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Joi and Elliot Jackson sitting together inside

Paydirt Profile: Grow Cycling Foundation

Joi and Elliot Jackson sitting together inside

Paydirt Profile: Grow Cycling Foundation

Joi Jackson Is The Mother Of Invention

March 09 — 2021 | Santa Cruz, California

Grow Cycling was founded to create opportunities to make cycling more inclusive. For founder Eliot Jackson, necessity was the mother of invention because he saw what should be done but didn’t see it being done yet. It was the influence of Eliot's mother, Joi, that galvanized his intention into actions. Her business experience and wisdom provided Eliot with the know-how and inspiration to formally establish Grow Cycling as a non-profit and establish an actionable plan. 

Joi is also the president of Grow Cycling and is helping Eliot with the day to day work that is going into building the foundation. Joi will hate us for listing off all her big stats here, but her professional experience runs from being the former owner of an investment banking firm to executive-level nonprofit experience at several organizations including Glaser Pediatric AIDS, Magic Johnson Foundation, and AAUW. She also led targeted communication initiatives for the Obama presidential campaign. She’s a woman from whom we can all learn from so when we reached out to Eliot to do a story on Grow Cycling it made sense to let Joi tell the story of her background, mindset, and the next project - a community hub pumptrack in Los Angeles, CA.

Joi and Elliot Jackson standing together outside

As we’ve just mentioned, your past professional experience is pretty impressive. What’s the thing that you’re most proud of and why?

Thank you for your kind words. My sons were very little boys when I decided I didn’t just want to have a career as an investment advisor, I wanted to own my own investment bank. No one thought I could do it. But I knew I could! Eliot and his brother, Andrew, were old enough to remember watching me work as smart and as hard as I could: taking phone meetings at playgrounds and skate parks, using public library Storytime hour to pour over financial tomes, creating investment seminar flyers at our local print shop along with their homemade Halloween costumes. Because they closely watched me achieve my biggest dream, they know for sure if I could do that, then (because they are both so much smarter than I’ll ever be!) they can do anything they put their minds to and work hard to achieve. I am, by far, most proud of that lesson and shared experience.

What are you most looking forward to accomplishing in the future with Grow Cycling?

I look forward to accelerating the innovation and vision of Grow Cycling. Building a successful and sustainable educational and opportunity hub so that everyone who wants to learn and participate feels authentically welcome to thrive under the expansive tent of the cycling industry. I am beyond excited to help the industry and community grow and to see all those happy kids riding on the Grow Cycling pumptrack for the first time!

Grow Cycling’s main initiative is about building a “community hub” where people feel included. What was your own community hub growing up? And how did it make you feel included?

Our family is from Norman, a small college town in Oklahoma. I don’t know how the community has evolved, but back then, between the students and faculty, about a quarter or so of the population included people from different cultures, often speaking different languages. My community hub was structured around keeping me engaged in church, school and camp activities. Public service was considered daily exercise so it wasn’t about anyone making me feel included as much as it was about me watching and learning how to make others feel included. Learning to say ‘hello’ in as many languages as we could master and welcoming people from France, the Caribbean, Iran, Japan, Mali, Mexico, England, Native lands and more at our dinner table as well as regularly accepting invitations to enjoy family dinners and gatherings at their homes in return. Diversity is measured by numbers. Inclusivity is a choice that you make over and over and over and over.

Grow Cycling is also about empowering underrepresented people for careers in the cycling industry. What and/or who empowered you to do all that you’ve done in your professional life?

Mentoring young, talented visionaries is a priority for me because I was blessed with such wonderful mentors throughout my life. I had a few teachers who purposely encouraged rather than restrained my outsized imagination and curiosity; corporate managers who provided valuable access to knowledge, experiences and leadership beyond my entry and junior-level jobs; the chief strategist of an international investment bank who answered my incessant questions on how best to build my own; a political strategist who provided towering leadership for me to effectively organize teams and communicate nationally with voters to help get an inspiring American president elected; a business partner who risked everything because he believed in my vision of building greatness. All of my mentors played vital roles in empowering and elevating the trajectory of my professional life. Despite the fact that I was a different gender and color, they were powerful advocates for me to succeed, and that gave lift to my wings.

What tactics, methods, or insights did you use to overcome cultures of exclusivity and racism in your life, both professional and personal?

I had the good fortune of being born with phenomenal grandmothers who instilled in me empowering confidence and an abundance of aptitudes, so when I was exposed to persons or situations seeking to diminish or damage me because I was female or black or both, their prejudices, while hurtful, did not summarily define me or my life story. Some portion of that, as we’ve seen through far too many situations which predicated the #MeToo movement and last summer’s racial equity protests, was also just plain luck being on my side. No matter how old I get, experiencing sexism and racism never gets easier and it shouldn’t. People and institutions that want to enforce bigoted exclusion will seek and find pathways to do so. It’s up to the rest of us, individually and collectively, to mitigate and eliminate normalcy and acceptance of it. The world of earned equity that my grandmothers dreamt of hasn’t fully materialized for so many people, but we move closer every generation. What I know for sure is that it is absolutely possible to flourish together on this beautiful planet and that inspires me to continue working to help those who may feel left out or left behind.

How’d you end up living in downtown LA and what do you like most about it?

