As more women than ever take up the sport of motorcycling, I want to take a minute to remember an amazing woman, fellow biker and friend who died this past year.
SJ Harris was amazing—the first professional female African-American road racer who just naturally built bridges across cultures and race, within the sports world and beyond.
I met SJ exactly a year ago when she showed up for a Modern Moto Magazine photoshoot I was doing. We started talking and didn’t really stop; over the next few months we’d talk, playing around with ideas for another shoot.
I never did do that next photoshoot; life has a way of intruding. SJ called me the first week of this past August and said we should get together that day, because, you know, life has a way of intruding. We got together for a few hours, talked bikes, plans. She was so excited to be doing her first motorcycle stunt gig, as the stuntwoman for the lead actress on a major film! The following Monday morning she died riding the stunt bike on set.
I was so moved by this eulogy written by Porsche Taylor of Black Girls Ride and wanted to share it here:
We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the loss of Joi “SJ” Harris. Joi was an extraordinary woman with a passion for riding and motorsports. She was known for her beautiful spirit and bubbly personality. She was fearless and relentless in her pursuit of her dream, to ride as a motorsports professional. Joi will be remembered for her ground-breaking career as the first African-American female road racer. She was living her dream, when her life was suddenly cut short while filming as a stunt rider. She will be dearly missed by her race fans all over the world. We ask that you respect the privacy of her family and friends, as we mourn her loss.
Yesterday was a nightmare I was hoping to wake up from. To everyone who called or texted, thank you for your thoughts and love. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was write about the loss of my sister. And to do so on the world’s stage, with people who could care less about making sure her death was handled with dignity, and only wanted the next quote or sound bite…. We just needed a minute to deal with the trauma of a broken heart and to honor her mom’s wishes. The weight of her loss is crushing. Now, I’m going to take some time to remember my sister in my own words….
From the moment I met SJ Harris, I knew she was destined for greatness. She was brilliant and tenacious. Once she set her sights on a goal, she went after it with every fiber of her being. To know her was to love her…her laugh was infectious. She knew there was nothing she couldn’t do. We wanted to do all we could to uplift and support her, so the world would know her name. And then the opportunity of a lifetime came along. We had just booked her on the film and were sworn to secrecy, and then she was off to Canada to make her mark on the world. We were so excited about what was yet to come, when her life was cut short.
SJ was a real life super-hero, and not just playing one on film. She’s the first African-American woman to professionally road race. SJ was an inspiration to all women who could see themselves on the track, in leather, and leaning SIDEWAYZ into the turn. She showed us what we looked like, and inspired others to test their limits. She raced alongside the men, often leading the pack and giving them a run for their money. Every time she crashed, my heart skipped a beat. But deep down, I knew this was who she was. Racing was where she found her joy.
SJ has overcome life’s adversity to ride on the biggest stage there was for a motorcycle rider. She died while living her dream out loud, and doing what she loved till the end. She was my sister and my friend. I’m so proud to have known her and been a part of the team to help her live her dream. I know she’s riding in paradise, leaning through the clouds…I will always love you and miss you, sis.
SJ Harris, a.k.a. Threader 24: December 11th, 1976 – August 14th, 2017