For the month of July, Alisha Zellner’s weekend trips were meditations in motion.
Before the sun brooded over Fort Collins, CO, the 33-year-old got on her bike and rode one of her city’s many lush green trails. Often she was alone with only the white sound of wheels whirring – her mind was a blank page as she watched the foothills roll in the distance. In other instances, current events flooded her mind: the national outcry against racial injustice mixed with her experiences as a black woman, a Colorado State University police officer, and her role in uniting her communities.
One day Zellner plugged in her headphones and listened Hamilton, the famous Broadway hit starring BIPOC actors as the founding fathers. She thought about what it was Really should promote freedom for everyone ̵
After George Floyd was killed by police in May, Zellner promised her to drive 400 miles (about 12.9 miles per day) in July to draw attention to the over 400 years that the black community has fought for their civil rights. Her original goal was to raise $ 2,500 for organizations that want to end police brutality and preserve black history, such as: Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
She named the initiative Bike Ride for Black Lives.
“I started out hoping it would be something that big, but I didn’t know if it would take off,” Zellner told Prevention.com.
Fortunately, what started with solo outdoor rides and indoor spin sessions with her girls became a city-wide phenomenon. The news quickly spread in the local Fort Collins press, with more people asking to join Zellner.
“We’d go about 10 miles just near parks or within the community and have some of those harder conversations about the race,” says Zellner. They asked each other: What social impact did you have today besides a conversation? What books do you read What are you teaching yourself that you didn’t necessarily learn in school?
When Zellner got the idea on July 12th to organize a larger awareness round for the community, she thought 30 people would come.
“We had about 200 people,” she said. “It was amazing to see. We had literally all generations, all kinds of races. But the most magical part was when other colored officers came up to me and said, “Thank you for creating a space where we can have a voice on the move, at a time when those of us in uniform remain neutral have to.”
By the third week the initiative had gained momentum, but Zellner’s body was getting tired.
“I was drained,” she said. “But I knew I was going with a specific goal.”
On the 24th day, on the final push, she challenged herself to cycle the Horsetooth Reservoir Dams, a series of monstrous hills that many professional cyclists train on. It was her first time and she was scared. But when she got to the top, Zellner completed her 400th mile. Zellner proudly lifted her bike over her head in victory, relief and satisfaction.
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By the end of the last charity spin class at CycleBar, Bike Ride for Black Lives had far exceeded its fundraising goals. Zellner had driven well over 500 miles and her ward raised more than $ 6,800. And she feels that this initiative is just beginning, and not just in terms of her contribution to social justice.
It’s part of a larger movement of black cyclists joining across Colorado.
In the past, cycling wasn’t the most racially diverse sport, which is why it seems like a health trend that is only meant for a few. One of the reasons, Zellner thinks, is the cost.
“I am grateful to have the privilege of owning a bike because when we talk about systemic racism it includes access to things like exercise or the ability to buy an affordable bike and equipment,” she said. “It doesn’t exist for everyone.”
While the price of bikes can discourage many disadvantaged people, there are also many people of color who may not have access to safe bike lanes in their neighborhood or to a cycling community where they will feel safe and welcome.
For Zellner, this lack of access is frustrating given the positive impact that sports like cycling have had on their physical and mental health. She knows these sports have the power to do the same for others, especially during a global pandemic when safe access to gyms, playgrounds, and other fitness facilities is restricted.
As a teenager, she suffered from depression and struggled with her weight. In 2007, Zellner took up running and changed her diet. She gradually started to feel happier and lost 110 pounds in a year. She fell in love with cycling when she did her first triathlon in 2014. Today, despite all the pressures of COVID-19 and quarantine, cycling is one of their main activities to clear their minds and stay healthy. But as much as she loves cycling and running, it has been difficult for her to connect with other enthusiasts who look like her.
“Fort Collins is a mostly white city, so I rarely see people of color in general,” she said. “It can feel really isolating in that regard because I know we [Black cyclists] exist. It’s just that sometimes it can be difficult to find the community to get together. “
But maybe that feeling of isolation is starting to change. There were other Colorado initiatives that brought BIPOC and its allies together this summer. For example, Denver Solidarity Rides has organized several bike protests to support the # BlackLivesMatter movement. In early August, Zellner attended an event hosted by Ride for Racial Justice, a Denver-based organization.
Ride for Racial Justice was co-founded by a cyclist Mark Robinson who felt unsafe while riding black after the death of George Floyd. When fellow white cyclist Neal Henderson offered to organize a group of riders to join Robinson on his next ride, the two friends felt that there was a bigger vision here: to create spaces where everyone felt empowered to regardless of the color of a cyclist to ride the person’s skin.
“I was just so overwhelmed,” said Zellner of her 150-group ride in Boulder. “I’ve seen so many professional black cyclists – both men and women – show up for this ride. I hope that Ride for Racial Justice and Bike Ride for Black Lives can work together to bring them here and have another community ride here in Fort Collins over the next few months. “
Zellner is now brimming with ideas on how to expand Bike Ride for Black Lives in your city. She recently held talks with local black-owned companies to find out how this campaign can bring more awareness and appreciation to the BIPOC families in Fort Collins.
Right now, the spirit of Bike Ride for Black Lives lives on on the group’s Facebook page, where people can continue to fuel these talks about criminal justice reform and racial inequality and connect with like-minded people.
“I am so grateful that it will continue,” said Zellner. “This is an opportunity to honor my black community – the community I have been part of all my life. My hope for bike tours for Black Lives is that it becomes an annual thing that we do every July so that the community never forgets that we have work to keep doing. “
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