It is, without a doubt, cliché to describe the divide between those living in poverty and those not living in poverty as a tale of two cities. But, when I interviewed Ed Ewing, Cascade Bicycle Club’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion about his work with the Major Taylor Project, it was difficult not to draw the comparison. The Major Taylor Project works with underserved youth in diverse Seattle-area communities helping empower them through cycling. What began as an after school program that takes students on a few hour ride once a week has evolved into a much broader effort to help these students understand and negotiate the systemic racism, poverty, inequity, segregation and more that have major impacts on their lives.
Seattle has an image of stability, wealth, progressive politics, etc. But, like all cities, it has massive wealth disparity and abject poverty. And, like many cities, that poverty is largely segregated into a few neighborhoods. I know all this. But I also live in the affluent north end of the city and mostly don’t see the poverty Ewing describes in my regular life. Hearing his stories of kids going hungry, of their lack of access to grocery stores in their neighborhoods, of the very intentional redlining in the mid-20th century to keep people of color segregated from whites, was a stark reminder of this city’s serious and somewhat hidden problems. For example, Ewing says:
We’ve had some students living with their siblings. A lot of students are homeless. I remember the first time I went to Global Connections high school in SeaTac. A friend of mine is the principal. I asked him, given all this, what keeps these kids in school? He explained that in most cases, school is the most stable thing in their life. They get lunch there.
We’ve got a great relationship with Clif Bar and some other food product producers. We asked our sponsorship department if we could take some of the extra stuff from Chilly Hilly and STP and give them to the students on these rides. We noticed the students were pretty hungry on the rides and after a long ride you need to fuel up. They said sure take what you need. We came back the following week and said we need more. Then the following week, we need more. They were like what is going on? We explained that in many cases these students didn’t get breakfast. Lunch is the only warm meal of the day. By the time we see them they’re starved, then they’re going to go home and not eat. You hear this on TV or whatever, but this is true. Some of these kids are showing up at Chilly Hilly or Flying Wheels and they have not eaten for a day. This is real. And it’s not a one-off thing. It’s widespread.
I am biased, but I think this interview is a must-read for Seattlites, whether they care about cycling or not. It paints an important picture of Seattle’s inequality necessary for understanding and dealing with the issues described.
Click to go read it: “Ed Ewing: Race, Equity, and Empowerment by Bike”