I never in my wildest dreams thought I would live in downtown LA, but I adore it! I live in Bunker Hill so I can spontaneously skip across the street and do all kinds of things that I love every week: the symphony, opera, theater, and the museums. I never have to drive and can even take the subway to the beach. People love the story of how I ended up here so I will share it. I actually saw my apartment from afar many years ago on a walking tour. I ended my tour at Disney Hall gardens while enjoying a pint of my favorite ice cream. I became fixated on this one lovely balconied apartment with incredible views and thought to myself: I have zero interest in living downtown, but if I ever did, that is where I would live.

When I decided to move back to California, the apartment popped into my mind so I googled the location and the apartment was for sale. Pure serendipity! I now live in the exact apartment I had daydreamed about all those years ago. Sometimes, I look over at Disney Hall garden from my enchanting balcony - I can see the landing where I stood that day - making a choice I never thought would matter, and marvel at manifesting such joy in my life.

Joi Jackson leaning against railing outside

You’ve been instrumental in getting the location for the pumptrack secured in Los Angeles. Why is this the best spot for the pumptrack? And what’s been the hardest part of this process? What’s been the best part?

Los Angeles is ideal for the Grow Cycling pumptrack because the year round climate for cycling is ideal and it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world. Los Angeles has less access for children to ride safely due to record numbers of auto-to-cyclist fatalities and the strict enforcement of ‘No Cycling’ rules throughout the City. Children need safer access to ride and develop skills to participate in cycling opportunities. 

Grow Cycling is building the very first public pumptrack in Los Angeles – that statement tells you how hard this endeavor is - organizations and companies have tried before but no one has gotten it done. The best part is that we are, in record time by all accounts, successfully navigating the political process and doing so throughout a pandemic. Advancing the totality of this mission has required a combination of super skills and sometimes what felt like superpowers to champion something so impactful for the cycling community.

What advice would you give to parents of aspiring cyclists from marginalized communities? 

Eliot didn’t come up in the cycling circuit and had only raced five or so times when we arrived at his first World Cup race. We stepped off the plane in Italy with one bike and a multitool. We started at zero – zero preparation, zero sponsor, zero support, zero understanding about what it took to race at that level, he had zero stamps on his passport before then – and we grew from there. Just start wherever you are, no matter how little you have, and grow step by step to whatever level your cyclist is committed to going. Do your homework, learn everything about the sport that you can, watch videos and races, listen to podcasts, read Pinkbike. Talk to parents and cyclists at tracks, trails and races who are receptive to sharing knowledge and information. Seek out someone who may be a step or two above your cyclist’s level for advice to avoid competitive feelings.

Being the first to reach out can be uncomfortable, but just do it. It was at that first race in Val di Sole that Eliot and Greg Minnaar met: We saw Greg sitting all alone in the tunnel, I suggested Eliot go and talk to him because he had on a racing outfit, was far from home and looked, at least to my mom’s eye, very lonely with no friends whatsoever. After several minutes, Eliot brought Greg over to introduce me and he was just the most charming kid ever! All these years later, he sends me holiday greetings and even reached out to check on how I was feeling during the George Floyd protests. We’ve traveled to South Africa and I’ve met his absolutely amazing family. These two kids, who from the outside seemed to have little in common – one from America, the other from South Africa; one just beginning, the other already a multi-title World Champion – became lifelong friends because they took the briefest of moments to stop and say ‘Hello’ and to ask each other ‘How’s it going?’ then be interested in listening to each other’s answer.

Not everyone who says ‘hello’ is going to end up like Eliot and Greg. I share this story because this is what helping someone feel like they belong looks like. I didn’t know or care who Greg was, I just felt he could use a kind word and Eliot reached out to provide one, which Greg reciprocated with the same openness and kindness. Amado, Bryn and Jill, were others who I remember at the first couple of races who were whole-heartedly welcoming to us. Be open to good things happening and participate in the conversation. Most of all, be present as a positive source of support for your cyclist and have fun together!

Eliot has accomplished a lot in his career already… and he’s not stopping. What are you most proud of him for?

I haven’t told this story outside of our close friends and family before, but it is classic Eliot and helps to answer your question. One morning on the way to school Eliot handed me a stack of papers and asked me to fax it to a number he had scrawled on the top page when I got to my office. It was computer programming data for a programming contest problem he had solved. I faxed it and forgot about it. Weeks later, I got a call from someone at Microsoft who wanted to talk to Eliot about a job. I went into Mom Mode. The manager explained that Eliot had faxed them a computer programming model and he was offering a real job based on the information Eliot submitted. I asked if he could do this job after school, but no, the manager said he would have to move to Washington State. It was then I realized the guy had no idea that Eliot was only nine years old and I wasn’t going to allow him to move anywhere. Though I talked with Eliot after school that day about the potential hazards of providing his name and number to strangers, I let him know that taking initiative to create the life he wants for himself was a good thing. He’s always had giant-sized dreams and has been willing to start at the bottom and work exceptionally hard to achieve his goals. He leaves me in a state of wonderment all the time, and you’re right, who knows where his ideas and ambitions will ultimately lead him after he fully retires from racing. I am most proud that every day I wake up, I get to be Eliot Jackson’s mom. It’s the best job I’ll ever have.

Joi Jackson and her two sons in their house
Joi Jackson and her two sons in their house