It was the fall of 2016. A friend of mine texted me about a paid part-time program called Westside Bike Share Champions and recommended that I apply. Months earlier, I had been laid off from my 9-to-5 job and taken the leap towards working in my graphic design and visual art business full-time. Adding insult to injury, my car went to automobile heaven. I took my friend’s advice and applied to the program. I was excited about the opportunity to use my creativity and passions for marketing and community service to do outreach in the community about Atlanta’s new Relay Bike Share program. However, there was one big problem in my head - I didn’t own a bike.
I was very enthusiastic about biking. I’d often marvel at the groups of riders going down Peters Street or in Piedmont Park, but I didn’t know where to start. It had been so long. The Bike Champions training program required us all to participate in group rides each day, so I was provided with a bicycle. Little did I know how big of an impact gaining two wheels on a bicycle would ultimately have on my life.
Having a part-time job helped sustain my livelihood as a creative entrepreneur. I was able to stay afloat while bootstrapping my business. However, the opportunity was worth more than just income.
Relying on riding a bicycle forced me to view my city in a whole different way. I had never stopped to realize how much mobility played in people’s lives. Mobility can make a world of difference for someone who needs a reliable way to get to work or get to the store in order to provide for their family. For some, riding a bike is their only mode of transportation. Things once taken for granted in a car now commanded the attention of all of my senses.
Riding a bike pushed me out of my comfort zone. Having grown up in rural West Tennessee, I’d never ridden in traffic with cars. I was terrified, to say the least. However, having at least nine other bikers riding in the front or back of you, committed to seeing that everyone reaches the destination safely, forges a bond like no other. Where there were once ten strangers from different backgrounds and at different levels of bike experience, a shared sense of community was built in the process.
One of the things that I’m most grateful for that came out of this experience was how it opened the doors for me to lead a public art project at the Nelson Street Relay Bike Share hub in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood. The hub sits in front of a closed and fenced-off bridge where people used to just park and toss trash. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control Partnerships In Community Health, and support of the City of Atlanta, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, and the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association, I worked with community volunteers to make the corner more attractive through painting a vibrant ground mural that represents the energy of the city. The purpose of the mural is to encourage people to get out, move, and experience life, and of course, to utilize the bike share hub.
(Before any paint hit the ground)
Growing up, it was instilled in me to leave any room I enter better than it was when I found it. More than 20 volunteers came out on a Community Paint Day to help bring my mural concept to life. In the days that followed, it’s been encouraging to see people dock their bicycles or walk out of Smoke Ring restaurant across the street and hear the words “Thank you.” In turn, this experience has left me in a better state as well. Everyone wants to make their mark on the world in some way, but if it doesn’t benefit anyone else but yourself, then what good does it serve?
Without being involved in the Westside Bike Champs program, I never would have had this opportunity to get a hand up, step out of my comfort zone, see the world differently, or step through a new door towards my future.