Simple Steps to Diversify Your Support

KJenkins_1.jpgIf you want broad social change, you have to gain broad support.  At the “New England Bike-Walk Summit” I attended recently, Karen Jenkins, board chair of the League of American Bicyclists, offered advice to bike advocates about how to attract support from people not like themselves.  The audience, as far as I could see, was entirely Caucasian.  Ms. Jenkins, a person of color who likes to bike, has long been active in bicycle clubs and bicycle advocacy.



Jenkins started her talk by citing the historical realities of our segregated society; that her opportunity to enroll in a graduate program in International Relations at Yale was the result, in part, of riots in Newark, New Jersey in which 26 people died; that she was a descendant of slaves.  She displayed a tintype photo of her great, great parents who were born as slaves.  Her great, great grandfather, she noted, was the  son of his owner!


Her suggestions, focused specifically on attracting Afro-American and Hispanic people to bicycle advocacy were very practical and can be applied to other target constituencies.  I have generalized them below:

  1. Go to a barbershop or hairdresser patronized by your target group e.g. Hispanics.  Such establishments are good places to meet community members, pick up information and get the word out about your interests

  2. Make contact with an interfaith council as a way to contact leadership within your target group

  3. Attend worship services in a place of worship attended predominately by your target group

  4. Make contact with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops in which your target group are members

  5. Seek out youth and relevant education groups active among your target group

  6. Offer programs to Boys and Girls Clubs in which people in your target group participate

  7. Reach out through businesses in which your target group typically work e.g. restaurants often employing Hispanics

  8. Participate in events e.g. open streets celebrations

  9. Meet individuals of the target group as they participate by introducing yourself  (in this case to people on bikes)

  10. Promote heroes and role models identified with the target group

  11. Hire an intern from your target group (“Instead of hiring a white kid who doesn’t know anything, hire a black kid who doesn’t know anything.”)

  12. Use percentages to gauge how closely you represent your population.  Jenkins noted that our constitution uses numerical formulas to apportion our representatives and direct taxes including the original clause counting “three fifth of all other persons” which allowed slave states to dominate the House of Representatives until the civil war.

  13. Join a relevant club in which people in your target group participate  e.g. a  Major Taylor Cycle Club named after the champion black bicyclist “Major” Taylor.

Taylor-Marshall_1900.pngAdvocates of bicycling and walking, like many other advocates campaigning for change, are painfully limited by the social and economic networks that brought them together and first motivated their interests.  But reaching out beyond one’s origins could start as simply as getting a haircut in a different place.

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