A Message from Evergreen on Mountain Biking and Racism

05 | Jun | '20
Yvonne Kraus

 

We, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, are angry and frustrated with ongoing racial injustice. We're channeling that energy into diversifying our perspective on what it's like to experience the outdoors as a person of color. Ultimately, we know that engaging in this work means nothing though without future concrete action. We’re in it for the long haul.

Some may rightfully ask, “Why now?” Answering that is difficult because it requires us to confront past failures. The simple truth is that while we genuinely care about racial equity in mountain biking, we have failed to back that up by sparking real change or diversifying our predominantly white leadership. We own our past failures, and we resolve to do better going forward.

Others may ask, “What does Evergreen have to do with racial justice?” Our mission states that we strive to make Washington the best place to ride. We won’t ever have truly accomplished that until the trails we work so hard to build, maintain, and advocate for can be enjoyed with the same degree of accessibility, comfort, and safety by all, regardless of skin color.

Black lives matter. The experiences of black, indigenous, and all people of color in the outdoors matter. Now, let’s get to work.

Read on for a message from our Executive Director, Yvonne Kraus, on her personal experience and Evergreen’s next steps:

 

When I joined Evergreen as Executive Director nearly five years ago, our then Board President, Carolyn Hope, addressed the need for increased diversity in our sport and asked me how I would approach this. 

I mentioned at that time that I didn't believe I could deliver this. The problem is systemic and daunting. I responded that we might be successful if we tackled one issue at a time– beginning with the large gender diversity gap in mountain biking. We did that, and in 2017 more women than men participated in our skills clinics. That same year, Crank Sisters Ride Leaders completed 100 rides for women.

In 2018, we added racial diversity to our task list as the next step. So far, we’ve failed.

In my five years at Evergreen, we've discussed the need within our organization for diversity at team retreats, staff meetings, and board planning sessions. We've tried to increase racial diversity in our membership and programs. We've failed. Today, our leadership remains mostly white. In our programs, we've seen some change, and we've had some small successes, but after listening to many mountain bikers of color speak out this week, it’s clear that there is so much work to do.

To start, we need to think about diversity in a completely different way and look through a new lens for our organization. Primarily, we need to stop trying to achieve diversity by doing it “our” way. We must pivot from thinking we know what we need to do to a sincere admission that we act from a place that makes us blind to what our society so direly needs now: Compassion, empathy, and an open heart to invite a change that we can't pretend to understand.

Riders of color, we invite you to help us. But we also acknowledge that placing the burden on you to “show us the way” is unfair and unjust. Know that we are committed to educating ourselves, and hiring professionals, to take on the challenge of learning how we can dispel racism in outdoor recreation. Let's be the change we want to see and #RideTogether.

My entry to the United States was in 1994 when I arrived in Pensacola, Florida from Amsterdam.

Everything I loved about living in the United States centered around the celebration of Black culture. To me, America was the coolest place on earth because of its diversity. I loved all of it. I was 19 years old when I visited a black church, standing in awe at a Sunday church gospel service. American families welcomed me with open arms and a warmth I had not met before. My tennis team in college represented nearly all regions of the world. I learned to salsa from a teammate who hailed from Colombia, ate licorice with the Finnish and Swedish players, learned about the mighty state of Texas from my doubles partner, learned to cook with the Italians, partied with locals in New Orleans, and spoke French with a group of awesome Canadians.

The beauty I saw in American culture was entirely based on the celebration of its diversity. Celebrating cultural and racial differences is what makes life beautiful.

This past week has been heavy. It’s been emotionally draining and eye-opening for me to see how we seem to be living in totally isolated communities. Have we forgotten how much diversity plays a part in this nation's great strength and beauty?

It is time for us to all take action. At Evergreen, increasing diversity in our programs and our staff has been prioritized, yet we are failing. Our sport, and the outdoor recreation industry by and large remains white. I have personally failed, and it pains me that it takes seeing the supremely violent acts committed against black members of our country’s community in recent days to write a plea to all of you stating that we must prioritize increasing our sport’s diversity and act accordingly.

I don’t have all the answers when it comes to breaking down the very real accessibility problem that mountain biking faces, but our staff is passionate and dedicated to making meaningful progress.

As an initial step, I think we must recognize that however successful our past trail projects have been, we have still mostly created spaces that require tremendous privilege to access. It's time to move mountain biking out of the mountains and into our communities. It's time to remove barriers to the outdoors and invest in equitable access and opportunity. If we want all mountain bikers to feel at home in this sport, we need to provide them with trails close to home.

As we complete our new strategic plan and our staff begins to set specific action plans, we will report back. All goals and plans will be tracked toward measurable actions and results. 

Please join us in our vision for a just and equitable outdoor industry and stand ready to help us in moving to action.

 

In solidarity,

-Yvonne