“I‘m just an amplifier. I want to do my part by supporting things behind the scenes.”
That’s Milwaukee rapper WebsterX, a.k.a. Sam Ahmed, speaking about his role in the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. Perhaps he’s being a bit modest: Back in June, Ahmed co-organized a 16-mile bike ride called “Black Is Beautiful” that drew more than 2,000 participants. Related t-shirt sales netted more than $20,000 that went to local groups Walnut Way and Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT). Now, the “Black Is Beautiful” ride is primed for a second installment.
“After the first one, there was demand the next day,” Ahmed says. “People were like, ‘So when’s the next one?’ I was like, ‘Could I have a day to decompress, please?'”
Volume two of “Black Is Beautiful” is set for Sunday, August 16. (Co-organizers include Zed Kenzo, Steve Rosche, Mag Rodriguez, Darius Smith, and others. All profits from t-shirt sales will be donated to #ConnectMilwaukee and the Wisconsin Bike Fed.) Participants are asked to meet at Reservoir Park (801 E. Meinecke Ave.) at 1 p.m.; the 12-mile ride begins at 2 p.m. and will tentatively end at 5 p.m. Bikes are encouraged, but the ride will accommodate pretty much anything on wheels. Wear a mask if you can.
“Fighting the power is a full-time job, especially if you’re Black,” reads the events description. “Take this event as a moment to collectively exhale as a community and join us on a ride for Black lives.” Ahmed further explains that the ride is part of a “psychological movement” for Black folks.
“It’s to get the message into people’s minds that your skin is beautiful,” he says. “I love ‘Black Lives Matter’ a lot, it’s the most important slogan of the whole movement. But just seeing the words ‘Black Is Beautiful,’ seeing that celebratory statement, it empowers me. And if it empowers me it has to empower other people, too.
“What was once personal for me turned into a mass thing,” he continues. “I thought, ‘Let’s get other people on bikes. Let’s get more people of color on bikes.'”
The first installment of “Black Is Beautiful” came at a busy time for Ahmed. He had been putting final touches on his upcoming album during the first months of quarantine, and by May he had entered the mixing phase. Then, while shooting the cover art for the record, the George Floyd protests exploded.
“We were shooting the cover art at Reservoir Park at sunset,” Ahmed remembers. “All of a sudden, as soon as the shoot ended, we heard a bunch of horns. We ran to the edge of the hill and we saw a giant car protest. I’d seen a protest before, but I had never seen a fleet of cars protesting. I just felt crazy energy. This was two or three days after George Floyd. It was just a different energy when I woke up the next morning.”
Things moved quickly after that. Ahmed broke his pre-album-release silence on social media and began lending his support to the protests. Hundreds of new followers—and a newfound mission—appeared. “That’s when I decided to use this new attention,” he says. “How do I properly use this to add to the movement?”
Ahmed added to the movement by creating the “Black Is Beautiful” t-shirt, which proved to be an instant success. An idea for a bike ride—inspired by a similar event in Los Angeles—soon followed. (“Biking was massive for me in quarantine. I rediscovered my bike.”) Eventually, at the suggestion of a friend, the two ideas were combined.
“The pieces started adding up,” Ahmed says. “We booked the ride in eight days and did the t-shirts in seven days. That was a fucking crazy week.”
Baked into the first ride was the idea of Black mental health. “We’ll keep marching, we’ll keep chanting, but for one day we need to feel the wind in our face again. Black Lives Matter. Black Mental Health Matters too,” read the first ride’s description. That concept returns for Sunday’s ride.
“People had been protesting for more than 20 days when the first ride happened,” Ahmed says. “I noticed there was a need for something—there was a need for some fun. Fun, but we can also protest, too. With this second one, it’s still a mental health thing. We still need that.”
In addition to the long-awaited release of his new album, Ahmed promises another socially-minded event in the upcoming months. For now, though, he remains focused on Sunday’s ride.
“In the past, Black Lives Matter movements have always been related to a specific city or the internet, but now it’s widespread,” he says. “Even though momentum has died down a little, it’s still a thing.
“I hope people see this second ride and hopefully it’ll energize the protest again.”