RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 27

community connections
Yes, Black Women Bike!
It was a simple exclamation from a young
girl that set Veronica Davis’ wheels in
motion to found one of the District of
Columbia’s most vibrant female bike
clubs. As she rode through her southeast
Washington, D.C., neighborhood on a
summer afternoon in 2011, she watched
this girl tug her mother’s sleeve and yell,
“Look, mommy! Look at that black lady
on a bike!”
Davis tweeted about the experience
and, on a whim, created the hashtag
#blackwomenbike. e somewhat jok-
ing hashtag opened up a dialogue—first
on social media channels, then in real
life—with other black women in the D.C.
region. Davis found that many of them
were having similar experiences.
It was time and they were ready, she
says, to bust the myth that black women
don’t bike.
In 2011, Davis and two other women
with whom she’d been dialoguing, Nse
Ufot and Najeema Washington, founded
Black Women Bike DC (
). In 2013, the organi-
zation became a sponsored project of the
Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
Davis says the group immediately filled
a niche in the city. With a vision of
encouraging bike riding for fun, health
and wellness, and transportation, the
group is different from most other biking
groups, which focus largely on recreation.
“We give women the tools they need to
use a bike in any way they want,” Davis
e project’s reach and impact are
multifaceted. In addition to leading
monthly rides, the group hosts workshops
covering a range of topics, from how to
pick out a bike that works for one’s needs
to how to continue riding in the winter.
Nichole Noel, a member of the organi-
zation’s leadership council, says one of her
favorite parts of Black Women Bike DC
is having an accepting community of wel-
coming friends who serve as “incredible”
resources. “ ere is always someone to
answer questions for you,” she says. “We
can share our experiences and expertise
in different ways. ‘What do I do with my
hair? What if I have dreadlocks? Where
can I find an extra-large helmet?’ We’re
constantly learning from each other.”
As Black Women Bike DC seeks to
reach out to women across all parts of
the city, members are exploring several
new strategies. ey intend to hold more
events at locations where people aren’t yet
comfortable riding, but which are close to
Capital Bikeshare stations—so owning a
bike isn’t a prerequisite for getting in the
saddle. At the same time, the group will
be shifting its focus to some of D.C.’s pre-
dominantly black neighborhoods in wards
7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River.
When it comes to developing sufficient
bike infrastructure in those neighbor-
hoods, transforming citizens into advo-
cates is paramount in Noel’s mind. “If we
want infrastructure in wards 7 and 8, then
we have to get more people riding
more people insisting on infrastructure.”
As Black Women Bike DC pumps up
its presence and reaches more people in
the Southeast quadrant of the city, Noel
expects the increased visibility will help
generate even more support for the proj-
ect’s mission. And with that increased sup-
port comes the opportunity to shift the
dominant narrative of who bikes in the
nation’s capital.
Black Women Bike DC/
Kidical Cupcake Ride
Girls in Gear bike
mechanics class
thinking about their role in the commu-
nity and give them tools to change it for
the better,” Mathews says.
She initially focused on three topics:
bike safety, bike mechanics and urban
design. But as Girls in Gear evolved,
she added two more sections, nutrition
education and public speaking, to incor-
porate personal development into the
e female focus of the program was
motivated by Mathews’ own experiences
working in a male-dominated field in the
U.S. She points out that when it comes to
bicycling, the gender gap goes much fur-
ther than the bike shop—to engineering
and regional planning and many other
professions that impact the streetscape.
“I want to show these girls that
be the ones to redesign the streets,” she
Mathews says most of the course con-
cepts are new to the girls, and she loves
“watching the light bulbs go off” as they
discover new skills. Some girls thrive with
the hands-on, bike mechanics segment.
Others find their niche in urban design
or public speaking. “I watch their con-
fidence grow through the program. e
hesitation that they bring with them on
day one dissipates week by week.”
e transformation is powerful, and
Girls in Gear has generated quite a few
success stories. Last summer, for example,
three program alumni showed up at a
neighborhood meeting after Mathews
told them that street design was on the
agenda. at small prompt was all they
needed to take action and share their
voices in a public platform.
“I just let them know about it,”
Mathews says. “ ey showed up on their
own accord. I’d call that a pretty major
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