Every once in a while, you hear about a standout athlete, someone who in their younger years, through dedication and hard work, support from family and coaches, became a world class athlete. Often these stories overlook the layers of privilege and access amassed over the years, decades, maybe even generations, to make that life possible. On the flip side rarely are systemic oppression and historical racism considered when discussing success in sports. The immeasurable amount of untapped potential in marginalized communities isn’t even a thought. Rather, the larger narrative in athletics is that racial politics and sports do not intersect.
In recent years, not only has this false narrative been debunked, but it has also been challenged and reframed. Thanks to people like scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality to illustrate the many factors that affect levels of advantage or disadvantage. Non-white athletes in America know very well that segregation and disenfranchisement in their personal lives, dictate their experiences in sports. Generations of exclusion based on race, gender, ability, class or all the above have functioned as guardrails, forcing people of color into their own lane. You simply cannot outrun who you are.
The sport of cycling is predominantly white and wealthy, this we know. There are many reasons for this, an obvious factor is the financial barrier to entry. To be a cyclist, you must first own a bike, next all the gear and time. I would also argue that for people of color the most valuable asset is our safety. Sure, we may have untapped talent, but will we be safe while training or even casually riding our bikes.
Enter Trevon Mitchell, who according to many believe that, “Trevon is the future. He is the story we need to hear.” Trevon is seventeen years old, a senior and one of seven boys in his family. He began cycling in September 2020 at the suggestion of a high school teacher. He did not have any role models in the sport, nor had he ever followed it. He did not have a bike, gear, or shoes but made up for it in determination. By the summer of 2021 Trevon had competed in a handful of races. Because he does not own a car, he used his 5-7 mile commute to warm up and get mentally prepared. He won his first race as Cat 4/5 at a local event in Seward Park, where he channeled his inner Justin Williams just long enough to raise his arms in victory across the finish line. After that he celebrated multiple wins with his team. A mere two-years later, Trevon has been offered a scholarship to Marian University in Indianapolis to ride with the Knights cycling team.
Trevon’s career in cycling is still in its infancy, but you would never know it with the amount of support behind him and the belief that he will succeed beyond even his greatest imagination. There is poetry knowing he got his start with the Seattle-based cycling group North Star. Both Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglass looked to the North Star (Polaris) to realize their journey to freedom, and the name has become synonymous with Black liberation. Tubman and Douglass were visionaries whose mission was never in service to oneself, but to their people and the generations to come. They were the vessels through which self-determination was made manifest. North Star’s mission is grounded with the same intention: to liberate melanated folks on bikes.
Prior to cycling, Trevon played basketball throughout middle school and into high school. He is currently in his final season at Cleveland High in Seattle, his hometown, where he was born and raised. Today Trevon aims to be a leader in his community, he is part of African American Male Achievement (AAMA) a coalition of Black boys and teens who work with educators and community members to envision an educational system that meets their needs while dismantling systemic racism. The program provides social-emotional support and ensures educational and cultural enrichment for its students and families.
In the summer of 2020 just as students were heading into their first full semester of virtual learning, Trevon worked with AAMA to prepare for the unknown. He spent hours on calls with directors of math, science, and English to discuss ways to make school more fun and welcoming for Black males. He also hosted back to school events to gauge the needs of returning students. Most significantly he concerned himself with the mental health needs of Black students and their extended families.
When asked to describe himself as a child he was quick to reply, he was “very outspoken, passionate, and humble”. He’s always wanted to be a steward of his community because he felt his own experiences had given him insight.
When Trevon was five years old, he and his five brothers were sent to foster care where they were placed in multiple homes. Trevon was housed with his younger brother and the two weren’t reunited with their older siblings for two years. It wasn’t until his stepmother intervened that the boys were able to live under one roof again. This experience at such a pivotal time in his upbringing provoked an awareness and level of maturity common in young people who parent themselves and their siblings.
This knowledge and awareness have matured Trevon over the years, developing into both a keen empathy for others and a determination to realize his own liberation in a country that seeks to squash the dynamism of young Black men. Cleveland High is a predominantly Asian and Black school but is beginning to mirror the mostly white population of Seattle because of gentrification. As a young Black man in Seattle public schools, Trevon noticed a recent shift in the power dynamics between students and teachers. Prior to the murder of George Floyd and the great awakening of racial injustice in this country, he witnessed Black students suffering far harsher punishments than non-Black students. This is something that he has addressed in AAMA and worked to change in the classroom, and he has seen results.
KC Campbell, the educator who first enticed Trevon to ride with North Star, is a teacher at Cleveland High. Campbell has known Trevon since he was a freshman and described him in those early years as having a bubbly character, outgoing, and very involved with school activities. Campbell also noticed that Trevon was more mature than others and dedicated to playing sports. When the pandemic hit and everything was cancelled, Campbell extended the invitation to ride to fill the time but also to provide a sense of community.
Trevon’s reasons for joining that first ride were simple, “free food, Black people, and community!”. He was immediately overwhelmed by the sense of family cultivated within North Star and attracted to its social justice mission. Within weeks he was keeping up with the Sunday Service and Wednesday Fast rides, the latter taking place on Mercer Island. Initially, he rode a loaner bike, wearing a basketball sweatsuit and shoes until he was gifted his first all-red kit and eventually a pair of clip-in cycling shoes.
From that point on his speed quickly increased and he was going on 50, 70, 80 and then 100-mile rides. Trevon’s training plan was simple, “just keep going out and believe this is what I’m doing. No doubt about it, I’m a pretty fast cyclist. In my head and what I feel, I know that I can do it, I’m a very competitive guy- I know I’m going to go to the top”.
For many, cycling is merely the entry into a community of people, but for marginalized youth, it can be a future. Social justice-based groups like North Star removed the financial hurdle and provided a safe environment for Trevon to explore, all he had to do was tap into his natural ability. That he did. True to form, Trevon recognized his potential as a role model to young Black kids, including his youngest brother who is two years old.
“I didn’t have role models. Right now, I have a little brother, have all these little kids looking up to me, it’s pretty cool, I’m like it’s not really about myself anymore, it’s about what I want to do in life, there’s more to it now, it’s not you that’s going to succeed, you’re doing it for them too.”
Trevon is but one example in a country of many kids of color who have natural talent and desire but lack connections and financial support. People go to sporting events to see what power looks like, confirming how impactful the saying “see it, to be it” really is, especially to a kid of color. Groups like North Star and Team Abundance are powerful examples of intersectionality across marginalized peoples. When we recognize that we are all confronting the same issues, we should come together to coalition build, to care for each other’s communities. To offer support, guidance, to power-share amongst ourselves and reimagine our liberation.
When asked how being part of a cycling community feels Trevon left me with these final words, “It makes me feel welcomed. Makes me feel free, it’s like I’m a part of something- I’m not a nobody in this damn world. I have a purpose. Makes me feel like damn…”
Story by Guarina Lopez. Photos by Edwin Lindo
Trevon Mitchell can be found on Instagram @fastestintown