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The Richmond Cycling Corps Fights Poverty With Bicycling

One group in Richmond is doing something different to combat poverty. Taking kids from low-income neighborhoods and giving them what they often lack.... mentoring...guidance... a male role-model... all disguised as an after-school biking program. Richmond Cycling Corps it's called.

One group in Richmond is doing something a little different to combat poverty. They’re taking kids from low-income neighborhoods, and giving them what they often lack: mentoring, guidance, a male role-model -- all disguised as an after-school biking program. The group is called Richmond Cycling Corps.

Craig Dodson talks with one of his bikers after the race at Forest Hill Park.

Each week in the fall, cyclists from around Richmond gather at Forest Hill Park for a friendly competition. Amid the after-work crowd, greeting each other in their spandex, stands Jasmine Walker.

Jasmine is 17. She’s been riding for two and a half years, and last year was her first competing. She placed third in the state for her age and gender.

“Today won't be my best. But I do alright, I don't ever quit. I can't quit,” says Jasmine. “I want to move forward. If I stop, I'm just kind of moving backwards. So I just kind of keep going.”

Jasmine is talking about more than racing. She's a senior at Armstrong High School and she is on track to graduate - no small feat when almost 30 percent of your class doesn't.

She’s considering going to the military next year. She’s taken the placement test. Depending on her results, she might also apply to college.

Jasmine is from Creighton Court, one of Richmond's poorest neighborhoods. Most residents there live on incomes below $10,000 a year.

“Public housing in and of itself, it's a subculture,” says Craig Dodson, the founder of Richmond Cycling Corps -- the group Jasmine is racing with today.

Dodson has spent the past five years working with kids like Jasmine, who have grown up in public housing.

“The view of the world is so different,” Dodson says. “There's just a lot of eagerness to have confrontation because that's the way that it's done.”

Most of the kids Dodson works with go to Armstrong High School. The school has a reputation for violence. In the 2013-2014 school year, 10 percent of the student body was suspended for fighting.

Dodson has been using his experience as a pro-biker, to give a handful of those kids a different outlet. He describes himself as friend, coach, or mentor. Sometimes even Dad.

But today, he's also babysitter. Jasmine is in charge of her young cousin for the evening, and Dodson is looking after him so that Jasmine can focus on riding.

In addition to Jasmine, Richmond Cycling Corps has 12 other kids racing today. They have 30 minutes to do as many laps as they can on the winding course. Craig holds a stopwatch, keeping track of the frontman. He cheers them on, loudly.

About halfway through the race though, Jasmine comes around looking slow, a little haggard.

“If she hits something that's just a bit of hurdle, her reaction is just to shut it down and to quit,” Dodson says. “And that's all she's known. Part of what we do, what we've been doing is getting her to work through that, and work around that, and get over that.”

Dodson says he's been in “go mode” with Jasmine. She's a senior and she won't be able to ride with them after she graduates.

“She's getting a lot of time and attention and subsequently my emotion, right now,” says Dodson.

And just as he says it, Jasmine comes around, looking stronger and pedaling harder. He shouts out to her.

“That’s it Jas! It’s all between the ears! Get it back! This is where it matters!”

Then, the race is over. Jasmine is done and she tried hard. As she lies face up on the ground, Dodson comes over for a chat.

“Look pretty much every race we do for the next few months is going to be your last one. Okay. You understand that?” Dodson says. “You don't want to be my age looking back and saying ‘I wish I pushed a little harder doing that.’ You think I didn't do things in high school that I wished I would have gone back in high school and did better, or did differently. Okay? You don't want that.”

Three days after this race, Jasmine raced again against other high school students. She placed first for JV women.

Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.
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