Three avid cyclists have described the “great emphasis on joy” within their cycling collective after their second annual Black History Month bike ride.
The 22-mile ride through central London was organized by the Together We Ride (TWR) team, a black-led collective aiming to empower people through cycling, as well as ‘uplift’ each other and get more people into the sport.
Nevin Sunderji, Kamar Omar and Mona Musa-Gray all joined the group of more than 60 people who cycled through the city on Sunday, stopping in front of 10 of the capital’s blue plaques and monuments commemorating black people to tell their stories .
Starting at London Bridge, their stops included the home of Bob Marley on Oakley Street in Chelsea, a bookseller who published the first work of a black writer in English, Phillis Wheatley, in Aldgate, and the Gilt of Cain sculpture commemorating the abolition of the slave trade in the city’s Fen yard.
“As a group, as black people visiting these landmarks, it gives us a sense of belonging,” Ms Sunderji, a 56-year-old cycling instructor and business travel consultant from Hounslow.
“Knowing they were there long before, but it’s not taught in our history lessons here in the UK… We’re made to believe that all black people were slaves – it’s very degrading, it’s all sad and poor.
“And no, it wasn’t like that. We have lived lives, we have had our riches, we have doctors, neurologists, many people in high places and it has never been celebrated properly in the UK.
“So it was very, very moving and joyful, some were a little sad… But it’s pride, huge pride.”
Ms. Musa-Gray works for Black Unity Bike Ride, a series of “activations” that promote well-being within the black community and which is made up of more than 20 black-led cycling collectives.
She described the bike tour as “an important space” for black people to come together, but also spoke of the “sad reality” of the history behind many monuments.
“When we go to these different sites and see the breadth to which these different people, from artists, politicians to civil rights influencers and doctors… It was just such a variety of people and skill sets” , the 38-year-old said. PA said.
“At some point it’s up to us to try to honor what we can, but it definitely brings back that sense of belonging.
“And sadly, I also have to say this for me personally, it reminds me of the degradation with which we have had to endure and overcome and the denial of our freedom and the denial of our excellence.”
Ms Musa-Gray also said the ride and being part of TWR allows the group to “spread the love”.
“It is very important for us to be able to have spaces where we can meet,” she said.
“We are not excluding anyone, we have people from all walks of life and all colors joining us, but I feel like having black led or owned clubs is very important for us to continue to thrive in cycling.
“And when you’re with a group of people who are loud, loud, who just want to start singing… You do it and you don’t feel like, ‘Oh, they’re looking at me like I’m crazy.’
“It’s that space that stands for each other… It’s a cycling club but there’s a big emphasis on joy.”
It was undergraduate TWR for Ms Omar, a 33-year-old teaching assistant at a primary school in Wandsworth, who said it was ‘amazing’ to be part of the History Month bike ride blacks.
“I absolutely loved it, it was so welcoming,” she said.
“And everyone seemed so happy.
“I just feel like Black History Month should be celebrated all year round.”
Ms Omar said it was “so interesting” for the group to find out “who these people were and what they went through”.
“They’ve been through a lot and not everyone knows the real story,” she said.
“And so when some of the lovely pilots that were with us were reading the real story, it was so interesting.
“And it pushes me to go back and learn a little more about our history.”
Ms Sunderji added that while the tour could also have worked for runners or walkers, cycling is “a different feeling”.
“We’re a family that loves being on two wheels, I think it just has that extra element of freedom,” she said.
“When I’m on my bike, I feel so liberated.
“You’re up there, and you’re just flying.”