Filmmakers Faith Briggs and Adeline Thompson bonded over a love of running in the outdoors. Now, the two are on a mission — with help from Merrell — to protect the places their legs have taken them, while celebrating other diverse people doing the same.
The two storytellers aligned last year on “This Land,” a documentary following Briggs as she ran 150 miles through three U.S. National Monuments alongside other runners (Thompson included) who “represent different perspectives in what it means to be a public land owner.”
“I got the opportunity in 2017 to run Bears Ears with someone end to end, from Bluff to Blanding, Utah. It was before the Trump administration announced the borders of Bears Ears would be redrawn. I was curious and started researching,” Thompson said. “Bluff is in the Navajo reservation and Blanding is a ranching town, and I had this realization that we were connecting the two with our journey, yet there was such different thought around what the monument meant and why was it good or bad.”
Briggs added, “We realized this is way more nuanced, way more complicated. That’s why ‘This Land’ was different. We weren’t just trying to come in as public lands champions who felt like we knew something. We were very much curious about what was going on and we wanted other people to be curious.”
But the conversation went beyond a discussion about land borders. “Inevitably, based on our identities as women, based on my identity as a Black woman, it went deeper,” Briggs said. “We’re often asked to tell one part of our story and it wasn’t possible to take my identity, my personal history, the history of this country out.”
The well-received film is available to watch online for free. However, their work is far from done.
Their next endeavor is the 12-podcast series “The Trail Ahead,” a co-production with Merrell and Patagonia — created by Camp 4 Collective — set to release in March. Briggs described the effort as a continuation of “This Land,” featuring discussions that “live at the intersection of environment, race, history and culture.”
“The conversations around equity, outdoors, access, identity politics in these places has become a lot stronger, and people want to go deeper but don’t always know how,” Briggs said. “We’ve been having these conversations and we know so many people who are experts. We have scientists, television show hosts, trail runners, activists from a number of communities who are going to go deeper with us.”
Additionally, the podcast will have a visual component. “We’re capturing some of our guests in their day-to-day activities, telling stories in short one-minute profiles to try to elevate these people who are absolutely incredible,” Thompson said.
Briggs added, “We believe representation matters. Every time we have an opportunity to show someone who looks different, someone who might look like them, we want to take advantage.”
When “The Trail Ahead” debuts, it will be found on the Merrell and Patagonia social media platforms and websites, via Camp 4 Collective and on the Instagram feeds of both Briggs (@faithevebee) and Thompson (@adelinemthompson).
Although Merrell has been alongside Briggs and Thompson for both “This Land” and “The Trail Ahead,” these are not the only instances where their paths have crossed. In fact, Briggs has been an integral part of other Merrell storytelling efforts, such as “We Hike to Heal” in February 2020, a video spotlighting brand ambassadors Kenya and Michelle Jackson-Saulters of Outdoor Journal Tour in Atlanta.
“We’ve worked with Faith for the last couple of years on projects and we really respect the work she’s doing and her authentic approach to it,” explained Lauren King, Merrell senior marketing manager. “The conversation they’re going to have around ‘The Trail Ahead’ podcast is also critical. It’s important for us to use our platform to help inform people of these important issues.”
According to Briggs, Merrell recognized her vision and took a chance when others wouldn’t.
“People didn’t know what we were trying to do. They were like, ‘You’re doing too much. How does equity and trail running relate? It’s too political for us.’ That was two years ago,” she said. “I had one conversation with Merrell and they said, ‘We’re in, we want to support this project.’ They didn’t even ask questions.”
Now, two projects later, their work together has deepened. “We have conversations about what’s coming up next for them, and I can weigh in and say, ‘From my perspective, I would do it this way’ or ‘Maybe I wouldn’t do it that way,’” Briggs said.
Additionally, the filmmaker applauded the brand’s willingness to continuously take on tough conversations without hesitation.
“Everyone I’ve met at Merrell has been excited about getting into those uncomfortable conversations — and not just whispering them in the hallway but having them on a company-wide level,” Briggs said. “When choosing their ambassadors, they’re not looking for who has the biggest Instagram following; they’re looking for who is making waves in their community and how they can support the work they’re doing.”
These efforts have been recognized by more than just Briggs and Thompson.
“There are a lot of companies out there who speak of their intentions, but there is absolutely no follow up. That is certainly not the case with Merrell,” said Teresa Baker, founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, which Merrell signed in 2019. “They have shown through actions what they are committed to. They are truly doing the work of bringing more faces from underrepresented communities forward.”
Baker said the brand’s dedication comes from the top. “When their new CEO came onboard, he made it a point to meet with me, in person, to continue to voice Merrell’s commitment to DEI,” she recalled.
Last year, after the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men and women sparked a national debate about racial issues, Merrell stepped up by donating $25,000 to the NAACP and matched the donations of its employees to Black-led organizations. It also completed an internal audit to identify where it should focus its D&I training, and how its marketing could be reflective of diverse communities. And it established a social accountability taskforce to help with inclusion efforts and partnered with its parent company Wolverine World Wide Inc. to target diverse hiring candidates.
For 2021, the brand’s has four ambitious goals: to engage its team and culture; amplify new voices via its marketing; create welcoming outdoor spaces; and transform retail and the industry.
To help with its efforts, Merrell will introduced its paid JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion) Advisory Council in the first quarter. The group will comprise both industry and outdoor insiders, as well as unaffiliated individuals.
“We know that to authentically approach the work that we’re doing within justice, diversity, equity and inclusion, we need to have the right voices at the table, we need to have multiple voices and backgrounds and perspectives,” King said.
Additionally, Merrell will work with several partnerships with organizations that welcome diverse nature lovers, including Unlikely Hikers, Outdoor Journal Tour, Range of Motion Project and TranSending7. And the company entered into a new partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, to help all youth gain access to natural parks or public trails.