I am Oaklandish // 2 // Red, Bike and Green
Posted on September 2, 2011
There is an idea in your head about what Oakland is. If you have only seen Oakland on the news, you might think of a certain whistling tailpipe. If you’re a Brad Pitt fan, you might be eagerly awaiting the film about the Oakland A’s releasing on September 23rd. If you watch too much reality tv you might think about a certain singer and her mama. If you learned to dance from Video Music Box, maybe the image in your head is of Stanley Burrell in oversized pants doing his very best not to hurt ’em.
All of those snapshots have truths about Oakland embedded in them. True enough, I suppose. But did you know that there are deer in Oakland? Lots of em. And bobcats. And rivers. And lakes. And trout. And streams. And science centers, and rose gardens, and tiny little Bonsai trees growing in neat rows next to lawn bowling arenas. Okay, maybe there aren’t entire ARENAS for lawn bowling. But you catch my drift. My point is, that we do plenty outdoors in this little town. Or at least, there are opportunities for Oaklanders to get out, get sweaty — to see the sky and to feel the quite literally shifting terrain beneath our feet.
Still, for much of Oakland’s Black population, heart disease and chronic obesity are at an all time high. That’s why Jenna Burton (Oakland-based, Hartford-raised) started Red, Bike and Green. Founded on a 3-point plan meant to address health, economics and environment. Red, Bike and Green serves as an opportunity for riders of African descent to gather, fellowship, build community, educate and ride. Though Jenna is not originally from Oakland, another core of this riders’ organization, Nick James (iconographer, organizer), is.
Beyond Jenna and Nick’s principal leadership, major organizational support is leant to the growth of the group by West Oakland’s Ross “DJ AeblDee” Robinson, vocalist Siaira Shawn, and photographer Jewels Smith. The larger riding collective is inclusive of some of Oakland’s most prominent historians, scholars, activists and even a few of our brightest school children. I’m part of the squad too, and usually join the First Friday ride.
We meet up at Lake Merritt, ride a pre-determined path (often through West and North Oakland). Inevitably, as we ride some of the city’s poorest blocks, we’re approached by young black children who want to know why we ride. In bike-speed sound bytes we answer “Because it doesn’t cost anything!”, “Because it is good for your heart!”, “Because it doesn’t damage the planet. Come ride with us.” That’s an easy, true, digestible answer.
I think, however, that there are a few more reasons we gather. Many of us grew up in the city — as property values increase and unemployment rises, there are fewer and fewer young black folks who can afford to move to or live in the area. We ride as an announcement that we exist, as a reminder that we are capable of living sustainable, happy lives in our own hometown. The First Friday ride happens during the monthly Oakland Art Murmur, and it is a potent sight to witness an all black critical mass in the midst of the gallery shows and pub crawls which aren’t always designed with young black folk in mind.
We ride because it is fun. Often, as social agitators and critics, we forget that we need safe space to rejuvenate. We spend our days computing and marching and yelling and crying deeply. We need these rides to exercise and to exorcise. I won’t air my own dirty laundry, but there are plenty of demons I’ve let go while pedaling alongside Red, Bike and Green.
The organizers ask that these rides are limited to bikers of African descent — this is meant to be an inclusive act as opposed to an exclusionary one. (I liken it to Chinese Immersion Saturday School or Jewish Summer Camp). Often, the routes for our rides focus on historic landmarks important to the Black experience in Oakland. When we finish up, we often party at Roll Deep, a party for cyclists spun by the aforementioned Ross “Aebldee” Robinson.
RBG is a healthy, productive, in-group activity that fosters stronger bonds between riders and healthier communication with the larger community not invited to or present on these rides. The idea of this, then, is unique to our city and circumstance. Red, Bike and Green exists in a place and time where it is most critical. Just as United Farm Worker boycotts responded to the needs of its constituents, and similar to the Panther’s Free Breakfast Program — Red, Bike and Green is an idea and campaign with clearly articulated, attainable goals that will no doubt improve the quality of life in our city.
If you’re a rider of African descent and have a bike, join us tonight! (Well, join them tonight. I’m still grounded at ATL-Hartsfield, but that is a different story for a different time). We meet near Lake Merritt on El Embarcadero (Across the street from Gold’s Gym) at 6:30pm. Check out RBG’s website for a full calendar of rides, info, and photos. Click here for more info on > RED, BIKE and GREEN.
Thickwit celebrates RBG’s ongoing commitment to Oakland. Props to Jenna, Nick, Ross, Siaira and Jewels, who are invited as honored guests to the Oaklandish First Friday celebration on 10/7. After next month’s First Friday ride, and post toweling off, they’re cordially invited to come and cop their limited edition “I am Oaklandish” tees.
This blog is brought to you, in part, by local textile and cultural purveyors, Oaklandish. Oaklandish will be throwing a party on the 1st Friday in October at their new Downtown Oakland store. Everyone I profile is invited to attend as an honored guest and will receive a limited edition “I AM OAKLANDISH” t-shirt. In a city of roughly 500,000 residents, there’s no way I can cover everyone or everything, but I’ll do my best to rep a cross section of folks that reflect our city’s varied perspectives and populations. Also, it is important to note that none of the honorees know that they’re being highlighted until the blog post is up, because surprises are sometimes fun, cuzzo. This means that some folks profiled might not closely align themselves with Oaklandish — and that’s fine by me — I mean no ill intent, nor make any assumptions — just want to shout out some folks who make a real impact on the world, from this pearl of a city on the East Side of the Bay.