All images from Reimagine: Biking While Black. Artwork by Otis Design Lab. Used with permission.
The first thing that hits you when you leaf through Reimagine: Biking While Black | A Roadmap to Justice and Joy, a guide created to accompany two Biking While Black short movies, is the joy. From the colorful design to the inspiring interviews with bike advocates to the extensive list of resources, the guide radiates positivity and possibility. But it doesn’t shy away from hard truths and serious topics, including the disproportionate rate at which Black Angelenos are killed by traffic violence and survey data showing the personal impact of our unequal streets. It’s an essential guide for advocates in search of inspiration and information.
We spoke with Yolanda Davis-Overstreet, a mobility justice strategist and member of CalBike’s Board of Directors, who directed and co-produced the Biking While Black films and developed the new guide. We spoke with her about the impact of the films, what she hopes the guide will accomplish, and the need to pay BIPOC advocates for the critical work they do.
Biking While Black guide builds the movement
CalBike screened the first Biking While Black movie at our 2022 California Bicycle Summit to an enthusiastic audience. The second movie expands on the first, and the new Reimagine guidebook offers another tool for advocates.
Davis-Overstreet says the films have brought people together. “The power of the film is we’ve created a platform for narrative sharing,” she says. She calls the new guide a “Green Book on steroids,” saying, “I hope people will be able to see themselves in this guide.”
She hopes the guide will affirm for people that what feels like injustice is injustice and help people believe in themselves.
“I think a lot of us are looking for things to do and things to be involved in,” Davis-Overstreet says, and the guidebook widens the range of what’s possible. The guide includes data and statistics, a glossary, and a survey of people’s experiences of biking while Black. It’s also got practical information in an easy-to-digest format, like the ABC bike check before you ride and a “Know Your Rights” page that walks through what to do if stopped by the police. It also includes an extensive list of biking and social justice events and organizations, laying out options for those who want to get more involved.
“It’s a play on words because the meaning is so much deeper,” Davis-Overstreet says of the “Reimagine” in the title of the guide. She sees it as “new ways of imagining Black and Brown lives” and “the importance of joy as opposed to trauma.”
The Biking While Black movement embodies a reimagination of people’s roles in their communities and creates a roadmap to tap into and remove threats to Black mobility in America, including police violence. “It’s a civil rights movement,” she says. “We’re educating the people in our committees and our youth because we don’t adequately educate kids in school on this topic.”
The goal is to improve parts of our communities that have been disenfranchised for decades. Lifting those areas up will lift whole communities and whole cities.
How to sustain the people who power the transportation justice movement
“The work is becoming more sustainable,” Davis-Overstreet says, but there’s still more the bike advocacy movement and transportation departments can do to pay BIPOC advocates for their time and efforts rather than expecting them to do free emotional labor.
Hiring more Black advocates, engineers, and planners is a form of reparation. Davis-Overstreet calls it “restorative justice work to acknowledge BIPOC livelihoods,” saying, “We are literally working and uplifting to sustain communities.”
The Reimagine guide ends with suggested resources to read and watch, including wellness apps and the book “Rest Is Resistance.” She notes that rest and self-care are essential to finding joy, something overworked advocates sometimes need to be reminded of.
The next step for Davis-Overstreet is potentially creating a curriculum for schools from middle school through college. She has experienced the transformative power of events like the bike clinic she created for her daughter’s school, which turned the principal into an advocate and helped students see new ways to get around their neighborhood and have agency in their mobility.