Rapha wool jerseys mixed with pinstripes and Gucci handbags at Club Nokia in Los Angeles Friday night as the club hosted the launch of the Bahati Foundation and the Bahati Foundation Professional Cycling Team. As the near-sellout crowd gathered, inspirational quotes from the likes of Jesse Owens and Martin Luther King Jr. rotated on flat panel televisions and the Crenshaw High School choir warmed up on stage.
Meanwhile, Hollywood and Southern California cycling culture mixed in the fourth floor VIP room. The team’s 17 riders stood out in neat, black-on-white three-piece suits — Hilton Clarke wore all black — among the room of dressed-to-impress partygoers. Team manager Steve Owens and foundation CEO Eric Smart mingled and nervously anticipated the introduction of their tandem projects.
Corey Collier, who rejoins the professional ranks with Bahati in 2010 after a season with the amateur Rio Grande Racing Team, was most excited about the launch of the foundation on a night when he saw his name called among the likes of eight-time Australian time trial champion Nathan O’Neill. “Jason (Donald) and I have been talking and we really needed something new, something more, and we’ve found it here with the foundation.”
Smart welcomed the near 1,000-strong crowd just before the Crenshaw High School — Rahsaan’s alma mater — choir and band stole the show with more than 20 minutes of drum corps and step performances. The pumping green, blue and yellow club lights calmed as video montages of Bahati and teammates riding in their new team kits, as well as an inspirational film about hope in urban Los Angeles, played on the video screen atop the stage.
Television commentator Craig Hummer introduced the team, which massed at crowd-level before the stage.
Hummer’s introduction culminated with Bahati, who took the stage and spoke about his beginnings as a member of the band at Crenshaw. Fans screamed their adoration for local hero Bahati as he took the mic. “I had no idea I was going to react this way,” said a visibly emotional Bahati as he stepped away from the lights multiple times to gather his composure. “This is a dream come true.” Bahati promised that the first thing his foundation will do after the launch is to make a truckload of instrument donations he has dreamed about since he played in the Crenshaw band as a teenager.
Bahati then pledged to hold every rider on his team accountable to the foundation’s mission of supporting youth in inner-city and underserved communities through grants, scholarships and cycling outreach programs, empowering youth and providing funding to schools. According to Smart, riders will make school appearances across the country this year, introducing students to all facets of the bicycle racing business, from turning wrenches to managing business affairs.
Foundation legal counsel Jeff Carchidi manned a donation booth in the VIP room and called the night a success, having taken four or five $500 donations (donors at this level received replica team kits) and a number of smaller donations and inquiries. “It’s been a great turnout, especially considering that this has all come together in less than six months.”
Since last fall the organization has begun implementation of youth track cycling program in Los Angeles and hopes to roll out additional programs as the domestic racing season gets underway. According to literature available at the event, the foundation was incorporated in October 2009 and is currently awaiting notification of its approval as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization by the Internal Revenue Service.
The second My Giant bike from Cannondale will go up for auction April 23rd. Check www.bahatifoundation.org for more information.
The Bahati Foundation Professional Cycling Team began its first full team camp Friday. Camp will continue through the week leading up to the San Dimas Stage Race. Stay tuned to VeloNews.com for more from team camp in Agoura Hills, California.