Rondo Avenue Inc. and Major Taylor Bicycling Club will co-sponsor a Family Fun Ride on Saturday July 18, as part of the annual Rondo Days celebration. It is one of many activities certain to draw thousands of Twin City families to the largest African American festival in Saint Paul. (See end of article for Rondo Days schedule.)
In its heyday, Rondo was a vibrant community. According to Donna Miller, chairperson of Rondo Avenue Inc., the Rondo community stretched from Lexington to Western Avenue and from Marshall to University. Within its borders was the largest population of African American families and businesses in Saint Paul.
However, the development of Interstate 94 during the 1960s decimated the community. The freeway leveled hundreds of homes and businesses, divided the neighborhood in half and displaced countless people. Miller recalled the devastating effects to the Rondo community for the sake of progress.
“We lost over 300 businesses and close to 500 homes,” Miller said. “When the community split, many people moved away.”
Created by Rondo Avenue Inc. 26 years ago, Rondo Days honors the residents and richness of the old Rondo community. The celebration spans several days, culminating on the third Saturday in July with three popular events: the grand parade through the Rondo neighborhood; the outdoor festival at Martin Luther King Center; the drill team competition at Central High School’s Griffin Stadium. Miller estimates these three events attract over 50,000 people to Rondo Days each year.
Rondo Avenue Inc. is “dedicated to preserving, conserving and interpreting the contributions of African Americans in and around the Rondo community.” To commemorate those who lived in the community, each year a history tent is set up at the festival with photos and other items representing the old Rondo community.
“We get a lot of support from the Minnesota History Center. They bring some of the exhibits they have,” Miller said.
This year’s theme is “celebrating the village: the land, the people, and the spirit.” In support of this theme, organizers have recruited a team of volunteers to help with recycling. In addition, there are several events planned to encourage participants to be more active.
“We have a wealth of activities to educate people on recycling and a healthy lifestyle,” Miller said.
The Family Fun Ride is one such activity. The bike ride will begin at 8 am in the parking lot of Capitol Hill Magnet School. Club members will guide riders on a leisurely 7-ride through the neighboring communities including the historic Rondo area, returning in time for the parade kickoff at 10 am. The ride is free and participants will receive water bottles, bike helmets, refreshments and more. Regardless of one’s fitness level, everyone is welcome to participate.
MTBC of Minnesota sees partnering with Rondo Days as a good way to promote bicycling in the Twin Cities African American community. Louis Moore and Dacia Durham are two of the club’s founders; both believe African Americans would participate in bicycling more if they didn’t feel so isolated.
“We recognized African Americans riding bikes separately and thought a club would be a good idea…for the camaraderie.” Moore said.
Now in its 10th year, MTBC of Minnesota sponsors a variety of rides to attract both the novice as well as the biking enthusiast. They host recreational rides around the Twin Cities as well participating in long-distance rides for charities such as the 500-mile AIDS ride. In addition, members also take part in a 100-mile ride in Maryland that attracts African American riders nationwide.
In 2006, MTBC was the recipient of the Blue Cross Blue Shield “Communities on the Move” grant because of its commitment to encouraging African Americans to be more physically active. Moore believes bicycling is an easy way for African Americans to commit to a healthier lifestyle.
“We have a lot of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity in our community,” Moore said. “We wanted to bring more African Americans into the sport of bicycling,”
Durham recognizes many adults might feel intimidated by the idea of bicycling. “I tell them I hadn’t ridden a bike in almost 15 years when I signed up to do the AIDS ride [in1998], Durham said. “I didn’t even own a bike at that point.”
This is not the first time MTBC and Rondo have teamed up; they have had less formal rides in conjunction with Rondo Days for the past several years. However, both expect this more formal role to continue for future Rondo Days festivals. Planning for next year is currently underway, and is expected to include an urban bike ride sponsored by MTBC. Durham enjoys being a part of the Rondo celebration.
“I love that a thriving Black community that was torn apart in the 60s with the construction of I-94 still comes together decades later to reconnect with each other and invites the rest of us to celebrate with them,” Durham said.
FULL DISCLOSURE: This reporter is a member of Major Taylor Bicycling Club and attends Rondo Days regularly. Deb Pleasants worked as a probation officer for 15 years prior to becoming a stay-at-home-mom. In addition to caring for her son, she is a freelance writer and citizen journalist. She resides in St. Paul with her family. Email email@example.com