Member Profile: Keith Holt
Joining the League is a way to share the love of bicycling. Keith Holt is the southeast region director of the Wisconsin Bike Federation and a long-time bike advocate. We featured this profile, written by Carolyn Szczepanski, in our Spring 2015 magazine. Want issues delivered to your mailbox? Join the League today!
When Hamzat Sani, Alison Graves and I were establishing the League’s first Equity Advisory Committee back in 2012 there was one name that was at the top of all of our lists: Keith Holt.
Long before equity became a buzz word in bike advocacy, Holt was a visionary voice for change. The Milwaukee-based advocate and southeast region director of the Wisconsin Bike Federation was among the first leaders to convene and speak on panels related to building an inclusive movement. He was among the first to be tasked, in Chicago, with targeted outreach around bicycling to traditionally underrepresented communities. And, through his progressive but constructive vision of greater diversity in bicycling, he has helped to spark and shepherd a national dialog on who is served by and who has power to impact local, state and national advocacy efforts.
Over the past two years, Holt has been an integral part of the League’s work to reassess its internal processes and external programming with a renewed mission to create a bicycle-friendly American for everyone. And, at the National Bike Summit this year, Holt was recognized with one of the highest honors in the bike movement: the Advocate of the Year Award from the Alliance for Biking & Walking.
From Chicago to Milwaukee, Keith has helped turn, not only neighborhoods and cities, but entire states into better places,” said Jeff Miller, then-president and CEO of the Alliance. “He’s paid incredible attention to the future of cycling advocacy and has played a mentor role to countless advocates, especially youth.”
Last year, providing his insight for our report The New Movement: Bike Equity Today, Holt told us his work often boils down to serving as a translator. “I see myself and others who understand ‘equity, diversity and inclusion’ really as being translators,” he explained. “You have to translate points of view, vision, and expectations between the way two different groups—for example, an urban community of color and the local bike advocacy organization—interact.”
“I get the feeling a lot of bike advocates and industry people who are in positions of power or are knowledgeable or visionary, overall, think they know all they need to know,” he added. “There are folks who just say, ‘Black people don’t ride bikes.’ I often ask, ‘How do you know that?’ If they use that as a premise, then that becomes the narrative everywhere. I try to help people to understand difference and to start thinking differently by going on a bike ride with them. A bike ride is an equalizer. We ride in other communities and I ask them to think, ‘OK, you live here.’ Think about it: There are no bike lanes, there isn’t a bike shop for three miles. I try to tell that story.”
“My key lesson learned is to commit to outside-the-box thinking,” he said. “The ‘build it and they will come’ mentality works in communities that are already biking. But we cannot continue to utilize the low-hanging fruit philosophy for a new bike facility. Many city bike/ped coordinators are pressured for immediate results. So they mainly install any new bike lanes, especially innovative ones like separated bike lanes, in or near communities already riding in strong numbers. So we build it and they will come, but we’re ignoring the places that could really benefit. Innovation in this area would be a real game-changer.”
But it’s not just about infrastructure, Holt emphasizes. “The general belief is, if we just put more bike lanes in communities of color or make sure low-income folks have a voice at the table that’s the big key for this,” he says. “Honestly, I think that’s part of the equation that gets more communities of color or low income communities to bike more. But I know that realistic access to affordable bike ownership and repair will make a huge impact, too. A bike shop either for profit or non profit is a tool for the change everyone seeks. How do we make that happen? How can we make that happen as policy?”
All great questions that we’re lucky to have Holt’s insight to start addressing.