For Anthony Taylor, building community starts by building capacity.
A life long athlete, Taylor’s build is solid; his conversational tone focused, precise, strategic - apt qualifiers for a former football player-turned-cyclist, and fitting for someone who invites social change, one neighborhood at a time.
Before Taylor built a social bike club or began planning community rides, Taylor found a book in his basement about Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (1878-1932): not a long-lost relative of his, but a professional cyclist hailed as America’s “first great black celebrity athlete.” Anthony learned that Major’s life was full of triumph and trauma. A decorated competitor and world cycling champion, Major Taylor experienced prejudice and systemic racism, and fought to make his story known.
100 years later, Anthony channels Major’s spirit and challenges segregation in modern day Minneapolis by getting people on bicycles. “People say, ‘Black people don’t bike.’ We have to ask, ‘How did we get here?’ The streets, the built environment, public policy - none of that is free of history. Maybe people don’t bike because the streets don’t seem safe. We need to acknowledge people’s lived experiences, and push them beyond their boundaries so people can see themselves on bikes.”
Historically, Anthony notes, matters of transportation have not been equitable. In Minneapolis, as elsewhere, institutionalized practices of redlining, political gerrymandering, and covenant communities intentionally separated people into white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods. Those physical and “psychographic” boundaries served to keep people in or out of specific communities, magnifying opportunities for some and inequality for others.
“Biking breaks down those barriers,” Anthony says. “On a bike, we cross boundaries, we see how our neighborhoods are connected. Connectivity is what matters and mobility is the ultimate expression of personal freedom. If we can get communities of color to lead the charge for more opportunities to ride, for more bike infrastructure where they live, we build ownership and agency. We begin to change history.”
As founder of Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota (a local chapter in a national network), Anthony invites folks to experience the world on a bicycle, and to push themselves. “Major Taylor is designed to expand cycling opportunities for African Americans,” Anthony explains. The Club aims toward the ideals of competition and sport, but starts with recreation and teaching basic riding skills.
A Slow Roll, a companion experience to the Club, is less about the bikes and more about the connection of individuals to community and others. It happens on a human scale. “Slow Roll is a bike ride, not for cyclists, but for regular people to discover their neighborhoods.“ Anthony notes that community reclamation is what a Slow Rolls evokes, and individual visions expand: “The magic of biking is the amount of territory you can cover in a hour. Geography opens up: a car puts you through the community, a bike puts you IN the community.”
Communities of color are especially invited to roll. The weekly rides are typically 5-6 miles long, last about an hour, and welcome people of all abilities and ages to participate. Spandex is optional. “We encourage people to dress casually,” Anthony says. “The Slow Roll doesn’t say, ‘Not me!’ It’s not a bike ride, it’s a Slow Roll. We make it an event that happens on a bike, instead of making it a bike event.” A shared meal at a local cafe or food market is often the last stop.
Getting people started is really the point for Anthony with Major Taylor Bicycling Club and the Slow Rolls. “If we get people started biking, we can expand the conversation to talk about how communities of color are connected to green space, the outdoors, to health, and to activities that promote living well.”
For more information:
photo credits: Major Taylor's Bicycling Club