With their hometown labeled everything from "best bike city'' to "healthiest city,'' many Minneapolis residents are proud of their outdoor lifestyles — identities made possible in part by a great parks system and the city's bike-friendly infrastructure. However, not everyone has been initiated into the city's outdoor culture.
Ultra-cyclist Anthony Taylor, 55, is working to change that.
Taylor first began to link his interests in advocacy and outdoor activities in 1999 when he co-founded the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, which works to get more African-Americans riding (there are about 80 club members). Today, he also serves as the Loppet Foundation's adventures director, organizing a range of recreational activities, including ski lessons and mountain bike clinics for all ages.
With the Loppet's home base at Theodore Wirth Park in north Minneapolis, Taylor and the foundation are working to get more people of color and low-income individuals engaged in the same activities that contribute to Minnesota's reputation as a hub for the outdoors.
In a recent interview, Taylor shared his thoughts on how to create outdoor opportunities for underrepresented groups, the barriers, and the benefits of time spent in the outdoors.
On co-founding his cycling club
Everywhere we went, there weren't black cyclists, and that became what we were going to work on. We were realizing the benefits of biking and the opportunities it offered, and we believed that more black people should also be able to experience those benefits. The club has gone through an evolution, so now it's not just biking, but also advocacy, transportation, skiing in the winter, and the outdoors.
On the barriers to outdoor activities that African-Americans face
Slowly over time, there has been a growing feeling that "these are things white people do." I think that over the last 30-40 years, the idea of the black identity, especially for youth, has become more and more grounded in the urban identity. If the urban identity and experience are what define you, not the outdoors, that may be the biggest barrier. Of course, those barriers were created by things that were real. The mythology of "that's a white thing" becomes stronger and stronger every generation, so we are working to interrupt that mythology.
On the importance of outreach
The founding fathers of this city had the vision to keep access to our waterways public. This has helped make Minneapolis an amazing place. At the same time, there's been public policy that has negatively impacted people based on where they live.If we believe access to the outdoors is a public right, in order to re-engage those communities who have been disconnected, we need to increase the amount of investment and outreach we do. We know people are going to drive from Edina and south Minneapolis to go skiing at Wirth. The ones who aren't coming are the ones who live down the street.
On creating opportunities in the outdoors for all communities
We are creating new on-ramps. There is a significant commitment in the African-American community to improving health. So if the on-ramp to these activities is health improvement and not sport, if you can introduce it that way, maybe that's an on-ramp. It may also be youth and families. We are doing youth-oriented programming, but also working to engage families. Parents are committed to their children, so they show up and realize, "wow, this is right down the street from our house." The on-ramp for many adults is then their children.
On the Twin Cities identity
When you talk to people about why you live in the Twin Cities, the number one thing they tell you is the lifestyle — the lakes, the outdoors, the park system. Our work is to honor that by creating opportunities for everyone to have access to those things, whether it be skiing or mountain biking.
On redefining the community of north Minneapolis
When you think about north Minneapolis, you don't define it by its great natural resources. Part of our work is to actively reframe the narrative of why people live where they live. North Minneapolis is often defined by its disparities and challenges and not by the fact that no other community has the river, Victory Memorial, Theodore Wirth Park, the Chain of Lakes, the Kenilworth Trail, and a quick connection to downtown.
On confidence in the outdoors
Increasing a child's grit and his or her ability to be able to visualize being successful in a moment of challenge — that's what we think we are doing in the outdoors through Nordic skiing, mountain biking, and trail running. All of those things influence grit, which can affect academic achievement. When you do that, the kids gain pride and a sense of accomplishment, which broadens their identity. This also works for adults. We take people who have never skied, to learning to ski, to enjoying it, and then doing the Loppet. They have a good experience, which boosts their confidence and they start to think, "I'm a skier." Whether it's communities of color, youth, women — it's about creating adventures for people to increase their confidence and pride and impact identity.
On diversity and diversification
We aren't trying to diversify endurance sports, we are using endurance sports to diversify the experiences people are having, and therefore diversifying their vision for the future.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.