photo courtesy of Charise Stephens
Meet Charise Stephens. If you call her on the phone, be aware you need to give her a moment to go outside. That’s because she laughs freely and enthusiastically and she’s considerate of her colleagues at her day-job as the director of the Macon-Bibb County Office of Small Business Affairs.
You also need to know that as a result of meeting Charise, you will believe in the impossible again (or for the first time). That’s because this is a woman who started a bike team for kids between the ages of 7 and 17 — with no bikes.
In just two and a half years (most of it during a global pandemic), that team (the first Major Taylor Cycling Club youth team in the world and one of only two Trips for Kids National chapters in the State of Georgia) has ridden to Alabama and back; to Harriet Tubman’s home in Ithaca, New York; and to the U.S. Capitol. Theirs was the very last photo taken on the Black Lives Matter street mural in front of the White House prior to it being painted over recently.
These kids don’t just ride, all kitted up with both stellar road skills and etiquette. They repair their own bikes (which, according to Charisse, increases the care they give to their bikes, cuts down on costs, and earns them immediate respect at rides when people see how much they know). They lead Black History tours. And they represent youth-driven bike programs at state-wide and national conferences.
I first crossed paths with Charisse and her astounding kids at the Georgia Bike Summit in the fall of 2020. They will be also be featured at the National Youth Bike Summit taking place right here in Atlanta, Georgia this upcoming October (Biketober).
How on earth did this happen? Charise explained, between laughs and sharing how blessed she feels, how her mother and grandmother moved from the country to the “big city” of Macon, Georgia (about two hours south of Atlanta; considered Middle Georgia) when she was born so that she’d have more opportunities. It wasn’t always easy, and she had her challenges. She told me:
My personal life was more difficult than it should have been growing up. It has given me empathy and compassion. I want to be part of the solution.
Her advice to others wanting to start a youth-based program?
No matter what you do, incorporate the youth in your decision-making process. Listen to them, and what you create together will have longevity.
See here to find out more about U Create Macon, and follow them on Facebook here. You may even be inspired to create a youth-based bike program where you live, too. If you are involved with bike races and events and would like to help U Create Macon, they appreciate free registrations when possible, as they have to fundraise for every single thing they do.
Fun fact: Charise and U Create Macon recently assisted the Clayton County Cycling Club with their youth program. You met their president, Charlton Bivins, here. I am connecting Charise today with an Atlanta City Councilor/mayoral candidate who has a big idea for a youth bike program in the Atlanta city parks. We are better when we all work together. Imagine what is possible.
Another fun fact: You may be hearing more big news from Charise soon. Stay tuned. And get ready to join her in a leap of joy.
As Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor, a League Cycling Instructor, a PeopleForBikes Ambassador, and the author of Traveling at the Speed of Bike (book and blog), I shine a light on people making it more welcoming to ride bikes and access public space close to home and around the world. Meet some below! If you’d like to put stories to work for your company, municipality, or organization, see here.
Meet Greg Masterson (Metro Atlanta Cycling Club)
Meet Marjon Manitius (Brookhaven Bike Alliance)
Meet Byron Rushing (Atlanta Regional Commission)
Meet Creighton Bryan (Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy)
Meet Betsy Eggers and Jack Honderd (Peachtree Creek Trail and Brookhaven Bike Aliance)
Jon’s Leap of Faith (Street Minister and Bike Saver Extraordinaire)
A Second(er) or Two about Why You’re Needed (City of Dunwoody)
Meet Matt (Painter of New Cycle Track by Mercedes Benz Stadium)
Meet Dr. Walter May (Reinhardt University)
Meet Alex Gee (World Bicycle Relief)
Meet Shawn Deangelo Walton (Everybody Eats ATL and WeCycle)
Meet Charlton Bivins (Clayton County Cycling Club)
Meet Emmett McNair (tour guide extraordinaire)
Meet Mike Flueckiger (Primary Mechanic at Global Spokes)
Thank You, Courtney (NYC’s Peoples’ Bike Mayor)
Meet Carden Wycoff (Wheelchair Warrior at 6 MPH)
Meet Jillian Banfield (Bicycle Mayor of Halifax, Canada)
Meet Arcy Canumay (Bicycle Mayor of Waterloo, Canada)
Meet Shelley Carr (Bicycle Mayor of London, Canada)
Meet Susan Stokhof (Bicycle Mayor of Victoria, Canada)
Meet Daniel Eppstein (Director of Operations at BYCS)
Meet 31 Women Making the USA More Welcoming for Riding Bikes (the “You Go Girl!’ Series)
Meet 11 Bike Tour Guides (from the Bicycle Tours of Atlanta Team)