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Women’s Forum Recap: Jenna Burton on Creating Black Bike Culture

Veronica Davis couldn’t have put it better: “A lot of times we try to make women this monolithic group — but we’re not.”

From the Fender Bender LGBT crew out of Detroit to the Kidical Mass moms of Washington, D.C., there are countless subgroups within the women’s cycling movement — and, of course, bicycling at large. At the National Women’s Bicycling Forum we hosted a session on “Community-Based Bike Advocacy: Building the Movement from the Groud Up,” to unpack the diverse definition of “bicyclist” and explore how to encourage and engage underrepresented communities to ride.

With Davis, the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC (and member of the Women Bike Advisory Board) at the helm, we heard from three leaders from across the country: Jenna Burton, founder of Red, Bike and Green; Megan Odett, founder of Kidical Mass DC and Adonia Lugo, co-founder of CicLAvia, City of Lights, and Bicicultures (to name a few of her endeavors).

For Burton, the birth of RBG came from her desire to build a lifestyle around riding a bike — but seeing few other African Americans on Oakland streets or within the local biking culture. But, for Burton and RBG, cycling is a tool to building community. Here’s some of what she shared:

Drawing on black history: We carry with us this element of black history and people notice in the mission that we’re talking about more than just bike riding.We’re talking about health, we’re talking about sustainability, we’re talking about economic and environmental conditions. Our mission expanded into this three point plan that parallels the 10-point plan the Black Panthers came up with… The second element of history you can see in our aesthetic and logo and colors we wear: red, black and green. That’s really how we found the inspiration for the title of the organization.

Creating space: We put on community bike rides and the purpose of these rides is to create space for African Americans to come together and enjoy each others presence and ride bikes together. We go on two- or three-hour bikes rides that are intergenerational: It’s for families, for young people, for elders.

Being visible: We are establishing a presence, not only in the Oakland community, but among the African American population within the Oakland community. We’re creating visibility, representing an image of what bike riding can look like within the black community. The more people see it, the more it becomes commonplace and less intimidating.

Empowering riders: Our bikes rides serve a number of purposes. It makes it less intimidating. Some of our cyclists come on a bike ride for the first time in their lives or since they were 9-years-old. After that first bike ride, it becomes easier and easier to form a lifestyle around bike riding.

Addressing gentrification: Oakland is part of a larger metro area that’s rapidly changing. It’s economically changing, changing what it looks like in terms of the people who live there and don’t live there. These bike rides are a social response to way those communities are changing. Just that visibility is a reminder that this is also a space where African Americans have been living for generations. A lot of people say that bike lanes are the first sign of gentrification, but by using those bike lanes and taking up that space, it’s a reminder that these bike  lanes are for us, as well. It’s a great way to engage in community and to have these conversations that are about more than just bike riding.

Establishing a new bike culture: The great thing about what we’ve been doing over the past few years has been establishing a culture around bike riding. We talk a lot about how we need to diversify the bike movement and diversify cyclists and the industry, but the change needs to happen within communities themselves, especially underrepresented and disadvantaged communities. One of our favorite sayings is “It’s bigger than bikes.” We’re using bikes as a tool for community development. We have this aesthetic — we’re wearing the colors and the history and the style that is unique and well-received with black community… We use the black power fists in some of our images and, as it becomes part of the culture, we’ll start to see more black people getting excited about bikes — for reasons we don’t think about right away.

Click here to watch Burton’s full presentation — and stayed tuned for more insight from the panel tomorrow.


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