March 10, 2017
By Kris Parfitt
Photo at right: Rich Brown rides past the University of Washington’s soccer field on his commute home. Photo by Eugene Pak, the Major Taylor Project Assistant
In 2007, nine Cascade Bicycle Club employees and local cycling advocates challenged themselves to create a pilot program to reach school kids in diverse communities and teach them the basics of bicycling.
They sketched out the foundations of the Major Taylor Project on a napkin and hired Ed Ewing to be the director. With the support of Ewing, Cascade team members and King County community citizens, the project grew into one that now reaches 16 Seattle schools with more than 450 active student participants.
Named after Marshall “Major” Taylor — known as the fastest cyclist in the world in 1899, and the first African-American athlete to achieve the level of world champion by age 20 — the Major Taylor Project (MTP) has evolved into an initiative of inclusive community partnership, transformation and opportunity for kids age 11–19 from all backgrounds and cultures.
Ewing retired from Cascade Bicycle Club in 2016 to pursue the next stage in his career and it has taken a team of impressive people to fill his shoes.
Enter Rich Brown
With extensive experience in cycling, technology, education, retail and making a difference in the lives of others, Rich Brown was a top choice pick to lead the Major Taylor Project (MTP). After two years as a MTP Ride Leader for both Rainier Beach and Foster high schools in south King County between 2014 and 2016, he was well-liked and deeply respected by the students, Ewing and the MTP team.
Brown felt inspired by Ewing’s speech at the end of the 2015 Seattle-to-Portland ride with the MTP riders.
“He asked us the question, ‘What’s next?’” said Brown. “My answer was, ‘I want more of this!’”
That fall, Brown began working at Cascade as the full-time MTP Coordinator, organizing local clubs, mentoring the Ride Leaders and creating leadership opportunities for students.
When Ewing announced his retirement, he encouraged Brown to apply for the new role of MTP Manager. Brown did and is now at the helm.
When asked what inspires him about MTP and his position, Brown’s charismatic smile lit up the room as he replied, “Knowing that every day, we — the MTP team and Cascade — have the opportunity to change the lives of our students. It brings me hope that the youth we work with will be young leaders and advocates for change in our society.”
Expansion and Challenges
One goal of the MTP is to expand outside the state within the next decade. During the next three years MTP’s focus will be on growth in Seattle and Tacoma while developing the program outside the Puget Sound. In five years, the goal is to be statewide and integrated with at-risk youth, juvenile courts and alternative schools.
“One of the challenges we run into is transportation,” said Brown. “Our students mostly live in South King County and, although we are creative with Light Rail and Metro, it is difficult to get all of the students together for events.”
The other challenges are finding Ride Leaders who have the time available to meet after school and connect with the students.
“While we are completely inclusive to all people, we also encourage people of color to participate as Ride Leaders,” said Brown.
Making It Happen
The MTP is funded through grants, donors and sponsorships and plans to actively continue pursuing these financial pathways. Brown expressed the importance of deepening partnerships with organizations and collaborating with youth and cycling agencies,both in-state and beyond.
The MTP is more than just a place for students to learn to ride a bike; it’s a cultural incubator for navigating society and initiating change. The organization’s hope is that this project can be a key for the next generation’s ability to lead effectively, together and with confidence.
“The Major Taylor Project is more than just a bike club,” said Brown. “It’s an initiative responding to inequities of our society. We use the bicycle as a tool for transformation to empower and enrich our students’ lives.”
How You Can Help
Become a member of the Cascade Bicycle Club. Volunteer with the Major Taylor Project, or at any Cascade event during the year. Donate gently used bicycles and cycling products to the Major Taylor Project.
When Kris Parfitt isn’t editing OutdoorsNW magazine, she is interviewing inspiring people doing remarkable things.