News Archive:

2014 (23)

2013 (49)

2012 (220)

2011 (209)

2010 (529)

2009 (446)

2007 (2)

Black bicyclists get church's blessing in Oakland

The San Francisco Chronicle: Black bicyclists get church's blessing in Oakland

Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, August 8, 2011

OAKLAND -- Oakland's new Catholic cathedral saw a different kind of churchgoing finery on Sunday: form-fitting shirts, padded shorts and neon yellow helmets.

About 25 bicyclists, bearing their Raleighs and Cannondales, congregated outside the Cathedral of Christ the Light on Lake Merritt for a special bicycle blessing. As they solemnly filed past for Mass, they bowed their heads and prayed for safe travels.

"We ask the Lord to bless each and every one of these bicyclists. ... Keep them safe from injury and harm," said the Rev. Jay Matthews, a priest in the Oakland diocese. "And reward them for their perseverance."

The blessing was part of a four-day convention of African American bicyclists sponsored by the Nashville-based National Brotherhood of Cyclists.

Its goal is to encourage more black men and women to exercise in hopes of reducing diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other afflictions common in the community.

"A lot of these diseases are curable with exercise," said the club's president, Bruce Woods, an arborist from Pittsburgh, Pa., noting that the social component of a bike club can make a person feel better as well.

In all, more than 100 people from 18 states breezed through the Bay Area's finest back roads, from Napa to Tiburon to the Oakland hills, to sightsee, visit with old friends and convince others to pick up a two-wheeler and head out.

Their jerseys celebrated Marshall "Major" Taylor, a black man from rural Indiana who held seven world records in the late 1800s, competing throughout Europe and the United States.

Among the participants was Fred McWilliams, a business consultant who is president of the Oakland Yellow Jackets, a predominantly black bicycle club. He said relatively few African Americans spend quality time on a bike.

"We're not sure why, but we'd like to change it," McWilliams said. "Why don't more African Americans play tennis? Golf? These just aren't traditionally African American sports."

In Oakland, the Yellow Jackets often forgo more picturesque rides to trek through predominantly African American neighborhoods in eastern and western Oakland.

"We get a lot of surprised looks," McWilliams said. "People say, 'Look at those people on bikes - and they're all black!' "

The local club has grown steadily since four friends launched it 25 years ago, and it now has more than 225 dues-paying members.

"We try to be good role models for kids," said Douglas Milton, an Oakland court mediator and Yellow Jackets member. "We encourage them to get out and exercise, teach them about safety."

Sunday's blessing was a rare quiet moment for the bicyclists this weekend. After the service, they cruised to Jack London Square for a vegan soul food brunch with Angela Davis, the feminist scholar, 1960s firebrand and avid bicyclist.

Then it was finally time to take off the helmet and relax.

"I rode 147 miles in three days," Milton said. "Now I'm turning my phone off and going to sleep."