Three weeks ago, on May 29, Milwaukee rapper and community advocate WebsterX (birth name Sam Ahmed) was focusing on his follow-up to his 2017 album "Daymares."
"It was hot as hell at Reservoir Park. We had just finished shooting the cover art, and then we just saw this giant fleet of cars. That was my first time seeing a car protest in my entire life. At that point, I knew this is beyond just George Floyd," WebsterX says.
Though WebsterX doesn’t consider himself an activist, he says he feels "the need to amplify things that need to be amplified." So, that’s just what he set out to do. He attended protest after protest and organized a Black is Beautiful t-shirt sale on his website, where 100 percent of the proceeds went to local Milwaukee organizations.
In that spirit, he began organizing the Black is Beautiful ride, a protest on wheels that will take to the streets this Sunday, June 21. The ride is 15 miles long and will start at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 21, at Reservoir Park before ending in Gordon Park at 4 p.m.
The idea came to the rapper and activist after some encouragement from Enrique "Mag" Rodriguez and inspiration from a protest flyer he saw from Los Angeles. From there, he reached out to Steve Roche, founder of the Milwaukee Underwear Bike Ride, who was also in the midst of trying to put something together, and the two decided to collaborate on the upcoming event. Others filtered in and further filled out the scope of the protest, like Rodriguez, Kaitlynn Elizabeth and public figures and artists that will lead the protest including Darius Smith, Lex Allen and Zed Kenzo.
WebsterX wants the protest "to be like a community exhale, because we’ve been through so much," to serve as a break from all the marching without taking a break from the mission of ending injustice and inequality. Plus, he also just loves biking, noting that it helped him get through the isolation of lockdown and that it’s important for physical health and mental health.
"Biking has really resonated with me man," he says. "It’s just a magical piece of equipment. Like two wheels and f*cking frame and you’re good, and you can go anywhere."
WebsterX says that he loves the recent wave of protests that have been sweeping across the country.
"It’s a long-overdue effort," he notes. "Racism is a well-oiled machine, and it’s a deeper thing than just people saying, ‘I hate black people.' I’ve been profiled before but not as much as others because I can code-switch. I can ‘speak like a white person,’ and that’s gotten me out of things before."
Even so, WebsterX is still no stranger to racism and tense encounters with the police. He recalls one time, driving back from the South By Southwest music festival in Austin after performing with several friends and his then-girlfriend, when he was pulled over by police in Texas. As the officer approached the car, he first told them to exit the vehicle, before reversing the statement when he reached the window, saying, "Make one more move, and there will be bodies on the ground," according to WebsterX.
WebsterX says he wants to see a diverse group of people show up for the Black is Beautiful ride this Sunday. "I just wanna see Milwaukee without the redlining," he notes.
After the protest ride on Sunday, there will be an afterparty celebration from 4-8 p.m. with food and live music. The Black is Beautiful t-shirts are available on WebsterX’s website and will also be given out at Reservoir Park from noon to 2 p.m. For more information, visit the ride's Facebook event page.