate change

‘When I am on top of these mountains, I stand up for and speak to these issues’

The first mountain Andrew King climbed was in Detroit as a young boy. 

Not a literal mountain, of course, but the mountain of a tough childhood, one of four children raised by a single mother.

“I always tell people the first mountain I climbed was when I was young, going through that turbulent time in Detroit, where I went to school in the projects,” said King.

Despite the tough times, King had a strong desire to go to college and see the world. His mom allowed him and his siblings to spend time with their grandparents in Hawaii. While his siblings would often return home, King, a young teenager by this time, stayed. Entranced by the scenery and mountains, he taught himself how to mountain climb and surf.

“No one in my family has ever climbed, surfed or any of that. My grandparents let me go out and be in nature and I just felt at peace. I would just go into nature and enjoy myself,” King recalled. “Over time, when I got to college and grad school and started to climb more, I went back to Hawaii, started meditating on top of mountains and then going surfing. I loved it.”

Now the 34-year-old African American explorer is scaling some of this country’s highest mountains — real mountains — and surfing the biggest waves, all while bringing attention to climate change, human rights and societal injustice.

King started The Between Worlds Project to provide help and digital media exposure to individuals, nonprofits and developing communities along the path of his nature expeditions that are battling sexism, racism, climate change and other economic barriers.

The foundation was born after he spent time climbing higher altitudes, volcanoes in Malaysia and Japan, and surfing. He eventually realized he was “a privileged African American. I know where I came from and now I am working a middle-class job, moving up in technology — I can do more in these communities that I am passing through that let me climb their mountains and surf their waves.”

He has climbed more than 50 mountains around the world, from Kilimanjaro to the highest mountain in the Atlantic, Indian, and the Pacific oceans to the highest mountain in Western Hemisphere. He recently returned and is currently training and seeking to be the first African American to climb the highest mountain and volcano on each continent.

“Actually, it’s making sure I’m not the last to do this in any setting,” King said. “It’s making sure that anyone, Black, white, Hispanic, marginalized economically, racially, culturally, all have the ability to see this world for the beauty it is as a human being versus as a human determined by what society thinks.

“That to me is why if I’m the first, that’s great, but I would be very upset if I were the last. It would mean nothing,” King said, “and I tell people I want to be the prototype. I want others to come behind and smash every goal they have on the tops of these mountains and connect with nonprofits to give back. It’s about making sure people can see themselves standing up for these issues and starting these conversations that have to get going for better representation.”

King’s latest journey, “The Road to Peace and Perseverance,” focuses on the war in Ukraine. He is standing with humanity on human rights and helping reduce the impact of climate change in Europe along the journey to climb these mountains, including Mount Elbrus, which is the highest and most prominent peak in Russia and Europe.

Given that what is happening in Ukraine is a human rights issue, King prefers to stand with humanity and the principles of his nonprofit’s core values: “Leave a place or person better than when one found it or them.”

To that end, King will be donating to a nonprofit in Europe that is helping those displaced during this time of conflict, while training and climbing in Europe for most of the year.

His giving nature and love for humanity are nothing new to those close to him, including his mentor and coach Melissa Arnot Reid.

“Andrew has such a genuine personal passion for whatever he is doing, and that energy is contagious. It is the most natural fit in the world that he would want to focus his goals on achieving personal climbs to open space for others,” said Reid, herself a climber. She has summited Everest six times and is the first American woman to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen.

“He’s a special person that has the perfect combination of passion, compassion and grit.

“We have a bright and fun friendship that is at the core of any mentorship relationship,” Reid said. “I try to offer him support as well as challenges for his goals in the mountains. Having been a professional guide and sponsored athlete myself for over 15 years, I also try to share the lessons learned from working as an outlier in the dominantly white/male outdoor space of mountaineering.”

King’s one-person mission of bringing awareness to major issues is work he does in his spare time. The University of Maine and LaSalle University graduate works full time for a cybersecurity tech company in California. He gives back to nonprofits, and says he thinks to himself: “How can I give back to those who are struggling to just stand up for their rights?

“So when I go to a place, I work with the nonprofits and ask them what they need help with,” King said. “ ‘What do you need me to do?’ I’ve been a janitor, put up posters, I make sure they get the money in hand or resources they need.”

King is not climbing mountains just to climb them. “When I am on top of these mountains, I stand up for and speak to these issues. I am climbing these huge mountains and surfing these big waves, but at the same time I am standing on literally the shoulders and ideas of those before me and now that maybe didn’t have the same opportunities.”

He works with different partners and brands to help spread his messages to audiences and with underrepresented youths in California, teaching them how to climb.

“I think of it as just being a human being,” he said. “I have a full-time job. I work in technology, training 30 hours a week [and] on top of that I do rock climbing training, big wave surfing training cardio, and more. I am just giving back and giving others an opportunity to be seen and to move forward.

“I don’t call it a purpose, I just call it being human.”

Dorothy J. Gentry is a freelance writer and educator based in Dallas. She’s covered the WNBA, NBA, G League and other professional sports leagues for several years. Her work has appeared in The Athletic, Slam and The New York Times among others.