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Bike Equity Leader: Melody Moody

This week, we’re focusing on bike equity as part of National Bike Month, and we’ll be showcasing the work of bike equity leaders across the country. Today, we’re highlighting the work of Melody Moody

Melody is originally from North-East Tennessee. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi fifteen years years ago and immediately got involved with community development and service oriented work focused on low income communities in the inner city of Mississippi’s capital.  Melody now serves in a statewide role as the executive director of Bike Walk Mississippi, the state’s bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization.  

Melody began her career by connecting college-aged volunteers with over 40 different non-profits in Jackson through her work as Community Outreach Coordinator at Belhaven University, followed by an immersion-based research project where she spent twelve weeks volunteering at community development focused nonprofits throughout the U.S. in an effort to study the practices of social justice and effort to build equity among underserved communities. 

Photo by Paul Wolf / Find It In Fondren

Moody returned to spend five years as the Director of Development for an educational program for children and families in Georgetown, a community in Jackson that is more than 96% African-American and where the median income level for a household is less than $22,000.  During her time working in the community, Moody says she faced daily challenges that allowed her to learn from the residents and to gain a better and more complex understanding of the the neighborhood and its culture. Melody began to spend more time actively and intentionally seeking to collaborate with residents and organizations in the neighborhood resulting in her embarked on a community organizing driven research project detailing the history, growth and assets of the neighborhood. Through personal interviews, conversations, data collection and collective community meetings, Moody was better able to enter into and contribute to a more productive dialog with residents and allies for increased access, education and opportunity in the community. She believes that one of the most important things to the success of building equity is to first increase one’s own awareness and knowledge of the complexities surrounding the current state of a neighborhood or a group of people you wish to better understand and engage.  Moody states, “In my work over the past decade of working with low-income communities, I continue to learn the importance of humility, adaptability, opportunity and access. In my quest to be a better listener, I’ve learned that by collaboratively working with diverse communities and individuals it becomes much easier to partner together to identify the barriers, opportunities and to begin a more productive discussion toward working to create conditions that more easily allow access, opportunity and advancement for everyone”.  

After co-founding a local bicycle advocacy group in Jackson with friends in 2009 and completing a Masters in Advocacy and Human Rights from Eastern University, Moody was finally able to combine her love of bicycling and her desire to advocate on behalf of underserved communities when she began working on the statewide level as executive director of Bike Walk Mississippi.

Within just a few months of beginning her work, she was able to gain the support of Bike Walk’s Board of Directors to integrate a strategic plan that made a commitment toward increasing the inclusion of underserved communities within the mission of the organization.  In the four years since, Bike Walk Mississippi continues to keep these values at the forefront of their mission and vision and in 2011, Bike Walk partnered with MDOT to launch its “Low-income Empowerment Initiative”focused on working with residents on the neighborhood level to find ways to make their neighborhoods more bike-able and walkable.  Funded by MDOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program, the initiative began with a pilot program in the Midtown neighborhood, a diverse community in Jackson’s city center. Bike Walk Mississippi partnered with community members, members of the Jackson Bike advocates, several local bike shops and Midtown Partners, a local nonprofit focused on community to launch the “Midtown Bike Club”, an after-school bicycle education class for fifth graders which included bicycle safety, basic repair classes, bike rodeo’s and basic bike maintenance.

This initiative, along with support from its partners, also led to the creation of Mississippi’s first community bike shop, “Spokes”, now open twice a week in as a resource for people of all ages to learn bike repair and maintenance along with the opportunity to earn a bike of their own through volunteer hours. Later this year, Bike Walk will launch a bicycle and pedestrian safety campaign targeted to children in living in low-income communities and is actively conducting needs assessments, walkability studies and collaborating with local groups to create a plan for increased access and safety for children biking and walking to and from school in Midtown.  In late 2014, Bike Walk Mississippi will expand the initiative to low income communities throughout the state. 

Melody told the League that she believes that “the efforts to build equity and increase diversity in the biking movement in a place like Mississippi must be intentional.  Taking these steps in one of the poorest states in the nation means that we must be willing to learn, to listen and to collaborate with others for change. Because whether we look at these issues from the lens of race, gender, or through a socioeconomic lens, we must be intentional, strategic and passionate about both reconciliation and inclusivity and bikes are a great place to start!” Moody has continued to focus her work on expanding the bicycling movement in Mississippi by creating more opportunities in the state for women.  In 2013, based on the success of the Women Bike initiative started by the League, Bike Walk MS launched “Women Bike Mississippi”a statewide campaign to encourage more women to start riding in Mississippi.  Through facilitating discussion at the statewide level through social media and group discussion forums, the Women Bike Mississippi campaign has led to the formation of several local chapters throughout the state that organize regular rides and social events geared toward women in cities all over the state. 

Melody said  the primary reason she is so highly motivated about bicycle advocacy and the effort to use biking to build equity in Mississippi is because in her words, Never before in my attempt to work with communities have I ever found a “tool”in the toolbox like the bicycle that so easily serves as an affordable and accessible tool, no matter the age, race, gender or socio-economics of the user; a simple, easy and FUN tool that can not only be used to embrace diversity but can be used as a tool to increase health, access, economic development and quality of life in communities in Mississippi, in the U.S. and across the world.”

Under Melody’s leadership, Bike Walk Mississippi received the 2013 Advocacy Organization of the Year award from the Alliance for Biking and Walking and later that year Moody was also recognized as one of 14 “Innovators using bikes to change the world”by Bicycling Magazine.  In 2014, Mississippi moved up five spots to #31 in the League’s ranking of Bicycle Friendly States.   

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