When discussing the “why” behind their entrepreneurial trajectory, Allyson McCalla, Michael Silva, and Vennicia Kingston describe a similar impetus: the desire to see more people who look like them enter the spaces they love.
McCalla is the director of operations of Bike Newport and in 2019, added “shero” to her list of titles when she started a local chapter of Black Girls Do Bike, a national organization that advocates for encouraging Black women and girls to ride bicycles. “I ride a bike frequently in Newport and rarely saw anyone riding who looked like me,” she explains. “I just saw a lot of white men in Spandex.”
McCalla first encountered Black Girls Do Bike when she attended 2019’s National Bike Summit held in Virginia as a Bike Newport representative. “I didn’t see many people of color at the summit, but became inspired when I joined the Black Girls Do Bike workshop.”
When she returned to Rhode Island, McCalla took a measured approach to her chapter’s growth. She became a league-certified instructor to gain the skills and tools needed to lead safe group rides. Then she went out into the community to have conversations about barriers to access. “A lot of individuals aren’t riding because they don’t feel safe with the infrastructure currently in place; they want barriers from cars. Some people rode bikes as children, but lost their confidence as adults for many different reasons. Others don’t have the means to get a bike,” says McCalla.
Bike Newport tackles many of these obstacles by developing programs that provide equitable transportation and discussing infrastructure improvements and transportation bills with government officials. But helping Black women and girls feel welcome on bike paths is where Black Girls Do Bike does its best work.
“Our chapter started with two people and now we have almost 400 members on our Facebook group,” McCalla says. “Our first ride was in spring 2021 and more people are becoming familiar with us. Now I have a large group of individuals who feel confident on bikes and are ready to ride this spring.”
The group is open to Black women and girls of all ages – typically ranging from 20s to 70s – with rides taking place across the state. “The range of ability is from avid cyclists to someone concerned about riding a couple of miles. I ride with the intent to make sure everyone feels safe and is comfortable,” says McCalla. But the thing that thrills her most about the chapter is the community that’s developed organically. “I think it’s nice when our group of women get together. Everyone is so upbeat, outgoing, friendly, and inspiring. This is a space where women can build friendships with people they wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
In Pawtucket, Michael Silva is creating his own space with booth., an open multimedia space he owns with his wife, Miellette McFarlane, and their business partner, Tatiana Baena. Silva and McFarlane also own BĀS, a cocktail business, and McFarlane and Baena run a financial literacy group for women called The Money Club. “When we built booth., we wanted to have our own space where we could conduct events without having to ask for permission,” Silva explains. “But part of our mission is also to help people get their projects off the ground by giving space to those who really need it.”
The 1,100-square-foot minimalist, modern space is industrial in feel and open enough that it can take on any style imaginable. “People have completely transformed this space,” says Silva, explaining that booth. has been host to multimedia art shows, cocktail classes, dance nights, and pop-up retail shops. And because of Silva’s cocktail and catering business, anyone who uses the space has access to food and drink services. “We’re not doing this to get rich, but to build a community,” he explains.
Though open to anyone, booth. specifically serves women and people of color. “Our business is women and minority owned, so we want to amplify those voices,” says Silva. “These are the folks who have stories to tell, but encounter more barriers to access than others. We want to provide those people with opportunities to have their voices heard.”
Vennicia Kingston, owner of Eagle Eye Construction LLC and co-chair of the Rhode Island Women’s Council, is no stranger to having to struggle to make her voice heard. Her entire career has been in the white male-dominated construction industry, and when her eyes were fully opened to how few women are in leadership roles in that space, she decided to make a change. “My career was aging rather than growing,” Kingston explains. “I wasn’t going anywhere.” So she looked to where she was needed and decided to be an example. “My goal is to provide opportunities for women and minorities, and by starting a business, I could provide those opportunities.”
Beyond creating high-paying union work, she’s an advocate for women working in the trades, and that’s where her work on the Rhode Island Women’s Council comes in. “People with non-male bodies face hazards on construction sites,” she says. “Safety gear was designed for men’s bodies, and if your harness doesn’t fit or your vest is too big or your gloves fall off, not only does it slow your productivity, it can be a safety hazard. This sounds like something we should have dealt with in the ‘60s, but we’re still dealing with it today.”
In addition to outfitting female bodies with proper safety equipment, Kingston serves as a lifeline. “If women run into problems on a construction site, like hazing or even lack of safe restroom facilities, they don’t always want to talk to the men in charge about the issues they’re facing,” she says. “I’m there to serve as a source of support for them.”
A personal mission for Kingston is helping mothers, particularly those who rely on state care, transition into the workforce after spending months and years caring for small children, explaining, “I want to help mothers earn more than a living wage and receive retirement opportunities.” Part of making that transition sustainable is addressing childcare needs because the day starts early on a construction site. “Boston and New York are doing a lot of great work on this issue,” Kingston says, describing the research advocates are conducting in Rhode Island. “One idea that’s really piqued people’s interest here is developing union-run childcare facilities for union workers.”
Kingston believes that young women and mothers need to be made aware of their options early and regularly engages in youth advocacy work. “The trades are a good alternative to college, and the education system should put them back in schools so students know they’re an option,” she says. “And you can be a supervisor, a foreman, an architect, an entrepreneur. You don’t have to just dig the holes.”
Kingston describes with pride a young mother she’s currently mentoring and envisions working with more young women like her in the future: “Being able to hand her a union check will be a great feeling. I’m looking forward to continuing to help her grow.”
Black Girls Do Bike
Facebook: Black Girls Do Bike Newport
Eagle Eye Construction LLC
Rhode Island Women’s Council
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