Welcoming A New Season
Cheryl Morgan is in her kitchen wrapping cookies. Each one is shaped like a buffalo.
“They are brown sugar cinnamon, hand-painted buffaloes,” she says.
Morgan isn’t just a baker, she’s also the founder and secretary of the Buffalo Soldiers San Jose Motorcycle Chapter.
Morgan first started riding on the back of bikes over 30 years ago, now she rides solo. And although baking cookies doesn’t really go with her biker image, she says she’s okay with that.
"Everyone has this image of a hardcore female biker who's more male-oriented than female-oriented and ... bikers don't bake cookies," she says with a laugh.
It’s the evening before a highly anticipated meetup. Members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club will ride in from all over Northern California to San Jose for the start of the riding season.
"Feel how heavy the jackets are,” says Haymon Jahi. He’s Cheryl Morgan’s partner, and the president of the San Jose Chapter. He shows off the patches on his leather motorcycle jacket. The jacket is the weight of a small human body and looks like the armor of a rhinoceros. Jahi points out the patches sewn on front.
"I'm a member of the National Brotherhood of Skiers,” he says. “I wear dreads; I'm definitely an advocate of Bob Marley. You kind of put your identity on the front."
But the most important symbol is on the back of his jacket: It’s a blue and yellow emblem of a brown-skinned soldier carrying a sword. A Buffalo Soldier from the late 1800s. A name that’s said to have been given to the black cavalries by Native Americans who thought the black soldiers’ hair resembled the woolly texture of a buffalo’s hide. For the bikers, it’s a name that carries a lot of pride.
"We are representing a legacy of a group of men that fought and died for this country," says Jahi. It’s a story mixed with pride and pain. In the post- Civil War era, becoming a Buffalo soldier was a way out of poverty. Men were paid $13 a month and given meals, but it was just after the Indian Wars and there were battles that ended in deaths of Native Americans. Jahi says he knows this history and it relates to his own.
“When you are in the military you are taught to just take orders,” he says. “I had never even seen a Vietnamese, but by the time I came out of basic training I was taught what they might look like, what I had to shoot at, and they were killing Americans. You had to kill them back. That is what military does to you in training; they brainwash you to react to a command, and that’s the same thing that happened with the Buffalo Soldiers.”
It’s early Saturday morning, the day of the ride. The couple puts on their leather jackets, helmets, and leather pants. Jahi backs his black Harley out of the garage, Morgan follows on her purple Suzuki.
They ride to Lillie Mae’s House of Chicken and Waffles in San Jose where more than 50 bikers pull into the open parking lot. Today they’ve ridden in from Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, and beyond, all to have their bikes blessed.
The Rev. Jeff Moore, wearing a long gold robe, does the honors, pronouncing "The spirit of God is in the wheels of the bikes that we ride." Then he presses anointing oil on the forehead of a biker nicknamed Squirt.
“Squirt we ask that he guides you and loves you,” says Rev. Moore.
The bikers pride themselves on not being your average motorcycle club. Some bike clubs don’t allow women, only let members drive Harleys, or have strict rules about who can join, but not this club.
"The Buffalo Soldiers is multi-racial, multi-gender, and multi-bike," says Mark Nielsen, whose ride name is Wolfgard.
Wolfgard is more than six feet tall, wears a leather sleeveless vest, and has thick arms full of tattoos. He says being a white member of a mostly black bike club is actually the place where he's felt most at home.
"The brothers like to joke around — you can't be thin-skinned," he says. "But it is all in love — it's 24/7 love."
Riding isn’t just about the pleasure of the open road. Local chapters are gearing up for the season. Some will deliver scholarships on their bikes; other chapters will be re-tracing routes of the original Buffalo Soldiers.
And if their bikes aren’t loud enough, they make sure their voices are. Chants fill the parking lot: "Buffalo! Soldiers!"
"It's what? It's all good!"