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Bahati Foundation: Helping kids to a better life

The Bahati Foundation is impacting lives for the better through cycling.

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People often ask: What does the Bahati Foundation actually do? What are its successes or failures? The answers to those questions originate in the foundation’s formal vision statement: “Our vision is to expose under-represented youth to cycling and assist them in maintaining active participation as the next generation of cyclists by nurturing and encouraging alternative mobility.”

To get more detailed answers, we asked the foundation’s executive director Rashid Bahati and his son, the foundation chairman Rahsaan Bahati, for some examples of kids who have come through their programs and found success in life.

This is the final part of a series on the Bahati Foundation:

Rahsaan immediately came up with “a kid the same age as me, Kenny Burgess, that I met at the high school I went to in Los Angeles. I met him in class after he saw a small little article on me in the LA Times sports section after I went to the Pan-American Games with the U.S. team. After reading the article about me he went absolutely crazy, saying, ‘I want to do what you do.’ He ended up racing and I helped him join a program that got him into college, at Indiana University; he went on to do great things. He lives in Georgia now, has a family, has a great career, and of the three or four people in our circle he was the one with the least support coming from home. So, when people blow back on Kenny, they say how proud they are of him. He overcame a lot.”

Rashid recalled other young people that were helped by the foundation and went on to major achievements. “We had a young man in 2016 or ’17, Keyshawn Blackstone, who was greatly overweight before coming to us. He lost a bunch of weight, was cycling everywhere, doing a lot of good stuff, and we were able to get him a major scholarship through one of our supporters, to help in school. He was a high achiever and cycling did a lot for his life. It really turned him around.”

Rashid then gave details of a project that the Bahati Foundation implemented in 2022: “It was a program that was hugely successful. We took five young people from inner cities to Steamboat [Springs, Colorado], for the SBT GRVL race. I was there as Rahsaan couldn’t make it. That was very, very rewarding. We sponsored the whole thing, so it was on us to provide the transportation, make sure they had the kit, and we had Giant provide them gravel bikes. I rented a big vehicle, picked them up at the airport in Steamboat, and worked support. This was one of our crowning achievements—it can be reviewed on Outside TV.”

All five of those riders were in their early to mid teens. Two Black youths from California, riding their first gravel races, competed in the under-18 men’s event over the so-called black course of 142 miles and 9,200 feet of climbing. Yazeed Albadarin, from Orange County, finished the eight-plus-hour race in first place while Nic Alonso, from the Koreatown neighborhood of LA, placed third. On the women’s side, Latino mountain biker Sarah Vargas from Rancho Palos Verdes, California, won the under-18 title on the red course over 60 miles and 3,600 feet of climbing, while African American road racers Maize Wimbush and Azyra Franklin from Maryland both finished in the top 15. Vargas summed up the riders’ experience, saying, “I hope by riding SBT more girls and kids in the sport will see that anything is possible, and on two wheels you can go on amazing adventures.”

Sarah Vargas from Rancho Palos Verdes, California, won the under-18 title on the red course over 60 miles and 3,600 feet of climbing.

Getting the chance to race at such a young age was something that helped in Rahsaan’s development, as it did with many of the students that have passed through the Bahati Foundation. “There’s multiple kids that I’ve either coached or mentored, or they ran through our program, that are now racing at a high level,” Rahsaan said. “One is Nigel De Sota, who races for the Novo Nordisk Development Team. There’s Ama Nsek, who’s getting ready to graduate from Milligan University, who’s a multi-time national collegiate and amateur champion—he raced for Best Buddies last year. These guys came up through us sponsoring them with equipment, race entries, putting them on our team and giving them bikes, stuff like that.”

Perhaps the best example of a Black kid from an inner-city ’hood is Rahsaan himself. He was 11 when he first got on a racing bike, a single-speed track bike, at the indoor velodrome in Carson, not far from his Compton home. “Yeah. That’s where it all started,” Rahsaan said. “My first coach was Don Denagale, who is still around; he’s a member of the Major Taylor Cycling Club. He was also my Pop Warner football coach, the first organized sport I played. My first real coach was a guy named Tim Roach, who took me from about 14 to 17 years old… and then I went with Mark Whitehead [the Olympian who died in 2011 at age 50]. I didn’t have a lot of coaches after Mark.”

Talking about Whitehead in 2013, Rahsaan said, “In the past, when I was missing ‘it,’ I could pick up the phone and call coach. We would set up a four- to seven-week plan to motor pace at the San Diego velodrome. I knew it would be a big undertaking driving to SD from LA and driving back home late after the workout, but it never failed. In four to five weeks, I had the closing speed I was looking for, the motivation and intensity I needed.”

