Bayard Rustin, the orchestrator behind the scenes of what we hail today as the civil rights movement, once said, “We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers.” Today, I bore witness to one of those angelic troublemakers by the name of Olatunji (Oboi) Reed, Co-Founder of Slow Roll Chicago, as he was recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation as a 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change.
Oboi Reed and Keith Benjamin at the 2015 White House Champions of Change event.
Slow Roll Chicago is "a community-based organization utilizing bicycles to connect a diverse group of people, transform lives, and improve the condition of communities by organizing community bicycle rides and other bicycling-related programs throughout the greater Chicago area."
I first connected with Oboi after being inspired by an open statement by him and others to the City of Chicago Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council on behalf of a number of Black bicycle organizations. Oboi is a bicyclist, yes, but his advocacy encompasses a broader vision of making equitable mobility, safety, and health a priority in west and south Chicago as has been done in other parts of the city and state. Groups like Slow Roll Chicago have been successful at bringing attention to pertinent issues in the communities that need support the most, yet are frequently left without a seat at the table. As Oboi puts it, “Biking leads to better physical and mental health, safer streets, more connected communities, and support for local businesses. Black communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”
Here at the Safe Routes Partnership we have challenged ourselves to shed light on those organizations, lift up their work, and use our role to provide support, relationships, and opportunities.
This past April, we worked through Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to foster a partnership with Slow Roll Chicago to help engage high school students in the Englewood and Back of the Yards neighborhoods in advocating for safe ways to bike to and from school.
Over the last two years, I have been constantly reminded that the innovative work happening on the local, regional and state level cannot be ignored. Instead, it should be duplicated. Oboi is unapologetic in his mission. Each time Oboi calls me “brother” it reinforces his expectation of genuine commitment to community.
As he accepted the 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change award this afternoon, Oboi said, "We are our own heros...we have to be committed to the work." Today, we congratulate Slow Roll Chicago and we applaud the many committed advocates who work day in and day out without recognition.