The Issue Is: Representation & Inclusivity
Justin Williams on Breaking Through Cycling’s Walled Garden
Cycling is beautiful, but if you don’t follow the standard accepted behaviors, or look a certain way, it can feel a little “locals only.” The issue is, how do we make cycling more inclusive and welcoming for everyone? Hosted by Jen Kyle Whalen, this series shines a light on people putting their own stamp on cycling, ignoring the norms, and breaking the rules to help spur real change. In this episode, cycling’s Justin Williams talks representation, inclusivity, and why things need a good shake up if we’re going to grow the sport of cycling.
STRAIGHT-UP REBEL MODE
I did it my way.
These are words we all wish we could say, but when it comes to Justin Williams and kicking cycling’s old guard ways to the curb, these words ring true. For Justin, 2018 USA Amateur Road and Crit Champion, his career has long been one of standing out, and not just because he’s as competitive as they come. As one of these most visible African American cyclists on the American circuit, Justin has become a beacon for how to find your way in a sport that really likes things just the way they are.
His journey, thus far, has been frustrating. There’ve been times when he couldn’t see how it would be possible to fit his own particular brand of style and swagger into this thing called road cycling. Yes, the culture of cycling can be beautiful, with moments that tug at the heart and athleticism out the wahoo, but there’s one thing that stands out. Cycling — it’s pretty white.
Feeling like an outsider, and trying to figure out how to fit in, almost broke him. But Justin Williams has managed to carve out a space for himself while thinking about the future. He’s come back stronger and with more swagger to make sure the kids coming up see themselves represented in the sport he loves. And by doing this, he’s ensured they have heroes that show you can find your way and bring a little bit of your perspective to cycling.
If there’s one thing Justin’s sure of, it’s this: Things have to change. Road cycling culture has to change so that representation and diversity is not a conversation we have to have — it’s a given. But until that day comes, the conversation is the start. Why is this sport such a walled garden? To hear Justin talk, to express his frustrations at the way it’s always been and how he wants to change it, we can’t help but be inspired and ask ourselves how we, as an industry and culture, can change? If people with talent consider leaving the sport because they’re made to feel like outsiders, that doesn’t grow the sport. If people from more diverse backgrounds don’t see themselves represented in that sport, what impetus do they have to dream and excel? It’s obvious we need to do better — let’s talk, and let’s listen.
“ My goal is just break every norm that I’ve had to deal with in cycling.”
ISSUE IN A NUTSHELL
1. Why does it matter?
Justin: “What’s happening is extremely important because representation is important. Seeing someone that has shared the same struggles doing something you never thought was possible, much less obtainable, is powerful. I have to set the example for kids of color, and for American youth in general, that cycling is a well of opportunity, and success is possible if you aren’t afraid to let go of mental [reservations] you may have.”
What more can we be doing to amplify stories like Justin’s to inspire future riders?
2. What have been the biggest challenges?
Justin: “One of the biggest thus far is getting the industry to believe they have to invest in change. It’s hard to convince white men, who can be complacent in the way cycling is, to invest dollars into bringing different cultures into bikes. There needs to be programs built to spread information; school visits and community outreach, interesting content made around lifestyle; the traveling, the food, the people, and a redesigning of what success looks like within cycling through the lens of someone that’s not 30+ white and male.”
What do you think?
3. How do you think can we change it?
Justin: “I believe we have to start by having conversations within the industry about how brands can do more to help create a more inviting atmosphere for people that don’t come from cycling. That conversation needs to be led by someone that truly understands different cultures. Cycling has to a) Be attractive and inspiring b) Move away from the “boys club” model that’s currently at play, and c) Be willing to invest in the future.”
Tell us — what aspects of road cycling culture do you think are harmful to the sport?
4. What does the perfect future look like?
Justin: “My dream for cycling is to see Americans compete with the best, on our terms. My dream is for us to embrace cycling in a way that makes sense for us, as a people. We have to create a place people want to be. I see programs where kids from all walks of life race around a running track at school, then join NICA, then branch off to whatever form of cycling they love. I see there [are] feeder teams where kids can develop skills on-and-off the bike while learning the ins-and-outs of racing, and with those tools, giving them the knowledge to continue to pursue cycling or to take a scholarship to a cycling college. But if they’re good enough and have what it takes, to have a position where they are respected and can earn a comfortable living being an inspiration for the next generation of racer, commuter, and fan of the most beautiful sport to exist. We have an opportunity to build all of this by embracing crit racing and doing things our way!”
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