Motivation and intensity were hallmarks of Rahsaan Bahati, the racer, on both track and road. They are also attributes that he has applied to his work for the foundation. Looking back at his accomplishments, we asked him, after the challenges he faced growing up, whether cycling saved him and made his life a lot, lot better. “Yeah. I think it definitely gave me a different journey through life,” he replied. “It hasn’t been all, you know, glitter and gold. But it’s been great, the things that I’ve done, being able to travel, meet some incredible people—and without cycling I definitely wouldn’t be talking with you right now, giving my opinion about the sport and where things lay. And also the foundation…. Without the sport we wouldn’t be giving out 200 bikes…and I’m not even sure if I would have met my wife. We’ve been married almost 18 years now, with three kids. So, if you look at all those small little things, you say ‘What if?’ I wouldn’t change it. I wish we made more money but given the effort that we put out and calling ourselves professionals—but I guess it’s not all about the money. Most cyclists have really good health from riding, and I think you would take that over any amount of money. Your health….”

Rahsaan then gave an example of how success in cycling has led to other unexpected accomplishments. A few months ago, during a Bobby & Jens podcast, he revealed that he owned a place in Arkansas. How did that come about? “It’s basically because of a guy named Ryan McFarland, who started Strider bikes,” Rahsaan said. “He wanted me to go out there and help deliver bikes to some of the schools. I actually didn’t want to go, because the list of mountain bikers going was the best of the best. I was just the lone road rider who’d never jumped, didn’t know how to jump, who’d never done a trick on a mountain bike. I ended up going anyhow, with Brian Lopes, and fell in love with mountain biking. That was two years ago.

“When I got home, I told my wife right away, ‘Man, this is a place where we should invest. We should buy a property in this little town called Bentonville.’ Of course, I was apprehensive…but we did it anyway. Yes, we use it sometimes, but it is an investment, and for me, a cyclist, it is a lot of fun to go there, and just be around bikes and be able to ride as much as you want. Also, I cannot lie, it makes me feel good that we’ve made our first investment property. So, when I go see it, it just shows what’s possible.”

Another accomplishment, of course, is helping to raise three children with his wife Hazel, who works in human relations. Clearly proud of his daughters’ accomplishments, Rahsaan said, “The youngest is 14 and she dabbles in volleyball, softball, soccer…and one thing I like about her is she gets motivated to exercise, she’ll go to the gym on her own or work out at home. The 16-year-old is a junior at high school and she runs track, more middle-distance. And our oldest daughter is away at college [at George Fox University, a small Christian college outside of Portland] in her second year, and she’s a 100-meter hurdler.”

Having such an athletic family is something to be proud of, but as Rahsaan said before, his life hasn’t been all “glitter and gold.” Until eight months ago he was working for online fitness platform Zwift as a social impact manager at its Long Beach headquarters. “Unfortunately, I was part of the layoffs they had in May. I was working on Tuesday and laid off on Wednesday. And so I haven’t really recovered since then. I’ve had some contract, nontaxable work but it’s not consistent. It’s been a little tough.”

Regarding his racing career, Rahsaan said, “I dabbled a little bit this past summer after losing my job at Zwift. I just created time to ride my bike a little bit more, and just figured what the heck: I was in New Mexico, nationals is close by, so I trained for that and had a really good summer racing. It was fun. But, no, I’m just trying to figure out what the next opportunity is. I definitely need to get back to work somehow, so I’ve spent a lot of time sitting at my desk trying to figure how to crack that nut, because I still have a family to support and it’s not easy right now with the way things are going with our economy.”

As for the Bahati Foundation, which he runs with his dad and sister, we asked him if he sees it getting any bigger? “I sure hope so,” he replied. “Between my wife and I, we have three kids, and I have five sisters and a brother, and four of them have children. So, in a perfect world, they can grow up and learn the process of philanthropy and give back and have a soft spot in their heart for helping people. In fact, they could run the foundation one day. If not, that’s fine too.”

Our final question for Rahsaan was, other than winning the lottery, how would it be possible to get more companies to fund the foundation? He felt that it was important to give executives greater awareness of what life is really like for disadvantaged kids in inner cities. “When a kid is not eating, or their parents don’t have transportation, or they can’t get to an afterschool program, that doesn’t really hit home for them,” he said, referring to company executives. “It sounds pretty easy to change—we’ll catch the bus, we’ll get a car…whatever. Well, there’s a lot of hurdles between wanting and making all that happen. I just think they’ve got to roll their sleeves up, and actually come, feel it and see it, and put themselves in other people’s shoes.”

Learn more about the Bahati Foundation.

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