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New League Staff: Jamil Modaffari

The League team just keeps on growing! Meet our new bike friend and most recent hire: Jamil Modaffari. Jamil is our new policy specialist who will be working with policy director Ken McLeod to further our efforts to improve the safety of people biking, walking, and our support for people and groups working on state and local initiatives. With such transformative opportunities ahead in the League’s efforts to make biking better for everyone, including helping communities and advocates implement investments outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), Jamil brings an invaluable perspective and experience that will complement our ongoing work in DC and across the country.

What’s your first memory of riding a bike?

My first memory of riding a bike was when I was three or four years old. I remember moving up to a “two-wheel” from my trike. My new ride didn’t come with training wheels, but I didn’t need them anyway. I’ve been enjoying life on two wheels as much as possible ever since.

You’re coming from an education background – how do you see your previous work translating to working on transportation policy on the national level with the league?

My previous work at the Center for American Progress (CAP) with the K-12 education policy team will help me hit the ground running in my new position as Policy Specialist. My experience with CAP and my new role with the League are very similar so it will translate well into my daily work. I am already familiar with the levers and procedures of federal policy making. Furthermore, I enjoy co-creating and putting in the work to build relationships with stakeholders. Conducting focus groups to create community-informed policies is something I aspire to continue at The League. Though I do not yet possess extensive background knowledge of federal and state transportation policy, I will soon be as comfortable discussing speed limit policies as I am K-12 school infrastructure. In addition to my experience working on policy at the national level, I bring with me experience in creating more equitable, inclusive, and diverse workplaces through DEI committee membership and job responsibilities. 

What motivates you to do this kind of work?

My lived experiences are my source of motivation to do racial justice and equity work – whether it is K-12 education policy or now, bicycle policy. I grew up a Black boy in an almost entirely white environment. Regardless if I was at school, the grocery store, or at home, I was almost always the only Black person. As you may imagine, being raised in this environment left me with scars from racism I endured, internalized anti-Blackness, and a clear understanding of where Black people “fit” in American society.

My childhood led me to become an educator in Pueblo, Colorado, to be the mentor and teacher I always wish I had. However, once in the classroom I soon realized how limited I was in my professional capacity to support students (in and out of the classroom) and provide them the education they deserved. The policies, systems and leadership from the federal level down to the individual school level made it nearly impossible for me to bring my whole self into the classroom and have the impact I aspired to have with and for students and the larger community. That is when I decided to leave the classroom to use my experience in K-12 education policy where I crafted community-informed policies and advocated for racially just and equitable education policies so that all children in the country have access to every opportunity regardless of their race, religion, gender or zip-code. 

After three years working in education policy, I decided to join the League to use my skills to help make cycling safer for all. Why leave K-12 education for cycling policy? I am an avid cyclist and have been since I was a child. More importantly, when I was a child, my foster brother was struck and killed by a car while cycling. Throughout my life I have faced challenges and been given opportunities to use my experiences and knowledge to help create the change I want to see in this country. As long as I have to work, I will be working to create a safe, just and equitable country for all but especially those who are underserved and under-resourced.

What bike are you riding now and what inspires you about cycling?

For me, riding is akin to therapy. Few activities allow me to escape the challenges of daily life and find freedom like I can on two wheels. I’m currently riding a Knolly Chilcotin full suspension mountain bike. Since this is my only bike at the moment, I ride it everywhere to do everything! I ride the Chilcotin at bike parks, enduro mountain bike races, and even to commute – you name it and I ride it on my Knolly. 

In the near future I hope to build a gravel bike and start using that for commuting and longer, less rowdy trail rides. My favorite place to ride has to be Bentonville, Arkansas. The trail systems in the area are unmatched and there’s accessible trails for riders of all ability levels. Before recently deciding to settle down, my wife and I spent three months living off grid in our truck camper. During this time we traveled the country and I was fortunate enough to ride amazing trails in some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. Cycling will always be an important part of my life, so wherever we decide to settle (thinking Bentonville, AR, or Boulder, CO) the trails won’t be far.