Future Bike: Ed Ewing
As a kid, Ed Ewing was an outlier.
Because he rode a bike in a predominantly black neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minn., Ewing caught flak from his friends. “They didn’t understand it,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Are you turning white? Black people don’t bike’.” And the outsider status cut both ways — out on the local race circuit, he was often the only black cyclist at competitions. “At bike races people were like, ‘Who is this kid?’” he remembers. “There’s this fishbowl effect of everyone staring at you – and you just want to ride your bike.”
Now, as an adult, Ewing is a leading advocate for inclusion. After starting a model Major Taylor Project that works with youth in underserved communities in Seattle, he’s risen to the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Cascade Bicycle Club, not just inspiring students but envisioning what bike equity can mean for the whole organization — and all of Seattle’s diverse communities.
So, as we were planning the first event that integrates the work of the League’s Women Bike program and Equity Initiative, we knew we needed Ewing at the table. Don’t miss the opportuinty to hear his thoughts on cultivating diverse leaders at Future Bike on September 11, in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Click here to learn more and register today. Space is limited!
Earlier this month, I had the chance to talk about bike equity with Ewing for our upcoming Bike Equity Toolkit. Here’s a small snippet of what we discussed and a tiny preview of the conversations we’ll be having at Future Bike…
Starting the bike equity conversation with facts rather than finger-pointing
You have to have an authentic conversation, a fact-based conversation, because this is real work. So we’ve been using organizations like the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to identify the high schools and areas in the community that have the highest incidence of free and reduced lunch — and sharing that out with greater community. We’re having the conversation about what we really do isn’t just about getting people on bikes — but taking on the health and wellness of the students, and the education of students. Every time we take them off campus, it’s a field trip. They’re seeing communities they’ve never seen before. But that conversation starts from very authentic place; not you should be doing this or shame on you, Seattle. That never works. To have a real conversation we start with: There are areas in Seattle that don’t have access [to the resources for health and wellness] and here’s how we’re showing up. It’s a very a-ha moment for a lot of people. For me, being African American and sharing this message, I can say, “Hey, I didn’t know. I had an idea, I knew it existed, but I didn’t know to what extent.” But once you do know there’s a greater responsibility, a social responsibility to share that with the greater community and say this is what we’re doing about it. Our passion is the bicycle and how the bike can transform these areas, but it has to be very authentic without pointing the finger and leading by example.
Going deep without stretching thin
When you’re going into a community that hasn’t traditionally biked or you’re presenting an opportunity that hasn’t been on their radar, you have to, in some ways, manufacture the demand for it. So the big question [for us, in starting the Major Taylor Project] was, will the students like doing it and how can we keep it fresh? Now we know, yes, it will work. These students want to bike. Six years later, our biggest challenge is capacity — and funding to increase our capacity. Right now, we’re in a conversation about, Should we go deeper into the schools and community we work in now or expand to different sites — or do both? And how deep do we go with students? Do we partner with organizations to help them have access to college and jobs and, if we do, how do we not get spread too thin or get too far away from our mission? We’re having those conversations in real time.
Combining organization assets in service of equity outcomes
We’re right in the middle of our implementation stage of a new strategic plan and part of that conversation is, how do our various departments work together to really affect change, to move the needle. For me, it’s somewhat easy to identify where to focus because Seattle’s diversity really exists in pockets, but how do we coordinate advocacy, events, education and volunteers in a targeted community to really affect change? Just this morning I had a conversation about how do we do that? Is it targeting a community and one person in the organization is leading that effort in that community? Is that my role as Director of Diversity and Inclusion to pick and choose communities, and, if it is, to assemble the team to go into the community to partner and understand the community needs and opportunities? We’re trying to figure that out as organization right now.