"If no one ever stands up, things can never change"
When we think about those capable of empowering rebels to showcase their talent to the world, good friend of the shop Justin Williams, his brothers Corey and CJ, and cycling team L39ION are the first that come to mind. Founded in 2019, L39ION set its sights on more than just the podium. Built on the foundation of making cycling a more inclusive and equitable space, the team focuses their off-the-course efforts on creating opportunities for others while redefining the public perception of cycling with outreach, community activations, and bringing culture to the space.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with co-founder of L39ION Justin Williams to learn more about his story and how Jordans have played a pivotal role in his approach to the sport.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the cycling community.
My name is Justin Williams, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I'm a first generation American. My family is from Belize, a small Caribbean country in Central America. Cycling is huge in Belize. I was lucky enough to be brought up by very giving people and they instilled in me and my brothers to give back! We have started a team to do just that; to inspire the next generation by telling short stories of representation, make cycling a more inclusive and equitable space by creating opportunities for others, and redefine the public perception of cycling with outreach, community activations, and bringing culture to the space.
A sport rooted in tradition, cycling has historically lacked diversity. As one of the few people of color in the game alongside your brothers Cory and CJ, what made you realize that you needed to rebel against the industry norms to start L39ION?
Cycling in the States felt stuck. I've been racing since I was 12 years old so I've seen so much of what makes the sport beautiful. However, It's still not easy being the only black guy at races and we definitely struggled to find an environment that I felt got our culture. As I got older I really found my footing in the industry and just felt like it was time to move on. That was a crossroads for me of either quitting or starting L39ION with my brothers. Cycling wasn’t moving fast enough so we decided to lead by example.
Growing up in the cycling community, how do you feel others may have overlooked you despite your talents?
I personally felt put into a box, it's unfortunate because you don't know any better when you're a kid trying to fit into a space you don't feel represented in, no one with any say looks like you. It's easy to lose yourself and stop believing in your dreams after a while. People have told us to our face "this can't be the Williams show" even though that meant championships and wins. We've been not sent to events based on not being liked, told to try other sports, and been made to think we are lucky to just be on teams. People till this day try to downplay our success.
There’s no doubt yourself and L39ION present a unique swagger. You’ve been seen wearing countless Jordans off the course - what does the Jordan 1 mean to you both in sport and life?
MJ was always an example of excellence, watching him as a kid changed what I thought was possible. Seeing the story of how he got to Nike and all the pressure he had to live up to always inspires me to do more. It's special wearing a set of 1's and knowing the history and controversy of doing things differently. We are doing things differently so it resonates. When I show up to a race it's about looking good, feeling good, and changing the game. That's what Mike did!
When we think about Michael Jordan and the infamous “Banned” Jordan 1 in 1985, where do you see yourself in Jordan’s mindset of never backing down?
If no one ever stands up, things can never change. It was time for something different and Mike understood who he was to his sport and stood his ground. It's beautiful watching someone come along capable of generating so much leverage the top had to listen. It's more impressive watching them use that leverage to change everything for everyone, not just themselves. What we are building is bigger than us so we can never back down.