Young Women Inspire Participants at the Youth Bike Summit

By Carolyn S on January 17, 2012

imageLiz Clarkson started the presentation with a big smile and a simple question: “How do we ride?”

“Like a girl!” shouted back a group of inspired young women from West Town Bikes.

That kind of energy and inspiration defined the Youth Bike Summit: an event organized and hosted by Recycle-A-Bicycle in New York City, which drew by more than 275 participants from 20 states and three countries. I had the double honor of, not just attending the event with Alliance President/CEO Jeff Miller, but also sharing a “Women in the Cycling Advocacy Movement” session with an entourage of incredible ladies from West Town Bikes, a community bike shop in Chicago.

Rocking their identical, hot-pink sweatshirts, the young women explained how and why they created a group just for girls. With facilitation from Zorayda Ortiz, a veteran community organizer, and Liz Clarkson, program manager from West Town Bikes, that dedicated handful of young female leaders started meeting on a weekly basis during the summer of 2011. They discussed why they loved riding and how they might get more young women interested and engaged in biking. They called themselves the Girls Bike Club — and they’re making waves in the Windy City already.

In just a matter of months, they’ve become a visible in the community. They’ve gone on rides together. They’ve planned a fashion show set to take place this spring. They talk up the club to their high school peers and proudly wear their Girls Bike Club shirts to get the word out. They even wrapped presents for donations at a local REI shop to earn the cash to get to NYC to present their important work at the Youth Bike Summit.

And the crowd that packed the room for the “Women in Cycling Advocacy” presentation was certainly glad that Joceliz Arnaud, Tania Castillo, Shacora Hawkins, Ladijah Hollingsworth and Kayla Story made the trip. During the discussion period, participants from other programs around the country applauded the Girls Bike Club. Some said they recognized that community bike shops can seem male-oriented and less welcoming to girls. Others noted that creating the space for young women to feel a sense of acceptance and ownership could address that challenge.

Of course, the teenagers from Girls Bike Club were in good company. Youth and staff from organizations across the country shared their energy and insight in panels and presentations throughout the weekend. I know Jeff would agree that the Alliance was truly honored to meet and learn from organizations like Seattle Bike Works, Bikes Not Bombs, Neighborhood Bike Works and SO many more. Pasqualina Azzarello, executive director of Recycle-A-Bicycle and the tireless, generous, absolutely inspirational organizer of the Youth Bike Summit, best summed up the power of the gathering. For a little more than 48 hours, we all shuffled between workshops, were lit up by the efforts and energy of young bicycle advocates, buzzed with new ideas, made countless introductions and started conversations we hope to continue. Those discussions will be the seeds, Azzarello said. And those connections will be the roots, she added, that build the collective knowledge and power of the evolving movement.

That was certainly the case for me and Jeff. We were blown away by the work of community bike shops and youth leadership programs — and we’re eager to start exploring how the Alliance can be a resource and a partner for this critical and growing aspect of the bicycle advocacy movement.

Photo: Members of the Girls Bike Club (Credit: Angela Jimenez)

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