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North Lawndale Racial Justice Ride pedaled in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps

12:46 AM CST on January 18, 2023

The ride in front of the MLK Legacy Apartments, at the site of King’s Chicago apartment. Oboi Reed is in the white helmet; Khameron Townsend-Riley, is narrating. Photo: Equiticity

On Monday the transportation equity nonprofit Equiticity held its annual North Lawndale Racial Justice Ride in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The beginning and ending point of the ride was the Lawndale Christian Fitness Center, 3550 W. Ogden Ave. in the North Lawndale neighborhood, where Dr. King lived in 1966 while campaigning for fair housing in Chicago.

The flier for the ride.
The flier for the ride.

"The origins of this ride date back to my time with [the Black-led bike group] Slow Roll Chicago from 2014 to 2017, when we hosted an annual ride on Dr. King's holiday at the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum," said Olatunji Oboi Reed, president and CEO of Equiticity. "For each ride we started at the museum in Pullman and we rode over to Big Marsh [bike park]. After I resigned from Slow Roll Chicago, the organization brought the annual ride to North Lawndale. The ride went dormant for a couple years, then we revived it when I moved to North Lawndale about four years ago."

Mother Nature threw a slight curve ball with the weather this year. Those who RSVPed for the event online were warned that it would be cold out. While it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit, not too bad for mid-January in Chicago, it rained sporadically throughout the day, making for challenging riding conditions. Because of that, the riding portion of the event was initially called off.

Gloomy weather didn't stop the ride from happening. Photo: Ride Illinois
Gloomy weather didn't stop the ride from happening. Photo: Ride Illinois

Even though the organizers put out the word via text, email, and social media that the ride would be a strictly indoor event instead, participants still showed up with their bikes, ready to brave the elements. Fortunately, 15 minutes after the planned ride departure time, there was a break in the rain.

Attendees were given a guided tour of North Lawndale, stopping at various points in order to receive a little bit of history concerning Dr. King's time in Chicago, and info about other local landmarks.

Stop one on the tour was the MLK Legacy Apartments located at the site of Dr. King's apartment, 1550 N. Hamlin Ave., where speaker Khameron Townsend-Riley, North Lawndale community coordinator for the University of Illinois at Chicago, made some remarks. Stop two was Del-Kar Pharmacy, a historic Black-owned drug store where King bought his newspapers. Princess Shaw from the groups Light Up Lawndale and All Eyes on Me discussed its significance.

The ride in front of the Stone Temple Baptist Church. Photo: Ride Illinois
The ride in front of the Stone Temple Baptist Church. Photo: Ride Illinois

Stop three was the Stone Temple Baptist Church, where King gave guest sermons. Executive pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick talked about that history. Stop four was the ornate, landmarked Central Park Theatre, opened in 1917, where Princess Shaw once again provided commentary. The route was also supposed to go to Douglass Park, but the rain had picked up again by then, so the ride headed back to the Lawndale Christian Fitness Center.

Back the Lawndale Christian Fitness Center, participants listened to Bishop Steve Braxton, founder and CEO of National Clergy Fellowship Outreach, speak. Once inside, the attendees were able to warm themselves with the help of vegan jambalaya and chili. While they ate, the riders got to listen to an additional, impromptu speaker for the day, mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson, who stuck around to take pictures with supporters.

Mayoral hopeful Brandon Johnson, center, at the after-gathering. Photo: Cameron Bolton
Mayoral hopeful Brandon Johnson, center, at the after-gathering. Photo: Cameron Bolton

There were also various tables where participants could pick up bike gear and other useful items: bike helmets, water bottles, hats, gloves, hand warmers, toe warmers, face coverings, tote bags, and Kleenex. Some of the tables had games of chance, and others offered hot chocolate and bagels.

People from all over the area attended the Racial Justice Ride, including many folks from other parts of the city and the suburbs. "A friend sent me [info about this] this and I thought it sounded really nice," said participant Madeline Ray. "I don't know North Lawndale that well, so I wanted to get to know the neighborhood and I love bike riding and I love doing something to observe MLK day. I think it's very important to not just treat it as a day off, but a day to actually recognize history and civil rights and all that."

A few people also showed up with their children and made the event a family activity. For instance, Annie Grossman and her three sons live in Evanston, but they showed up to do the bike ride for multiple reasons. "Both the mix of bike riding and being able to stop at places where Martin Luther King visited, and being able to be here with the boys who know about King, but could always learn more" were attractions, Grossman said.

"I thought the bike ride was great," Grossman added. "It was a wonderful group of people. I felt super safe with all the bikers blocking the streets. It was really interesting to see the different sites where MLK was and to learn about the community. I thought all in all, it was a great day even despite the not-perfect weather for it. There's a saying. 'There's no bad weather, just bad clothing.' So on a day like today, we wore long underwear and then snow pants and jackets, gloves and ear warmers, and we were totally fine."

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