KL Shannon: Tell me about your first experience with a bike or who got you interested in riding a bike.
Dawn Bennett: My first experience riding a bike was when I was little in Youngstown, Ohio. There were eight of us (siblings). We all had bicycles because our mom wanted to make sure that we were busy. She got us little red tricycles (my bike was so cute). We were always falling off the bikes because we were daring one another … so we would end up in the emergency room! True story. <Laughs.>
KL: Can you tell me about a time you wanted to give up biking?
Dawn: Yes, When we got older. My older brother graduated to a beautiful silver 10-speed bike and his own apartment. At that time, I didn’t have a bike. It was time for mom to buy us all 10-speeds. And I was the youngest of eight — down the pecking order, I was last. So I was like, “I’m last, she will never get to me. I don’t want a bike and if I wanted a bike I want a silver 10-speed. I want to be like my big brother.” (And that wasn’t coming.) So, my mom saw that I was really mad about not having a 10-speed. Her partner at the time, she had him give me his old stupid bike. I didn’t want to ride it — so I gave up biking. It was not good enough for me, not good enough for Dawn!
KL: What’s a moment or experience related to biking that stays with you? Could be good or bad.
Dawn: <Laughs> I have sisters. There are three of us. We’re all a year apart. There’s a lot of us (LOL). Anyway. When we moved to Seattle, we biked around Seward Park. We did the loop (or tried to do the loop, we didn’t make it.) We ended up having a picnic halfway through, then walked back. That was my best bike experience because it was about me and my sisters bonding, experiencing nature and the beauty of Seward Park. We were in the woods together and eating together.
KL: Tell me about why you bike.
Dawn: I bike because I like to keep my body moving. I have a twin brother and he is a fitness guru. And he has taught all of us sisters how to keep our bodies moving. My mom and grandmother were obese. They didn’t have heart problems, thank goodness, but they both had high blood pressure. My twin brother made sure we had the information to make sure we kept ourselves — um, fit. I played basketball for thirty years. My knees got kind of weak — so I got back on the bike and now I bike a whole bunch.
KL: I have a follow up question. Where are some of the places you like to bike?
Dawn: There is a black bicycle club that I want to be a part of. In order to be a part of this bicycle club, I need to bike as much as they do. I practice at Seward Park. And — I have to see beauty, beautiful nature. So, I also practice at Alki Beach. I own my home in Kent. I use to bike around Kent all the time. And so, when I can’t get to Alki, I bike around Kent. Pretty soon, I’m going to do the trails with the black bike club — I’m going to be a part of the club. I just need to get up to par.
Susan Gleason: <Interjecting> There are a couple, I think — Rainier Riders, but the one you’re talking about is really intense. Clara went on a ride with them. She was wiped out.
Dawn: This is how intense they are: I was coming out of Island Soul after grubbing. Walked out of Island Soul. Whole group of bikers came by me. Almost hit me. And they were all black. I yelled, “I want to join!” They said, “Sister, you can join.” But, they came very, very far that day — from Kent. I got to work up to that. That’s my goal, to join one of those black bike clubs.
KL: Another follow up question. You met with one of my colleagues, Robert Getch [Beacon Hill Safe Streets]. He has convinced you to purchase an expensive bike.
Dawn: <Smiles> Yes, I’m going to get a bike like his. I told him I am going to invest in a bike like that. My little Schwinn is not doing it for me. Part of riding a bike is you want the wind in your face and you want to be going fast — and my little Schwinn will not go fast, no matter how hard I pedal. He [Robert] knew all about it. So, in our meeting time [about the Beacon Ave Trail] we took some time to talk about bikes. I’m going to buy a bike like his. Twenty-five hundred dollars. A full-on investment, man. I’m going to do it. His bike has a little motor on it. I have a feeling my bike will have a motor too. I’m concerned I will have that motor on way too much. <Laughs> I got to be careful about that.
Susan: <Interjecting again> People say that maybe you’re not going to get as much exercise with that electric assist on the bikes. But everyone I’ve talked to — avid bike riders, daily commuters, all different kinds of riders — say they bike ten times more because of the motor. Opens up the whole city. Gives you more things you can imagine doing in your day.
Dawn: That makes sense, because what Robert talked to me about are those hard hills. When you’re trying to have a beautiful bike ride — going up those hills is easier. You can get up to the top of those hills and then turn that motor off. It makes sense.
KL: You know we work on walking issues too. Do you walk?
Dawn: I don’t walk. I don’t like walking at all. I’m ADD. <Laughs>
KL: Adult Attention Deficit Order?
Dawn: Yes! I have decided that I have that. (I haven’t been tested.) I can not walk down the street without — I need something faster! I’m not even going to pretend that I can walk.
KL: Do any of your family members still ride?
Dawn: No. Nobody still rides. Everybody graduated out of bikes to their cars. And never left their cars.
KL: In a perfect world, what would biking and walking look like for you? What would biking and walking look like, specifically in communities of color?
Dawn: So, folks here at Jefferson Park Community Center walk and bike on the pathway because its beautiful. There are a lot of people using this park. So, you walk and watch games. You can walk and watch your kids. Everything is overlapping. You can bring your kids to the park and walk the trail. It’s wonderful. I do walk and bike that trail sometimes at lunch. It’s hard to walk it, but I love putting my bike on that trail. Folks come in here [Jefferson Community Center] to do pottery and the whole pottery class will come out and get on that trail and start walking.
Susan: Can you say more about that? About how people can be making pottery together here on Beacon Hill, and leave class and go on a trail. Be among beauty?
Dawn: Beauty plays a big part of it. You want to be around stuff that has been taken care of. Lit up and safe. That’s what draws me to Alki — all kinds of people watching, the beauty of the water, riding my bike, and the sun is out, the clouds — it’s just beautiful. I would ride anywhere that is beautiful. So, that Beacon Ave Trail — if trees are put out there, if you see nature happening, I like being in that kind of stuff. And at night, lights keep people safe. Being safe, and with the beauty at the same time, that’s important to me.
KL: Why are people of color not sitting at the table participating in the dialogue regarding biking, pedestrian safety, transportation and walking?
Dawn: Because folks think we don’t do it. If they think we don’t do it, they won’t outreach to us. And we’re not going to go and say “Hello, we do it. See us.” There are parallels that they will not cross that keep us out of conversations where decisions are being made. There is no culture in the decision-making, which is sad, because we bring the soul. We’re soulful folks.
KL: Last question. Who inspires you?
Dawn: When it comes to athleticism, my twin who’s done fitness his whole life inspires me. But when it comes to inspiration from African Americans, it’s Janet Preston, who takes on a lot of this weight that our community is going through. She just takes it on, and she gives back the best way she can to give us some ease.
KL: She is an amazing elder.
Dawn: Yes, she is an amazing elder and mentor. The weight that woman carries for us. It’s freaking amazing.
KL: What she has done for people that are in prison and coming out of prison.
Dawn: Right. She doesn’t just do the work in incarceration. She does education, housing, and takes Christmas presents all over the freaking place. She makes you want to do more … she inspires me to do more and more. Not only is she educated from the UW, but she has that common sense. She walks and I bike.