SOUTH SHORE — Newly formed South Side bicycle clubs are providing residents a needed respite as well as outlets for advocacy.
Daphnay Sagaille and Ronald King founded the Streets Calling bicycle club in April. As the city closed down gyms and banned large gatherings of people to contain the spread of coronavirus, outdoor cycling emerged as one of the only ways to “exercise and see people at the same time,” Sagaille said.
Within a few months, the founders and executive Diamond Allen have broadened the purpose of Streets Calling, growing it into a social activist group that looks to uplift Black neighbors and businesses through their rides.
Other groups are organizing with activism in mind. “Vanessa,” a group of Southeast Side activists, have focused on environmental and social justice issues in the neighborhood. Cycle the Shore‘s annual rides are de facto peace missions in South Shore.
Group rides allow neighbors to show strength in numbers as they advocate for their causes, said Janice Jones, a community organizer behind Cycle the Shore.
“You have this safety zone of people and we’re all riding together,” Jones said. “It’s a really great feeling. I think the community needs more of that.”
Streets Calling members patronize Black-owned local businesses like Irie Jerk Bar and Grill, Sage Room and Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream on their rides, while the club has also partnered with Black masseuses and trainers.
At a Solidarity Ride for Justice last month, Streets Calling riders named victims of police violence, sang the Black National Anthem and gave speeches of “light and positivity toward Chicago,” Sagaille said.
The club participated in the launch of Divvy’s electric bikes last week and has expanded to include a Washington, D.C., chapter. The Chicago cyclists will travel to meet their D.C. counterparts for a “Verzuz”-style bike-off to coincide with the virtual March On Washington at the end of this month.
“We use the streets as an analogy for our neighbors and Black companies,” Sagaille said. “When they need help, we make sure we’re there.”
For the group known as “Vanessa,” bike rides are explicitly intended as a form of protest.
The organization “came together pretty organically” on Facebook with the goal of relating national issues to Southeast Side concerns, said organizer Crystal Vance Guerra.
Bike rides are an effective tool for activists, particularly on the Southeast Side, where residential areas are separated by bridges and industrial sites, Vance Guerra said. Riding also allows protestors to translate their feelings directly into action.
“A march can be very tense with a lot of emotions going on, but a bike ride works through that tension as you’re working your body,” Vance Guerra said. Cycling “does something to the tone of an action. It requires a lot of unity and … collective safety. We’re taking care of each other as we ride.”
At the group’s most recent ride through the neighborhood a few weeks ago, water breaks served as teach-ins about the “environmental racism” the area has faced for decades, Vance Guerra said.
The group’s next ride, scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, will honor Vanessa Guillen, an Army soldier killed in April, and Breonna Taylor, an EMT whom police officers shot to death inside her Louisville, Kentucky, home in March.
The ride starts at Mission Dispensary, 8554 S. Commercial Ave., and ends at the Eggers Grove forest preserve. A guided meditation will be held at the end of the ride.
Teach-ins about state and domestic violence will be held at stops along the route, and attendees can work on the group’s art project. Cycling and art allow riders a physical and emotional release from the trauma of injustice without pretending “injustices won’t occur,” Vance Guerra said.
“We don’t just want to fight against, but we know what we want to be fighting for,” she said. “Abolition is not just uprooting, but also presence and creating.”
Cycle the Shore’s cause: encouraging peace and health through riding a bike. The rides allow children to get “back to being children and families back to connecting — we’re trying to approach peace that way,” Jones said.
This year’s route targeted “hot spots” of violence and other “negative activity” in the community, with the intention of occupying those spaces in a positive way. Residents cycled past 75th Street and Coles Avenue, Arthur Ashe Park and 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard.
Since the first Cycle the Shore ride last year, Jones and other groups like the South Shore Bicycle Cooperative have undertaken “an all-out community effort” to encourage bicycling in the neighborhood.
Jones said she’s trying to start a series of bike clubs where neighbors can learn bike repair and safety. She still hopes they’ll be up and running in the fall, though the pandemic may delay those plans.
In the meantime, Jones and the cooperative are preparing repair tutorials and Zoom lessons — anything to encourage South Shore residents to get out and bike during these challenging times.
“Bike riding is an outward display of power, an outward display of freedom,” Jones said. “Everyone should be able to experience that.”
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