When COVID-19 ravaged New York City in the chilly months of March and April 2020, work wasn’t the only part of life that had to transition into tiny apartments (for those whose jobs allowed) — exercise did, too. As gyms and fitness centers closed during the first deadly wave of the pandemic, people had to move their workout routines either into their homes or outdoors.
For younger Black Americans in their twenties through forties who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are living with and dying from conditions that typically affect white Americans at older ages — including heart disease and high blood pressure — more regular physical activity to help prevent these conditions was already important. In addition to limited options for movement imposed by the pandemic, roadblocks such as socioeconomic factors and racial bias in healthcare had already been keeping many in the community from pursuing a healthier lifestyle.
Andrew Bennett of Brooklyn didn’t initially realize that he would be answering the call to prioritize physical activity in the Black community when he organized a bike ride with a few friends one day that May. That one spontaneous ride led to another, bigger ride, and just a few days later he and a couple of friends founded the Good Co. Bike Club. Less than two weeks later, the club was riding through the streets of Brooklyn with 1,500 other cyclists on the first annual Juneteenth: A Freedom Ride. By early 2021, they had even landed a global partnership with Schwinn.
While exercise is important to the group, equally important is the community that Bennett, CEO and founder of Good Co., and his executive team have created: a way for people to ride together and enjoy what the city has to offer, all while connecting with good company. The activity and connections also helped people mentally during a very difficult time, and since then, they’ve been able to give back to the wider community, too.
Bennett shared a bit about Good Co. Bike Club’s journey, how they are changing the face of cycling, the meaningful impact the business has made in the Black community, and how they embody the group’s motto, “We good.”
Everyday Health: Can you tell us about your background and your role with Good Co. Bike Club?
Andrew Bennett: I am the founder of Good Co. Technically, my background is in education. I have a degree in social work, and my master’s is in education. But I specialize in building community.
EH: What inspired you to start Good Co.?
AB: To be honest, people inspired me to push forward and start Good Co. During the pandemic, I wanted to take a bike ride with a group of friends because many of them were going crazy during the lockdown. Things evolved organically and fast. It went from a quickly planned ride with only 17 people to a club with weekly rides. With each ride, the group grew larger. After about a month, I realized the positive impact the rides had on people. I have vivid memories of people coming up to me telling me that Good. Co. changed their lives.
One rider thanked me for planning the rides and said that being out of the house and in a community with other Black riders with good energy was therapeutic. Another rider shared with me that he was going through depression during the pandemic and that Good Co. helped tremendously with his mental health. He also mentioned that the group helped him to meet new people. A lot of folks also thanked me for the positive changes they saw in their bodies because of the increased physical activity.
A rider shared with me that he was going through depression during the pandemic and Good Co. helped tremendously with his mental health.
So, having a safe space was major for many of the riders. I felt the energy and the change these rides were making in their lives. I’m a community builder. So, I had no choice but to continue pushing forward and building community with Good Co., which is really about good company and community. The bike comes secondary.
EH: When you decided to move forward with Good Co., how did you hope to help or impact the community?
AB: I knew that these rides had become a safe space for many Black riders. So, I wanted to continue creating that space for them and other Black riders interested in Good Co.’s social and physical aspects. I also wanted to help some of the local Black and minority-owned restaurants in my community that were negatively affected by the pandemic. When the lockdown lifted, I made sure that our rides made a stop, each time, at one of those bars or restaurants to help give them a little extra business.
It was hard seeing some of my favorite spots in Brooklyn shutting down or being on the verge of closing their doors. The smile on some of the owners’ faces when I would come in with 100 bikers — when at the time they probably hadn’t seen a total of 100 customers all week — was priceless. I also wanted to destigmatize cycling for Black folks and promote health and wellness as a priority.
EH: Can you share more about the shift from bike rides with friends to becoming Good Co.?
AB: Like I said, things moved really fast and came together pretty organically. The first ride was on May 27, 2020, with just my friends and me. In early June, I teamed up with my two close friends, Shari Brown, [now] the chief marketing officer, and Marv Marcel, [now] the chief creative officer, and created an Instagram page.
By the end of June, we created a business plan and did the legwork to make Good Co. an LLC. But as far as funding while building Good Co., we did not receive any external funding. All start-up costs were out-of-pocket. But along the way, we established a lot of partnerships with some great local businesses here in Brooklyn, such as Fulton Bikes and the café Drip BK, and a global partnership with Schwinn.
EH: And in between, you organized your first annual Juneteenth ride, which happened in the midst of national protests. And the ride was huge. How did that come together?
AB: We put Juneteenth: A Freedom Ride together in less than two weeks. The city supported it, and we just took over the road. We started at the Brooklyn Museum and biked to Coney Island and then back to [Brooklyn’s] Fort Greene Park. There were about 1,500 bikers.
Juneteenth was very intentionally not a protest. It was a ride to embody Black joy.
At that time there was a lot of social unrest and protests, and everywhere you looked was a constant reminder of what the world was going through. We needed a time for people to unplug. It was very intentionally not a protest — we encouraged people to bring snacks, speakers, and have a fun ride. It was a ride to embody Black joy.
EH: Did the success and visibility of the Juneteenth ride help you to land the partnership with Schwinn? How did you and your executive board make that happen?
AB: Definitely. Juneteenth helped set it off. Shari actually was instrumental in securing our partnership with Schwinn. After we became an LLC, she reached out to them on LinkedIn and sent them a pitch, and they responded! We started talks with them in late 2020, and the partnership was made official in February 2021. They believed in and wanted to support our vision. Schwinn is amazing. They are a company that truly values diversity. Inclusivity is not just a talking point for them. They put dollars and action behind their commitment.
As part of the partnership, they agreed to give a certain number of bikes away each year to deserving young adults and students in the community. One recipient last year was a part of the Brownsville Recreation Center, in the neighborhood in Brooklyn where I grew up.