By Brittany Young
If you watched Lovecraft Country this summer, you might have wondered why the woman riding her motorcycle on the side of Tik’s car was significant. That woman was Bessie Stringfield: the first Black woman inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the beauty behind what we now call stunt riding, and the matriarch of an entire industry. Bessie was a pioneer who not only rejected society’s expectations of Black women — she established the motorcycle as a symbol of Black freedom. Bessie is important to the work of B-360, but she also serves as a constant reminder of the road my ancestors began paving that I have to finish.
This year, I won the American Motorcyclist Association’s prestigious Bessie Stringfield Award, for people who have pioneered a new industry and market in motorcycling such as the executives from industry players such as Kawasaki, KMT Racing and more. In the 20-year history of this award, I am the first and only Black person to win an award honoring the legacy of the radical herself. It’s a stark reminder that although the world has made progress, there is still much to do.
As I reflect on my journey in business, STEM, and motorsports, I can’t help but wonder if this was what Bessie envisioned for me, for Black women, for Black motorcyclists when she was riding through the Jim Crow south and risking her life against the oppression of the KKK. I imagine she thought her experiences would lead to the liberation of Black people and that her efforts to create a new lane in motorcycling would lead to greater victories. But in my lifetime, I’ve had to fight the same systems of oppression, not only in motorsports but in all areas.
As an elementary school student, I was scolded for the science experiments I created while bored in class. I was told I couldn’t be an engineer because of where I was from, what I looked like and my pedigree. Working in STEM, I was mistaken for an administrative assistant for a week, simply because the only Black people in my building were either security guards or people in administrative roles. My boss had a hard time believing I was the person hired for the job. In my family, I’ve had to watch one brother be incarcerated while another was left to navigate the healthcare system with a disability. We all witnessed the uprisings following Freddie Gray and were reminded again with the 2020 protests. What we’ve yet to witness is a clear end to our struggle, and accountability from people who continue to propagate racism.
Despite all of B-360’s success and accolades, I’ve experienced the struggle in the funding landscape and in comment sections on media coverage and social posts. In 2019, we did a campaign that debuted nationally, at an event that is considered the equivalent to the SuperBowl for dirt bikes. I read thousands of comments in which people called us “monkeys on dirt bikes” and “drug dealers who need to know STEM to figure out how much crack to sell.” They attacked our accents and picked on our children and their hairstyles.
If Bessie could have hopped in a time machine to travel 40 years to the future like Hippolyta did in Lovecraft Country, do you think she would be happy with our progress? Would she be proud of me and what we have built at B-360? Would she be sad and wonder if it was all worth it? Would she be hurt to see another Black woman struggling in this space and dealing with the same racism? Would she be surprised to know that I am the first and only black person in 20 years to win an award named after her? Is this what she thought her legacy would be?
I can’t answer those questions.
What I can do is ensure that in my lifetime, the road Bessie started paving will be finished. I have no choice but to get this right. Too many generations have watched racist ideology predicate from the sidelines as a $32 billion motorsports industry was crafted, without acknowledging the contributions of Black stunt riders who ride on asphalt. I can answer the call to solve the problem and invite those that support us to the table to change the system.
I thank AMA for this award. I hope it’s a step in the right direction to finally get the justice, respect and support needed to move an entire culture of Black riders to the forefront. If the industry truly wants to honor Bessie’s legacy, they need to start to see us not only as an untapped market that can revitalize the sport (which we are), but as powerful allies deserving of both partnership and investment.
Thank you Bessie Stringfield for shaping an industry. I promise to honor you by finishing what you started. It’s time.
B-360 founder Brittany Young is a Baltimore native who has programmed nuclear plants, developed medical devices, and planned satellite explorations, but she finds the most satisfaction in her roles in education, problem solving and service to her community. She wants people to recognize and appreciate the natural genius and talent in cities like Baltimore and to match opportunities to people’s passions. Brittany sees herself as a “socio-economic” engineer – connecting talent and passion with resources and opportunity. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cntknockBhustle