African Americans go "Red, Bike and Green" for Health and Culture
Black cycling organization promotes economic, mental and physical health.
Founded in the fall of 2007 by Jenna Burton, Red, Bike and Green (RBG) started out as a small group of black urban cyclists in Oakland, California. Since then the community organization, through word of mouth and social media, has launched chapters in Chicago and Atlanta, with more cities on the way.
RBG organizes monthly bike rides that travel through predominately black neighborhoods and visit various black-owned businesses along the way. RBG is about far more than traipsing through up-and-coming, or historical neighborhoods, the group also aims to promote better health through bike riding and living a more active lifestyle.
Loop 21 caught up with Atlanta chapter head Zahra Alabanza to talk about RBG's mission and the impact it hopes to have on the African American community.
For people who have never heard of Red, Bike and Green before, tell us what it is.
RBG is a collective of black urban cyclists seeking to improve the physical, economical, mental and local environments of black folks by creating a relevant and sustainable black bike culture. Our thinking is, you get black folks on bikes, we start to address some of the issues that plague the black community.
Why bikes? You can walk, run or drive to achieve the same goals, right?
RBG pays homage to Marcus Garvey’s "red, black and green" that was used to represent black nationalists. So the name wouldn’t work if we walked or drove. Plus bikes are the most used mode of transportation in the world, something people have always depended on. On top of that, by riding bikes we are addressing our health issues, environmental issues and we can support black businesses depending on where you live. So being on a bike just allows us to address pivotal issues in a unique way, plus it’s something we were already doing. Black people have always been on bikes, but it wasn’t visible to the world.
Was it hard getting people involved? There are a lot of black people who haven’t been on a bike since they were 12 years old.
Not from what we can tell. Black people have always been on bikes. Maybe not in groups of 60, but they are on bikes. We see all different types of people on bikes. Plus we partnered with a group that rents bikes to people who don’t have one. Overall people have just been very excited to be on a bike. It’s exciting; it’s a good workout; you get to socialize with people who have similar interests; and you can see the city in a whole new way. Every ride we have, new people are coming out.
How do you select which neighborhoods to ride through?
We think about the city and something will trigger an idea. In Atlanta we start from “Troy Davis Park” downtown. We knew of black businesses around the city and created routes that allowed us to visit each of them in certain areas. It also comes from dialog with people telling us which ones we should check out. We always want to go through communities where black folks live so they can see us on our bikes and ride with us, or ask what we’re doing.
RBG is pretty fearless. You ride through neighborhoods many people don’t want to come to period or that the city itself has given up on. Are you surprised when “locals” smile, wave and honk horns?
It doesn’t surprise me. I expect it. Our people want to see us doing well. With gentrification, you have a lot of non-blacks coming into the community and it tells you 'my community is changing.' But when you see black people riding through on bikes, it lets you know, 'Ok, we’re holding this down.' Plus people get excited when they see us, it reminds them of when they had a bike. It’s very encouraging to see that we’re doing something that’s relevant to other people's lives as well as ours. It shows that we aren’t so far removed.
Do you ever get support from outside, non-black entities?
Absolutely. The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition supports us 100% in our efforts to get more black people on bikes. We are the go-to cycling organization in the city for that. We’ve had people donate bikes to us as well. We get a lot of support from the outside because it makes the city look good.