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Riding against violence: Two Portlanders’ story of using a bike ride to call for peace

As every bike-lover knows, it’s not really about the bike.

For Jason Washington and DeMarcus Preston, 40ish Portlanders and friends who were fed up with local shootings last summer, a bike ride seemed like a natural way to wipe aside a cycle of gang violence and bring the community together into “one gang” in the best sense of the word.

Filmmakers Joe Biel and Elly Blue ask Washington and Preston to tell that story, or at least part of it, for a new short film in their “Groundswell” series about underdog bike heroes around the country. This is the first in the series to focus on Portlanders (though it won’t be the last). Portland-based Microcosm Publishing will officially release this episode, “Take Back the Streets,” tomorrow on the series’ website. But they were nice enough to give BikePortland readers this advance view.

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This episode begins with Washington and Preston talking about their personal connections both to bikes and to Portland’s African-American community. Then it talks about the pair’s big idea last summer to bring the community together for a bike ride and social gathering. (We covered the event here.)

In the second half, the two talk about the diaspora of North Portland’s black community and about black culture more generally. Preston lays out his concept for a house in Portland, modeled on his own life-changing experience in the U.S. military, that would give young men a more positive and meaningful experience than jail.

Then, at the end, they shift into a subject that will be familiar to every BikePortland reader: the weirdly simple joys of riding a bike.

“I know once I started riding my bike, I feel a lot, not so stiff, a lot looser, you know what I’m saying?” Preston said. “Kind of make you feel athletic. You feel good about riding, too. … It’s just the first couple of days you’ve got to get through.”

Want to see more? Check out the previous film in Biel and Blue’s Groundswell series, in which they chronicle the promising rise and distressing collapse, over the last few years, of the League of American Bicyclists’ equity initiative.

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