Writer Frank X Walker was bothered last summer when he attended opening-day festivities for the Legacy Trail and saw only a few other people of color.
"I got to thinking about what I could do to change that," said Walker, 50, who has ridden a bicycle since he was a child in Danville. Walker's 73-year-old father is an avid cyclist, and his son rides a bike to classes at the University of Kentucky.
Walker had recently published Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride, a book of poems based on the life of the great 19th-century black jockey. Murphy's home in Lexington's East End neighborhood stood where the trail will begin when it is completed. That gave Walker an idea that many others in Lexington were quick to embrace.
They created the Isaac Murphy Bicycle Club, which organized classes this summer for children in the East End, teaching them bicycle skills, safety and rules of the road with donated secondhand bicycles.
The children also learned about the history of their neighborhood, where more than a century ago, Murphy and other black jockeys and trainers at the old Kentucky Association track helped make Lexington the horse capital of the world.
On Aug. 20, about 25 kids who attended at least two of the three classes this summer will be given new bicycles, helmets, locks, safety lights and water bottles at the North Lexington Family YMCA on Loudon Avenue. Then they will all take a ride on the Legacy Trail.
"I remember as a kid how exhilarating it was to ride my first new bicycle," Walker said. "I want other kids to feel that, too."
The kids will be encouraged to continue participating in rides and other club activities — and to get their friends and families riding bikes, too. "This might be a way to get people in this part of town walking and riding the Legacy Trail," Walker said.
The club has received money and volunteer support from many Lexington organizations, including the Urban County Council, the city's Partners for Youth program, Bluegrass Cycling Club, Blue Grass Community Foundation, Dick's Sporting Goods, Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop, Police Activities League, William Wells Brown Neighborhood Association, Seedleaf and East Seventh Street Center.
"We've been collaborating with as many parties as we can find," Walker said, adding that the club could use more donations and sponsorships.
Blue Grass Community Foundation's Steve Austin, who earlier worked with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Legacy Project, which helped the city build the trail, said, "I want the kids of the East End, like kids anywhere in the city, to feel like it's their trail, too."
When I attended a club training session last week, Dave Overton of Bluegrass Cycling Club was teaching bicycle skills to a couple dozen kids, ages 6 to 14. Afterward, volunteers served them lunch, including a cake decorated with the club's logo: a jockey riding a bicycle.
"It's fun to just be able to go out and have fun and do what you like doing," said Zion Alaboudi, 10, who can't wait to get his new bike.
The club plans more sessions of classes, and members are considering ways kids could earn bicycles through good school attendance and academic performance. Walker also wants the club to eventually have chapters in neighborhoods citywide.
His larger goal is to get more people of all ages and races on bicycles and walking to improve their health, and for them to get to know their community better. Walker, an associate professor of English at UK, has been leading weekly rides for other faculty members on the Legacy Trail. And he is trying to get 100 families to ride bicycles in the annual Roots & Heritage Festival parade on Sept. 10 in the East End.
"This is how you grow it," Walker said. "You start with kids this age."
Reach Tom Eblen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.