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Triangle Bikeworks rides across the country to learn 'what history actually is'

Triangle Bikeworks students during a 2021 trip. Photo courtesy of Itza Salazar.

Triangle Bikeworks, a youth empowerment nonprofit in Carrboro, is taking strides to connect the community's young people to the natural world. 

Its program “Spoke’n Revolutions” hosts youth bike trips, including a tour every summer, with students biking 700 miles in two weeks, passing through some of the country's historic and cultural sites. 

Program manager Itza Salazar said the tours are geared toward middle and high school students. The tours aim to provide participants, specifically youth who are Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and people of color, a greater understanding of how historical events impact the present, Salazar said. 

The stops include a variety of educational opportunities, such as water conservation and learning untold American history, as well as the chance to build on teamwork skills.

“It’s like this puzzle that history class is trying to get you to put together, but they aren’t giving you all of the pieces," Salazar said. "And so going on tour, you start finding some of those missing pieces. It changes your perspective on, and appreciation for, what history actually is.”

When participants sign up, they agree to attend several practice rides that help to bond the group and physically prepare riders for the trip. Riders sign up for a variety of reasons: interest in water, biking or just as a way to fill their summer. 

Student participant Monica Green was motivated to sign up as a way to get outside and move her body during the pandemic.

“I enjoy just the community that I have been able to be a part of," Green said. "Just riding with other people my age who are energetic and just full of life has been really fulfilling for me."

Riders do not need any prior biking experience or equipment, but are required to participate in a weekend bike trip before being asked to join the summer excursion.  The trips are also free for participants, but Spoke’n Revolutions asks riders to help fundraise. 

Salazar said the organization looks for enthusiasm, commitment and rider confidence before asking a student to participate in the longer summer trip. 

Once the summer trip gets finalized, the students train for several months to prepare. The trip they take is determined by student-leader collaboration. 

This past summer, the group biked the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor from coastal North Carolina to Florida. The trip included stops at Sapelo Island, Georgia.; Fort Mose Museum in St. Augustine, Florida; and American Beach, Florida. The group learned about the Gullah Geechee people, descendants from enslaved West and Central Africans who were forced to work on plantations on the Atlantic coast. 

Many of the Gullah Geechee people have been pushed out of their ancestral land by white settlers that have dominated the economy in recent years. The stops along the trip allow riders to talk to the people impacted by the history they learned in preparation for the trip and to discover untold histories that riders might not have learned otherwise.

“I don’t think many people my age have heard of the Gullah Geechee people," Green said. "Luckily I had before joining, but I was able to learn so much about their history in this country through Spoke’n Revolutions."

Beginning in 2020, Spoke’n Revolutions hosted virtual tours for parents, students and community members who are unable to participate in the trips. 

Jerma Jackson, a history professor at UNC, said she was excited by the idea of these trips.

“History isn’t just something that happens in the past, it is something that is present," Jackson said. "And getting on a bike and riding, and peddling and using your body to get from A to B — not using a machine, not getting in an airplane, not driving a car, but using your body to get there — I cannot think of a better way to learn about the past.”

Salazar said that this year will be the first year that 100 percent of participants will be returning for a second trip.

Spoke’n Revolutions' 2022 trip will be following a path the group has never done before, Salazar said. She said they are working hard to meet students' requests to travel up North, and will be traveling from Carrboro to Chicago to follow the path of the Great Migration, during which Black southerners moved away from the region in the mid-20th century.

A Triangle Bikeworks student bikes across a bridge during a 2021 trip. Photo courtesy of Itza Salazar.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mischaracterized Triangle Bikeworks. They are a youth empowerment nonprofit in Carrboro. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.  

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