Words like Ujima (collective work and responsibility) and Ujamaa (cooperative economics) come to mind when describing the Saturday Night Bike Club, started by social worker Natalie Noel and filmmaker Kwame Edwards, two HBCU graduates, during the summer of 2020.
Noel and Edwards had the goal of providing people with a low-impact, healthy means of enjoying and engaging Washington, D.C. “We want the Black history and culture of D.C. to be accessible to people, and we want Black-owned businesses to prosper,” Edwards told The Bridge.
“That’s why you don’t need to own a bike to ride with us and participate in our events,” he continued. “Events like these specifically center [on] Black people and attempt to strike down as many barriers to wellness as possible.”
Saturday Night Bike Club’s inaugural event for 2021, an Amazing Race scavenger hunt, took place on March 6. Riders competed across four categories deciphering clues about Black-owned businesses, or Black cultural and historical landmarks across the District.
Inspired by a Black biking club in Baltimore, Route Captain Ashley Ndiaye pitched the idea to two other route captains, Jasmine Jones and Domenique Malone. With Edwards’ help, they integrated Black businesses and historical elements into the route, offering something different from a typical group ride. The event became a vehicle with which to introduce people to the Black-owned businesses that support their community.
It took a collective effort, led by Jones as the logistics coordinator, to engage businesses, write clues, organize media teams, test the route once the businesses confirmed their participation and market to the local biking community.
With this sentiment, the event included more than 26 Black-owned businesses that were either onsite vendors or brick-and-mortar establishments. The organization’s connective nature saw many people doubling as participants and business sponsors.
Greg Jackson, one of the founders of PBF Sports, a prominent social sports group catering to the Black community, served as a sponsor. Many members of Saturday Night Bike Club participate in his organization.
Jackson said “it’s inspiring to see the same factors [lack of resources and a clear need] used to motivate others to create and to see what started for us five years ago [the creation of PBF Sports] help others in their own movement.”
Debbye Atkins, owner of Restorative Wellness, a vendor and a participant of the club, talked about the accountability factor. “You have no choice but to win and succeed when you’re supported by strong people, people that look like me, and it’s awesome.”
This highlights the integrative approach to health and community that has emerged from the pandemic, as well as the resourceful nature of Black communities.
Bridge Harrison, a route captain and owner of Earn Your Saturday Fitness, sees riding as transformative. “It’s an act of simple resistance and progression, [with] Black people breaking barriers by finding a way into spaces that have typically [been] thought of as white.”
“It’s incredibly inspiring, cathartic and beautiful to look to your right, left, front and back and see Black people doing things that, in the lifetime of maybe ourselves but almost certainly our parents and grandparents, would’ve gotten us harassed, arrested and/or assaulted,” said Harrison.
Dr. Cassandra Hill, medical director for Saturday Night Bike Club, owner of Wellness X Chill and sponsor, shares this sentiment. “Biking creates a safe space to be active and goal oriented. It’s affected my life by teaching me more about the limits my body can go, expanded my social experiences and provided opportunities to enhance my sense of accomplishment at the end of a particularly challenging ride.”
Hill added, “We [Black people] have the highest rate of cardiovascular disease among all ethnic groups. Biking improves our fitness, which, in turn, reduces our mortality risk.”
There were winners in multiple events, from singles and teams to children.
Factors such as mental health, physical fitness and activism made this event one to remember. The event also reflected its organization’s mission: to have fun, build community and live life while being unapologetically Black.