As I swung open the door to the frosty Bulgarini Gelato in Altadena, an immediate smile told me it was her. Jamila Gaskins, a woman of great vision and aspirations, and I were to have a bit of gelato on this gloriously hot Southern California day. We opted to sit outside to have our conversation, forcing ourselves to sip melted gelato from our tiny plastic spoons as if it were a dessert soup.
If there’s one thing about women, and women cyclists even more so, it’s the willingness to help one another. Jamila, an independent film producer who moved to Los Angeles in 2004, is one such woman. Jamila conceptualized Project 1, which is a film about her upcoming 12,000 mile cycling tour of the U.S. Jamila will ride in a giant circle, from Los Angeles, through the South, up the coast and back West along the North before dropping from Washington back to L.A. During this ride, Jamila will take on the additional task of educating, inspiring and empowering young women, African-American in particular, to gain control of their lives and conquer the tragedy of young women and the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Until she ran a marathon in honor of her HIV positive Uncle in 2005, Jamila knew little about HIV and AIDS. Having a Midwestern “story-book childhood”, discussions never touched on the disease which seemingly only affected homosexual males.
“I was curious about figuring out who was affected,” Jamila explains. The reality, Jamila found, was vastly different from public perception: women are largely affected, and infected, with HIV.” And the core of the problem was not residual effects of the sexual revolution. “The party line was the condoms and monogamy,” she says, but a deeper, and more difficult problem was at the core: “the complexities of what it means to be human and dealing with life.”
As it turns out, most young women are infected by partners who are recreational drug users. A young woman may never inject drugs into her veins or partake in promiscuity, but simply succumbing to the need for validation through abusive relationships. Young women, Jamila says, have “body issues and are looking for reinforcement, she is looking for validation for who she is.”
Jamila paused, her face smiling, as a young boy licking a giant blue ice cream cone laughed with his blue mouth and face. She laughed along. It is apparent even after only a few minutes with Jamila that she is genuine with concern, love and kindness for humanity, and I don’t wonder about her motivation. It is pure, and it is to help people.
We turn serious again.
Astounding numbers jolted Jamila to the core: HIV is the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 25-34, the 5th leading cause of death in all women 35-44 and the 6th leading cause of death for women ages 25-34. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006)
This knowledge led Jamila to make a charge, to make a change. To show young women that there is a life outside of their world, and to empower them to feel better about themselves and make changes in their lives. Inspired by her participation in the AIDS Lifecycle 2009, a cycling fundraiser from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Jamila chose the bicycle as her vehicle for change.
“I’ve been cycling all my life,” says Jamila. “It’s something I’ve always done. It’s always been there.” Jill Gass of RAAM fame helped Jamila purchase her first bike, a Giant OCR 3W from Bike Barn in Santa Monica. Jamila sold that bike to a college student, and now rides a Trek Postal Service team bike.
Project 1, a 12,000 mile bike ride, will make stops in major cities where women are affected by HIV and AIDS. Stops will include Health Fairs for women, getting to know the areas where the population of affected women live, and spending time in clinics, women’s shelters and other community areas where she can bring knowledge and education to the people. Project 1 also includes cycling fundraisers to rally the Nation around the empowering cause.
Beyond HIV and AIDS, Jamila’s program will serve to empower women, and inspire them to do big things. Stay tuned to mtbchick.com as we continue to follow Jamila on her journey, with more stories and events.
If you are interested in being a part of Project 1, Jamila says, “get in where you fit in”!
As we part, it is clear that something big is happening, and I am so happy to have come in contact with this vision, and this incredible woman.
Follow Jamila on Twitter: @Project1Movie
Project 1 the Movie website
Project 1 officially kicks off this Saturday, August 6 at 2:00pm with a fundraiser screening of “Ride the Divide”. Tickets are available here.
About the Film Screening:
Project 1: Your Voice, Your Choice
Downtown Independent Theater
Los Angeles, CA
PROJECT 1 TO HOST A FILM EVENT FEATURING RIDE THE DIVIDE
The Event includes a Silent Auction and Special Guest Speaker Mary Collier Participates in
Post Film Discussion
In January 2013, Jamila K. Gaskins will ride her bike 12,000 miles across the country to areas most affected with HIV and AIDS in America, to raise awareness of HIV prevention and women. This expedition is titled Project 1, and will involve Gaskins and a film crew documenting her entire journey. On August 6, 2011, she will host a screening of Ride the Divide at the Downtown Independent to raise money for this project. Ride the Divide is testament to riding with a purpose and will be followed by a discussion with expert cyclist Mary Collier.
The event is from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., tickets are $20, and will also host a silent auction.
The acclaimed film, Ride the Divide, is an award-winning feature film about the world’s toughest mountain bike race, which traverses over 2700 miles along the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. The film weaves the story of three characters’ experiences with immense mountain beauty and small-town culture as they attempt to pedal from Banff, Canada to a small, dusty crossing on the Mexican border. Special guest speaker for the afternoon is Mary Collier, the first woman to race and finish the intense 2700 mile race on the Continental Divide.
August 6, 2011
251 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
2 p.m. 6 p.m.