kathryn-moore_web.jpgMIAMI — Seeking to unite the residents of Liberty City, Little Haiti and Overtown, the Belafonte Tacolcy Center and other organizations hosted a bicycle tour through the city’s District 5.

The tour, also hosted by Bike Miami, Emerge Miami Critical Mass and the city of Miami, promoted environmental awareness, physical fitness and community building.

As many as 40 participants, including parents, community organizers and ten children—three of whom are members of Tacolcy’s bike mechanics program, rode 15 miles through the district.

They visited such places as African Square Park, the Liberty Square Housing projects, the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center and Charles Hadley Park. The two-hour event also provided young people an opportunity to learn about bike safety tips, safe school routes, community recreation and the benefits of joining the area’s bike club.

Alison Austin, executive director of the Belafonte Tacolcy center, said the event brought out a diverse group who loved to ride and wanted to support the organization’s Bike Club kickoff.

Austin also said she found joy in listening to the children talk about their experiences, and to hear them say this was a new and interesting way to look at their community.

“Our youngest rider was 4-year-old Christopher Rogne, and he pedaled with vigor, determined to keep up,” Austin said. “Both his mom and dad rode along, adding a family element to the experience. It felt more like a parade as the collective rode through the blocks, seeing people coming out of their doors to wave and cheer, children wishing they could join us, motorists slowing to respect the procession. The event was a great statement about going green and urging the community to be healthy.”

Christopher’s mother, Yashica Rogne, said her son has been raving about the bike ride every day since the event. She commended Tacolcy for having an event that showcased the community in a positive light and made its residents feel good.

“Christopher felt great about the bike ride, he knew he was the youngest but was proud of himself for being able to keep up with the bigger kids, and he was encouraged by everyone cheering him on,” his mother said.

“This event was inviting, inclusive, fun and was a great way to exercise. We are definitely looking forward to the next one.”

Collin Worth, who works for the city of Miami’s Capital Improvements Program and the Office of Transportation, told the South Florida Times that two goals set forth in the master plan are education and encouragement throughout the community.

“The city has been hosting Bike Miami Rides to encourage bicycle riding as well as to educate riders on safe bicycle riding,’’ Worth said. “District 5 already has a number of people that ride bikes for a number of reasons and is one of the most dynamic areas in South Florida.”

He continued: “In addition, we have also been fortunate enough to be able to work closely with the Tacolcy Center, which has started an innovative Bike Safety Club to teach the youth safe bicycle riding practices, as well as to build and maintain their own bicycles.  It is a pilot project that will likely be replicated throughout the county and through the Tacolcy Bike Club, we organized the ride to go through the Liberty City area.”

Tacolcy Program Director Roger Horne, who served as the event’s organizer, said Miami is developing into a “national urban center” and that the promotion of safety awareness, especially within inner-city communities, is pivotal to the well-being of its children.

“Miami tops the country in vehicular accidents to bike riders and pedestrians, especially among children,” Horne said. “We want to keep our children safe as they go to and from school, as well as encourage them to know and follow the rules and laws that our city has established to keep cyclists, pedestrians and motorists safe while sharing the road.”

Horne also said the event was successful in engaging parents and older residents who supported the message and who were encouraged to see something positive happening in their community.

“Many of the parents have approached me and asked that I keep doing these rides,” Horne said. “It brings a good feeling to our residents when they see that we as a community care and have much more to offer than drugs and violence.”

Worth added: “The most memorable aspect of the ride for me was just seeing how supportive the community was when they saw a trail of people on bikes riding through their neighborhood. At first it is a look of confusion, it then turns to curiosity, and then come the smiles.”

Brandyss@MSN.com

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Miami Bicycle Coalition Event Organizer Kathryn Moore